Reaching Heights declares anti-racism is its top priority
I run Reaching Heights, a small nonprofit that connects the community to the public schools in Cleveland Heights and University Heights, through information, programs and events. Ideally, all that we do also enriches students, supports school staff, and encourages people to value the students in our schools, and appreciate public education.
Like many organizations, Reaching Heights responded with an anti-racism statement to the horror of George Floyd’s murder by police. We knew that a statement was not enough, and chose to spend much of 2020 and 2021 working internally on anti-racism within our organization.
We added anti-racism training to each of our monthly board meetings, and offered the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater training to our staff and board. We collaborated with five other local nonprofits to hold the anti-racism event “Heights Conversations: Let’s Talk About Race.” We conducted a detailed review of Reaching Heights’ bylaws and policies, and had deep discussions about how Reaching Heights can make positive changes as an organization that actively works against racism.
We began our new year in August 2021 with the realization that being anti-racist has to be our top priority. Racism interferes with learning, which prevents students from reaching their full potential. It also creates a negative work environment for the schools’ staff, which then interferes with the staff’s ability to create a safe and productive learning environment for their students. Racism also prevents some community members from valuing the students of color in our schools. We asked, how can we fulfill our mission to support the students and staff in the CH-UH schools if we contribute, even unintentionally, to a racist environment that interferes with teaching and learning?
Reaching Heights has decided to evaluate our actions to ensure, first and foremost, that they are not racist, but also that they are intentionally anti-racist. This commitment requires an awareness of the structural racism that exists, in order to avoid contributing to it. It also means coordinating programs and planning events that bring together people who are different from one another, to encourage cross-cultural understanding.
It is not enough to add language to our mission statement, or a policy to our bylaws. We cannot host another forum or panel discussion and expect them to have substantial impact against racism. We need to continue to learn about structural racism, seek to value and respect people who are different from us, pay close attention to our actions, and be prepared to make changes when needed. When we recruit new board members, consider new ways to connect the community to our schools, or plan programs to enrich students and support school staff, we will make sure they include these two practices: being intentionally anti-racist, and offering opportunities to build diverse relationships. Reaching Heights’ actions that do not meet these criteria will be changed or replaced by ones that do.
This is not a goal to be achieved, but a commitment to a new operating system for Reaching Heights. We recognize that anti-racism must be an ongoing and active process because racism interferes with our mission, and it will not end without continuous vigilance from all of us.
Krista Hawthorne is the executive director of Reaching Heights, and a proud and grateful Heights Tiger.