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DRNC Honored for Race Equity Work

Video of NC Lawyers Weekly virtual award ceremony

Jump to the moment Emma Kinyanjui and Evan Lewis accept DRNC’s award!

Over the course of the past two years, Disability Rights NC staff implemented a determined focus to diversify and upskill to tackle issues at the intersection of race and disability.  This conscious endeavor sharpened with the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and other unjust and harmful occurrences over the past year. We have doubled down to increase our focus and expenditures on race equity work.

Diversity and Inclusion Award

In April, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly selected Disability Rights NC as one of only a few NC law firms recognized this year with the newspaper’s “Diversity & Inclusion Award.”

“Disability rights advocacy is inseparable from the fight for social justice and racial equity,” said DRNC Board Member Woody Connette, in his nomination of the agency on behalf of the Board. “Indeed, injustices against Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) disproportionately hurt disabled Americans. Put another way, the identities of disabled Americans and BIPOC Americans intersect, and so the marginalization, isolation and social inequity are amplified. DRNC therefore fuses the battles for racial and disability justice in its work.”

DRNC Legal Director Emma Kinyanjui accepted the award in a virtual video ceremony with Board Member Evan Lewis. “We are absolutely humbled by the recognition, and this is only the beginning.  We still have a lot of work to do, but we hope this inspires others to engage and pursue the same.”

Lewis concurred, and highlighted DRNC CEO Virginia Knowlton Marcus for her leadership in steering internal and external approaches “designed to increase the diversity and inclusive focus of the agency.”

Connette’s nomination on behalf of the board called the agency “a worthy ambassador for the values that are highlighted with the award,” and laid out specific work in the last two years in which the agency worked to improve understanding and advance race equity in its internal operations and external advocacy work.

How DRNC is working to advance race equity

Connette’s nomination on behalf of the board called the agency “a worthy ambassador for the values that are highlighted with the award,” and laid out specific work in the last two years in which the agency worked to improve understanding and advance race equity in its internal operations and external advocacy work.

Examples of internal efforts

  • Forming an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) team to engage staff in learning opportunities and discussions around race equity.
  • Staff participation in a foundational two-day Racial Equity Institute training to ensure a common understanding of the pervasive societal problems around race discrimination and inequities, and to identify and address internal biases.
  • Initiating a new project with eight other organizations focused on the intersection of race, educational equity, and learning differences called “Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions.” The goal is to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes for students with disabilities and to create learning environments where marginalized students with learning differences thrive.
  • DRNC purchased for staff the book, “Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla Saad, and allowed time for staff to complete the accompanying journaling exercises and meet in small groups to discuss.
  • Restructuring the leadership staff and team to elevate people of color in the organizational structure and amplify diverse voices. We are working to improve shared decision-making and transparency.
  • Formation of a People of Color Caucus to give staff of color a space to raise issues and develop recommendations.
  • Implementation of a race equity bonus program, awarding $1,000 each year to the employee who proposes or implements the most effective strategy or idea, or demonstrates outstanding performance in elevating race equity in our organization and/or our disability rights advocacy work. (Congratulations to DRNC Advocate Andrea Martinez for winning this award in 2020, in recognition for her leadership with the IDEA team, PCC, agency-wide and in the community.)
  • Hiring an HR consultant with experience in diversity and equity matters.
  • Successfully applying for a grant from Duke Energy Foundation to support more in-depth race equity work, that enabled us to hire The Equity Paradigm (TEP) to work with our organization over several months.
  • Working with TEP to guide staff through an interactive learning arc series on race matters, and a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis, over several weeks. Staff have since continued working through the issues that arose during the SWOT analysis. We have been striving to have the difficult, productive conversations about race that are needed to achieve organizational equity.
  • TEP is also presenting a race equity learning arc to our board of directors and mental health advisory council.
  • TEP conducted written surveys and in-person interviews with DRNC staff.
  • TEP worked with our HR consultant to assess our internal policies, procedures, and practices to ensure they promote racial equity.

At the intersection of disability and race

In addition to these internal efforts, staff are working to become stronger advocates and allies, and expand efforts to work at the intersection of disability and race.  For example:

This recognition is valued and important and, as Kinyanjui said, DRNC is humbled to receive it.  Still, DRNC staff fully understand this award does not signify finality in our hard work toward diversity, equity and inclusion. We recognize that we must continue without pause, and we are committed to doing so.

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