Author: Carina Weadock

Jes’ hopes for MDNA Equity Principles and Commitments

According to Jes, in the work of equity, the wordsmithing of principles isn’t the hard part. For them, the “implementation is the hard part” as questions of accountability, righting wrongs, and what to do when Metro DNA messes up (because we will!) arise. What Jes would love to see is “an across-the-board… continuing” of “deeper understanding of what… equity and justice and inclusion and diversity mean,” which is ongoing and “lifelong work.” 

What would a continuation of deeper understanding look like for Metro DNA? Jes pointed to a few ways to keep up the learning about and commitment to equity: putting time and resources into continuing internal learning opportunities, using language that’s mindful of equity in all communications Metro DNA puts out, choosing keynote speakers and vendors that Metro DNA hosts with an equity lens, and showing up to advocate for equity.

Equity work: “You have to have a team of people to do it well… and it’s very individual.” (Jes, cityWILD)

Beyond implementing practices that embody Metro DNA’s commitment to equity, according to Jes, each Metro DNA Equity Committee member has to continuously do the intensely individual work of “soul-searching… learning… mak(ing) mistakes… figur(ing) out how to recover from those mistakes,” and “work(ing) on… unconscious bias.”

Working towards more equitable practices in the work of Metro DNA is, like Jes said, “really deep, emotional work, and it’s exhausting a variety of ways, to constantly have these really painful conversations.” But Metro DNA is ready to embrace the exhaustion and emotions, to inevitably make mistakes and learn from them, to commit to the ongoing learning process and to the individual self-reflection necessary to “aspire to recognize, celebrate, enhance, and protect the diversity of environments, communities, and people comprising the Metro Denver Area” (Metro DNA Equity Principles and Commitments). 

Another huge thank you to Jes Rau at cityWILD for taking time to speak with Metro DNA and for the time you put into our Equity Committee on a regular basis! The passion you have for equity, diversity, and inclusion work shows and is infectious. 

Health + Nature: Explore the Rx for PRONTOS Resource List

The Rx for PRONTOS workshop attendees compiled a long list of parks prescription centered resources – programs and sources that provide great chances for collaboration and that we here at Metro DNA highly recommend checking out. The first list you’ll find in the Appendix of the Rx for PRONTOS Full Report is a list of national resources, including advocacy and education infographics and learning tools for connecting children to nature (Children and Nature Network), the websites of non-profits and information hubs like Park Rx America, and governmental sources like the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to name a few.

If you’re a Coloradan, there are also place-based resources to become familiar with. Be sure to explore the Colorado Black Health Collaborative, that works to achieve health equity in Colorado. Looking for a place to walk or hike in Denver? Denver by Foot can help you locate a stroll. If you’re interested in reducing stigma surrounding mental health, you may be interested in checking out the Mind Shine Foundation or participating in their Annual Brain Run 5K and Mental Health Expo in Denver.

More good news – Colorado is home to tons of parks prescription type programming, and the Rx for PRONTOS Report sports a long list of program descriptions and events. A few “at a glance” examples include CityWILD, which provides programming to young people in Denver that “engage(s) youth in experiential learning opportunities that boldly address issues of inequity, particularly in the areas of access to the outdoors and economic disparity,” and CancerFit, which supports high quality of life in cancer survivors who exercise.

There are also events listed, like Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day (SSKO GO Day), hosted by Metro DNA and our partner SouthWest Denver Coalition. SSKO GO Day is a gathering at Garfield Lake Park that promotes community building and Coloradans getting outdoors during the summer! Due to a commitment to keeping folks safe during COVID-19, an in-person gathering didn’t happen this summer, but you can still check out the Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day webpage for resources to help and connect with your community.

To check out more resources and opportunities to get involved in parks prescription programming in Colorado, scroll to page 16 of the Rx for PRONTOS Report to explore futher!

Black Lives Matter. What are some actions you can take to stop police brutality and work to end systemic racism?

The internet is full of so many useful suggestions on what folks can do to avoid remaining silent or complicit in the face of ongoing, systemic police brutality and violence directed at black bodies. Here is a short list of resources that we here at Metro DNA believe to be helpful jumping-off points for practicing thoughtful allyship, protesting safely, and taking action to combat police brutality and systemic racism. Keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive and that anti-racist actions of many kinds matter.

Artist, writer, and workshop facilitator Giselle Buchanan’s Instagram post, “I Want To Be An Ally But I Don’t Know What To Do: A Resource Guide,” not only provides helpful suggestions for practicing allyship, it’s a beautiful piece of art! Buchanan’s website, where you can find her poetry, artwork, and writings, also provides links to resources like the “Ultimate List of of Black Farms and Food Gardens” across the United States, the “Justice for Floyd Petition” that you can sign online, and a list of “Bail Funds Across the States,” among others.

Image credit: Giselle Buchanan, Justice for Elijah McClain

You can find more links she provides and can access her Instagram Resource Guide to learn more and get involved. To donate to Buchanan for the labor of her creation and cultivation of resources, click here. For information surrounding the importance of donating to Bail Funds, check out this article from The Atlantic: “Why It Matters That So Many People Are Donating to Bail Funds.”

How you spend your money is political (Buchanan). 303 Magazine published a list of over three hundred and twenty-five black owned businesses in and around Denver to support. In the words of Brittany Werges at 303 Magazine: “As the protests against police brutality continue on, it’s more important than ever to look at ways Denver can support its black community” (Werges).

Whittier Cafe proudly accepts its nickname “The activists’ coffee shop” and actively supports its community and neighbors.

For protesters, there are steps you can take to know your rights and to help ensure your safety. This CNN article “If you’re planning to take part in protests, know your rights. Read this.” by Scottie Andrew that includes the perspectives of Emerson Sykes, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, and Timothy Zick, Professor of Government and Citizenship at the College of William & Mary Law School, could be a helpful resource.

For those who are in a position to donate, a few organizations to consider supporting include: Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Colorado Freedom Fund, and the National Police Accountability Project.

Founded in 2018, Colorado Freedom Fund is a revolving fund that pays ransom (pays cash bail) for people unable to afford the cost of buying their own freedom.

Read up: Ibram X. Kendi, author, historian, professor, and leading antiracist voice, created an antiracist reading list. Kendi wrote: “To build a nation of equal opportunity for everyone, we need to dismantle this spurious legacy of our common upbringing. One of the best ways to do this is by reading books. Not books that reinforce old ideas about who we think we are, what we think America is, what we think racism is. Instead, we need to read books that are difficult or unorthodox, that don’t go down easily. Books that force us to confront our self-serving beliefs and make us aware that ‘I’m not racist’ is a slogan of denial” (Kendi).

As stated earlier, this post is brief, which means that we encourage you to do your own research in order to get educated and learn more about actions to take that aren’t mentioned here. We invite and encourage you to support the dialog and learning that will support our collective liberation.

It’s important to note that this post was written by a white woman. Author identity matters, so please take this into consideration when reading this post and when searching out other resources. While this post isn’t perfect, the author hoped to follow the advice of Giselle Buchanan to amplify and uplift black voices as an ally (Buchanan).

Colorado Rx for PRONTOS Report: Prescription Programs for Nature

In November 2019, Metro DNA was part of the multi-sector team who led and reported on the Colorado Rx for PRONTOS (Colorado Prescriptions for Parks, Recreation, Outdoors, Nature, Trails, and Open Space) workshop: a convening of those invested in local parks, open space, healthcare, and the outdoors. All who gathered see the importance of nature’s ability to promote healthy bodies and minds. The workshop enabled the collection of information on the many prescription programs for parks, recreation, outdoors, nature, trails, and open space active and emerging across the state.

The approximately fifty participants discussed existing programs, dove into what’s working and explored potential challenges and opportunities for future collaboration, as well as potential next steps. These details have been provided in one, convenient location: The Colorado Rx for PRONTOS Report! Metro DNA is so excited to share information from the report that we’ve decided to break it up into a few blog posts, so keep your eyes out for future Rx for PRONTOS Report posts. For now, let’s explore what Prescription Programs for the outdoors are and why Metro DNA thinks that they’re important to Colorado communities.

In a quote that heads the Executive Summary of the Rx for PRONTOS report, Richard Louv posed getting out into nature as more than time off: “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).” Louv’s reframing of the importance of getting into nature is the guiding idea behind prescription programs for nature: that getting outside provides manifold health benefits and could be recommended as a prescription by healthcare providers to combat health problems of many kinds. To Metro DNA, prescription programs provide an opportunity for growing Coloradan’s connection to the outdoors and for fostering healthy communities.

The Rx for PRONTOS workshop’s goal, to build a “community of practice among prescription programs in Colorado,” spurred questions that guided workshop conversations: “What would happen if we gathered as many people as we could in Colorado who are doing this work from multiple perspectives and asked them to talk to each other, share information, and brainstorm? What could we learn?” In the next post, we’ll dive into what was learned from the Rx for PRONTOS workshop! Stay tuned and read more in the full report.

Help Colorado’s COVID-19 Response

For MetroDNA, it’s been inspiring to watch the Colorado community come together as our state faces the novel coronavirus. We’ve seen so many different, innovative ways Coloradans are supporting each other and the healthcare workers we’re all very lucky to have! From staying home as much as possible to sewing masks or writing medical staff letters of appreciation, all actions help tremendously.

If you’re someone who is seeking more ways you can help our community, check out Help Colorado Now. Launched by Gov. Jared Polis, Help Colorado Now serves as a hub of information for those who want to explore ways to get involved, as well as for organizations to apply for needed funding or volunteers.

Keep up the good work, Colorado!

What did the process of creating MDNA’s Equity Principles & Commitments look like?

“In terms of the (Metro DNA) Equity Team’s roll, I think we have the opportunity to create something different.”
 – Jes Rau, cityWILD

A few weeks ago, Metro DNA had the opportunity to sit down with one of the co-chairs of our Equity Committee, Jes Rau, to get their perspective on equity and to learn more about the process of building MDNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments

Metro DNA is so grateful to be able to collaborate with Jes, who has worked at cityWILD for six years, and who has been dedicated to “engag[ing] in a bold effort to bring the typically exclusive world of outdoor experiential education to a broad, inclusive audience.” Jes said that their work at cityWILD is the “perfect confluence of things that [they’re] really passionate about:” nature, the outdoors, youth, and social justice work.

What does “equity” mean, in your words? 

The meaning of equity is, as Jes put it, “tied up with a lot of things.” Defining “equity” is not a simple or a one-time task. Part of what equity is about is balance: “balancing need, balancing access, balancing around power dynamics and historic marginalization,” and recognizing that people and their needs aren’t all the same. For example, at cityWILD, Jes talked about how remaining a small organization allows for individualized programming and increased ability to provide resources for students and their varying needs, enabling greater possibility for equitable practices.

What did the process of creating Metro DNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments look like?

From the start, cityWILD has been a valuable contributor to Metro DNA’s equity work. Jes and other partners provided a two-day training to the Metro DNA Steering Committee in 2018, which prompted the creation of an Equity Committee. Jes agreed to be the chair, and shortly after, Parker McMullen-Bushman, Vice President at the Butterfly Pavilion and founder of Ecoinclusive, agreed to co-chair the committee. Not long after that, Jes and Parker co-facilitated the creation of Metro DNA’s Equity Principles + Commitments, which were adopted by the Steering Committee last March.

Equity is about balance.

For Jes, doing any justice and equity work requires a “coalition,” a process of “collaboration,” and a “committee” or a “team.” In their words, doing the work can’t be “equitable if you’re doing it by yourself.” So, the creation of the Equity Principles + Commitments began with a question: “what’s the step-by-step of bringing a group together to create [the Principles]?”

The Metro DNA Equity Committee, a group of self-selected volunteers who were willing to give generously of their time and energy, drafted the Principles and sent the draft out for review by “folks of color, folks who have a deep connection to equity who aren’t folks of color, and then a couple folks who actually don’t have a deep connection to equity.” Feedback was also given by the Metro DNA Steering Committee, which Jes indicated wasn’t “a dramatically diverse board.” We’re still working on that!  

Doing equity work can’t be “equitable
if you’re doing it by yourself.”

To gain a larger number of more diverse perspectives, Parker and Jes presented the Principles at stakeholder events and facilitated dialogue. Although the group of voices was “not as diverse a group as [the Metro DNA Equity Committee] would hope,” there were “lots of people in the room.” Eventually, around seventy people contributed to the Equity Principles + Commitments and Jes felt “like [the Equity Committee] did a pretty good job of asking for, and then incorporating… relevant feedback from a lot of voices.”

Even after all of this feedback and approval, Metro DNA sees our Equity Principles + Commitments as a living document. Our values and the work of the Equity Committee will continue to shift and adapt over time as we learn how to better enable a collaboratively-built regional vision for people and nature that seeks to include and empower diverse perspectives.

We’d like to send a huge thank you to Jes Rau at cityWILD for taking time to speak with Metro DNA and for the time you put into our Equity Committee on a regular basis! The passion you have for equity, diversity, and inclusion work shows and is infectious (in a good way!). 

Metro DNA chose neutral fiscal sponsorship. Why?

As an emerging organization, Metro DNA had a decision to make: become a new independent 501(c)(3) non-profit or partner with a  non-profit already in existence in a “fiscal sponsorship” relationship. Both routes would have allowed Metro DNA to achieve tax-exempt status and to receive funding through donations, grants, and partner dues … so what’s the difference here and why does it matter to Metro DNA and the nonprofit sector in Colorado?

Fiscal sponsorship helps organizations like Metro DNA focus efforts on goals and projects from the get-go instead of spending the time, money, and energy needed to become and maintain a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Metro DNA stated in its Strategic Plan that choosing fiscal sponsorship will “allow Metro DNA to direct its limited staff capacity to building the organization’s infrastructure and implementing priority programming” (Metro DNA’s Three Year Strategic Business Plan). For a monthly Project Fee, Metro DNA’s fiscal sponsor, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC), provides a needed administrative backbone, as well as financial and legal accountability to the projects it supports, leaving Metro DNA more resources to get down to the important business of taking action on equitable nature-based solutions.

Melinda Higgs, the president and CEO of the CNDC put it this way: “We view it [fiscal sponsorship] as a partnership. We each get to do what we’re good at and leverage our core competencies. For them [the programs supported by the CNDC], it’s doing the program, making connections in the community, and raising money. For us, it’s providing infrastructure, policies, and capacity-building. It’s a much smarter use of charitable resources” (Hung, 2017).

While different pathways to funding can serve organizations in varying ways, Metro DNA’s ability to kick off coalition building, begin focusing on equitable access to nature, and jump start promoting healthy people, communities, and natural places can be attributed, in part, to the benefits of our fiscal sponsorship.

Why does Metro DNA see possibility in neutral fiscal sponsorship more broadly? 

The possibilities of fiscal sponsorship go beyond Metro DNA. The structure of fiscal sponsorship has potential to enable greater equity surrounding who can access funding. According to Rachel Burrows, the managing director of the Movement Strategy Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves as a fiscal sponsor through their Innovation Center, “Philanthropy has habits and assumptions about smaller, grassroots, front line, Black- and Brown-led work. Fiscal sponsorship helps interrupt that inequality” (Hung, 2017). 

While the ability for fiscal sponsorship to interrupt inequality relies on many factors, like which organizations or groups are accepted for sponsorship, organizations like the CNDC have the opportunity to “think about how to support organizations that serve in areas where…access to services is lacking” and ask “how can those groups get more support?” (Hung, 2017). Fiscal sponsors also have the opportunity to go directly to organizations they sponsor to ask what support the organizations and the communities they serve need.

Further, organizations or movements that choose fiscal sponsorship might be more able to be experimental with projects and goals (Hung, 2017). The increased flexibility surrounding what and who receives funding could enable groups and grassroots movements with bold ideas to have access to private and governmental funding without having to deal with the burden of navigating legal systems and governmental requirements on their own. 

Why Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC)?

Metro DNA sought a fiscal sponsor that would provide support from a “neutral platform.” Neutrality was and is important to Metro DNA because it allows for greater possibility for bold ideas and programs that could fit both the goal of the fiscal sponsor and the vision of Metro DNA.

The CNDC’s mission statement was broad enough for Metro DNA to want in. The goal of CNDC is to: “maximize the impact of nonprofits through fiscal sponsorship to enable all Colorado communities to thrive.” Since joining the CNDC team, Metro DNA is able to network with dozens of other projects, three of whom we have been able to work with directly: SouthWest Denver Coalition, Denver Park Trust, and the Colorado Open Space Alliance. With all these organizations under one umbrella, partnering on projects like Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day is easy and well-supported. 

Alongside Metro DNA, the CNDC is also engaging and investing in equity work through participation in the Chinook Fund Giving Project. The Chinook Fund Giving Project is a process that involves “work(ing) together to deepen… understanding of social justice principles in order to support grassroots organizations that build power for social change in Colorado” (How does the Giving Project work?, Chinook Fund). The process includes workshops about societal power structures, a commitment to fundraising, and training on the Chinook Fund’s democratic grant making process. 

Metro DNA is proud to be fiscally sponsored by the CNDC!

Interested in learning even more about fiscal sponsorship? Check out Priscilla Hung’s 2017 article “Is Fiscal Sponsorship Right for You?,” published in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal and posted to the CNDC’s Resources for Fiscal Sponsorship page.