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 get-go, cityWILD was a valuable contributor to Metro DNA’s equity work. Jes and a few 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 the 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. These 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 + nature that seeks to include and empower diverse perspectives.
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!).