Lumina Foundation decided about seven years ago to put racial equity at the heart of our work. This had always been important to us, but now it takes center stage. It is our mission as we help all Americans get a fair shot at learning, earning, and contributing their talents.

After making that decision, we began internal discussion sessions to dive deeper into how racial equity and justice issues affect not only our grantees, but also our own staff. This led to some difficult but valuable conversations, followed by inspiring blogs and videos that shared our personal histories and struggles with racism. My story, and those of my colleagues Scott Jenkins and Paola Santana, made a huge impact.

Then, the COVID-19 crisis hit. We took a step back from these efforts as we focused on pressing health, safety, and logistical needs from our remote locations. We made quick improvements to ease the burden on our grantees, including opening an online grantee portal, instituting electronic payments, and helping to find fiscal partners when needed. We also expanded our Racial Justice and Equity Fund in the wake of the tragic killing of George Floyd.

All of this was crucial and necessary. But what about our internal progress?

Recently, we gathered as a staff again. We engaged in a long-overdue discussion about whiteness—from privilege to microaggressions to outright disparity—and how it manifests in our internal culture, particularly for colleagues who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. During this meeting, we realized that while we instituted vital changes for our grantees and partners during the pandemic, we neglected to give the same attention to how we operate and engage with each other every day.

And that matters a lot because if we are to help Americans build better lives through the power of learning, we must first help ourselves.

So, it would be easy for me to describe how we’ve begun preliminary discussions with our partners about their commitment and growth around racial equity. That is truly a step forward. But I’d add that we also need to do more to receive and act on feedback from our partners.

And it would be easy to focus solely on the progress we’ve made on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. We’ve launched new and innovative initiatives and partnerships to break down barriers that prevent students of color from getting the valuable credentials and degrees they deserve. And we’ve hosted high-level “Equity First” webinars with leaders and policymakers, where we explore the causes and solutions to structural racism in education.

Yes, we’ve made real progress. But there is still a long way to go.

As we head into a new year and beyond, we know how to move forward. We realize that difficult discussions are inherent in every effort toward racial equity. As funders and leaders of positive change for America’s students, we must go beyond discussions to bold actions—both internal and external.

Only then will we create the lasting changes needed for a brighter, more equitable future.

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