News & Views

Back To News & Views

Our story: Lumina staff share their racial equity narratives in commitment to justice

At Lumina, we’re committed to racial equity as part of our drive to increase education and training beyond high school. But we knew we couldn’t just preach that message to others without doing our own work, or considering what it means to ourselves, so now we’re sharing the personal stories of our staff about their own journeys.

You can see those equity narratives on our Medium page. They include the story of Paola Santana, our strategy officer for state policy, who recalls her sixth-grade grade experience after arriving in the United States from Chile:

The lessons about race, color, and immigration status began almost immediately. As the new student in class who did not speak much English and started midway through the school year, I stuck out in a major way. The teasing and bullying ramped up quickly and remained relentless through my first school year.

Susan Johnson, our director of organizational development and philanthropic practice, thought back to her own childhood experiences as she prepared to send her son off to college:

I know that raising a young Black man in America is not easy. At various stages in his life we’ve had to prepare him for the hard truths he would face  - extra scrutiny in school, being unfairly labeled, and the do’s and don’ts of interacting with police. But I thought when it came to his college education, the road would be smoother because I had the cultural capital my parents did not have.

In fact, while the road for her son was smoother, he faced some of the same issues Susan did in her own college experience decades earlier. And she recalled recently the public reaction when we launched the Lumina equity imperative in 2014.

“We received immediate feedback that the imperative was external-facing only,” Susan said. “Trusted partners and grantees said that, while they appreciated Lumina’s intentions around racial equity and our expectations of others, [our Equity Imperative] said nothing about what we would do and commit to internally with our staff and our board. It wasn’t authentic.”

Scott Jenkins, who serves as a Lumina strategy director, realized that while working in state policy jobs earlier in his career, he may have contributed to unfair educational systems:

I finally recognized that my white perspective had blinded me to the damage I had caused by helping to create policies that exacerbated disparities in educational achievement among people of color. I realized that policies and programs lacking a commitment to racial equity, without fail, lead to unjust results for Black and brown Americans. The data reveal this time and again. Nationally, outcomes across healthcare, criminal justice, and education are all indelibly unjust.

Scott writes that he now realizes we must build policies and programs with equity as the binding mortar. “The fact that I am here today, sharing my truth, means there is hope,” he says.

These stories were the idea of a workgroup we established to articulate Lumina’s focus on  equity. We thought that sharing personal journeys would illustrate our commitment and help others know more about Lumina’s staff.

The narratives also remind us that the journey toward racial equity can be long and winding. There isn’t a final destination at which we’ll arrive, an exam that we can take, or a badge that we can earn that will signal that we’ve completed our equity work. It is ongoing, continual.

 The nation's legacy of discrimination and systemic racism has always been at odds with the promise of American opportunity, and we know that Black, Hispanic, and Native American people have suffered from a lack of high-quality learning opportunities - and the financial, social, and academic supports that are taken for granted elsewhere.

These conditions are no accident; they stem from deliberate policies and actions. Our response must be equally deliberate, and even more committed, until everyone can build the educational foundation that we know leads to economic stability and civic vitality.

We hope you’re inspired by these equity narratives from Lumina’s staff, as we are. And we invite you to share your own journey with us after you’ve read them. Thank you for your support in this effort, which we believe is vital to creating a brighter, fairer, more just future for our nation.

Tracy Chen