Since its inception in August 2020, Higher Achievement’s Diversity Equity Inclusion Council (DEIC) – formerly the Racial Equity Leadership Council – has made tremendous strides in advancing our organizational commitment to equity.
The DEIC worked closely with external consultant Mo Thomas in 2021 to begin a multi-year phased plan and framework for diversity, equity, and inclusion specific to Higher Achievement’s needs and mission. Early on, it became clear that there was work to be done to create an inclusive definition of our values that could be embodied throughout all facets of the organization, from board members to scholars.
In the summer, staff gathered to identify and define a set of five core values that would encompass and be lived out in all of our internal and external work.
Higher Achievement’s Core Values
- Scholar Centricity: The organization’s work is focused on empowering the scholars we serve. We make every decision with them in mind. We foster authentic relationships with scholars and their families, where we create opportunities with them, not for them.
- Racial Equity: We address and acknowledge the systems of oppression that impact our scholars and families, and we work to provide them with tools to advocate for themselves to combat racial inequities. As an organization, we constantly confront our own biases and work to eliminate practices, policies, and messages that perpetuate inequalities. With an ongoing commitment to closing the opportunity gap, we seek justice and commit to taking action at the individual, interpersonal, organizational, and systemic levels.
- Voice and Inclusion: We recognize the power of voice in an inclusive environment. We create spaces where everyone feels respected, valued, and has a sense of belonging. We acknowledge the power that is held in the voices of all of our stakeholders: staff, board, supporters, volunteers, partners, scholars and their families and elevate those that have been marginalized. We invite all voices into the conversation, authentically incorporate them into the decision-making process, and foster spaces for mutual listening and learning within our communities.
- The Power of Community: We collaborate with our communities to develop and cultivate mutually beneficial and authentic relationships. We embrace learning, celebrate the uniqueness of each community, and infuse joy within each of the communities we serve.
- Striving for Greatness: We set high expectations for ourselves and our scholars. This begins by recognizing the talents that people bring to the organization and utilizing them. We continually learn and improve through the use of a range of qualitative and quantitative data sources and thoughtful reflection in order to help our scholars, staff, and organization achieve their goals.
In the fall of 2021, staff met to reflect on each core value individually to brainstorm actions and behaviors associated with each core value. Several major themes arose from the discussions, leading the DEIC to identify three specific areas to focus on in the coming year:
- Scholar Ambassador Council: Higher Achievement strives to center the voices and experiences of scholars throughout all aspects of programming. The Scholar Ambassador Council will formalize this process, giving scholars and alumni a clear voice in shaping programming, while providing an opportunity to build leadership skills and foster personal growth.
- Inclusive Management Training: Organizational leadership will receive training on how to prioritize the growth and development of every staff member, how to authentically include more voices in decision-making, and how to recognize and utilize the unique talents of each member of their team. Training will also help leaders to study patterns of White Supremacy Culture at the organization, and to confront our missteps and blind spots to truly begin dismantling systems of oppression.
- Innovation/Reflection Time: To best serve scholars, staff need time for creative ideation and exploration. During Innovation/Reflection Time, staff will reflect on programming strengths and opportunities, study best practices, and brainstorm new ideas.
To begin to live out these values, each member of the DEIC has been asked to lead specific areas of implementation. Higher Achievement’s DEIC – Breylon Smith, Bri Wallington Ferguson, Julie Koh, Milan Harris, and SJ Janjua – will champion the efforts, but will not be alone in the work.
Higher Achievement’s core values belong to us all. As we reflect on our next steps to fully live out these core values internally and externally, we invite you to reflect on your role in upholding these values in your own connection with our organization, and with our scholars.