The call to create institutional change

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Executive Director Calvin Eaton hopes the launch of 540WMain’s Antiracism Facilitator Fellowship training program will serve as a catalyst for change. 

His organization is offering a virtual opportunity for diverse community leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to dismantling racist ideas, policies and systems through education and antiracism practice—personally or professionally. The eight-week program begins July 6.

Its goal: Develop a group of antiracism leaders and social justice educators.

Eaton has had this idea for a couple of years. 540WMain, a virtual antiracist education platform, has organized a planning committee to develop a curriculum for the program, which eventually could become an in-person, annual experience.

Members include Tomicka Wagstaff and Taj Smith from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion; Monroe Community College’s Natasha Chen Christensen; Elizabeth Nicolas of Black Amethyst; University of Rochester’s Marcella Lambrecht, and Paola Betchart, an environmental anthropologist and entrepreneur.

When Nicolas, an antiracism trainer and attorney who helps organizations create and sustain equitable, inclusive and diverse environments, was asked to assist with the curriculum, it was an opportunity to connect and collaborate with like-minded people.

“I am committed to supporting our community members with anti-racist frameworks and tools to ensure equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for people across racial identities,” she says. “I am eager to partner with others who refused to accept the white supremacist status quo and are ready to re-imagine a world in which all people can thrive and live into the fullness of their humanity.”

The program will host a cohort of 10 to 12 people. Given its virtual nature, the training is open to communities beyond Rochester as well. The program is designed for individuals who have an understanding of antiracism practices and have been committed to antiracism in their work and life. Applicants are expected to submit two recommendations that illustrate that dedication. After the training, each member of the cohort will have a year of monthly mentoring with opportunities to practice through 540WMain. Applications for the program are open till May 3.

Prospective fellows should be prepared to engage in and facilitate difficult dialogue as it relates to race, class, identity, intersectionality and white supremacy, 540WMain says. Tuition costs $500, but the organization offers a mix of payment options and a full scholarship. 

With various incidents of racial injustices here and around the nation, communities are responding to the call to educate and break down barriers. 

“The Greater Rochester area is deeply segregated and divided by race and class. There are historic inequitable policies that are responsible for this segregation that have perpetuated unfair outcomes,” Nicolas says. “No one’s life chances (educational and job opportunities, wealth accumulation, life expectancy, body autonomy, the ability to thrive, etc.) should be pre-determined by their skin color or ZIP code.”

While organizations like 540WMain have been working on these issues, it will take incremental efforts to achieve lasting impact. Experts like Nicolas, Eaton and others are often called upon to train and educate employees and help draft practices for diversity and inclusion. 

Groups like 540WMain can do that, but Eaton says it is important for institutions that are committed to antiracism work to move away from outsourcing the task. He suggests that they recognize and train employees who have shown competencies in these areas, building an internal infrastructure to foster regular conversations. 

With this training program, Eaton is hoping for institutional change, where organizations hold themselves accountable and take action. That type of buy-in would be one measure of success.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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