By Alejandro Victoria
I remember as a child wanting to go by the name Alex instead of Alejandro. When my teachers called me Alejandro throughout kindergarten, I remember hating it. I would also say only that I was white, and would never claim being Latino when I was growing up. As a child of color I was very uncomfortable with my own identity and felt as if I didn’t belong.
Imagine feeling that struggle—those traumatic childhood experiences around self and identity—while at the same time dealing with the trauma of being removed from your home, your family... the people who look and talk the same way you do. I never experienced that, and it’s tough to imagine all of those different struggles layered on top of each other. That’s why, here at CASA, we are working every day to increase our knowledge, understanding and capabilities around race, equity, inclusion and anti-racism work.
As the chair of our Diversity Committee and one of our two certified Knowing Who You Are trainers, I’ve gotten to see a lot of CASA’s growth on an organizational and individual employee level. This work was happening before I got here 5 years ago and was already a priority for CASA. In fact, some of the work was being done by my sister Nashielly Victoria Stein, who served as a Child Advocacy Specialist and later as CASA’s Community Outreach Liaison dedicated to reaching communities historically underrepresented at CASA. This is family legacy work right here!
But CASA has come a long way in the past 5 years. We’ve built strong foundations of knowledge around oppression, identity, privilege and systemic racism. These foundations allow us to have deeper, richer conversations on more complex topics of equity and anti-racism work, such as intersectionality. We’ve built these foundations through trainings, courageous conversations, support meetings, committee work and more.
We’ve built strong foundations of knowledge around oppression, identity, privilege and systemic racism. These foundations allow us to have deeper, richer conversations on more complex topics of equity and anti-racism work, such as intersectionality.
I chair our Diversity Committee, a body of people from all over the team at CASA who are looking at these issues on a monthly basis. We are able to make recommendations to leadership on how we can adjust our office culture to be better attuned to race and equity issues.
When you join the Program or Communications staff at CASA of Travis County, one of your required onboarding tasks will be to go through our 2-day Knowing Who You Are training within your first 6 months. This really engaging workshop introduces you to implicit bias, institutional racism and privilege. These are heavy topics for two days, but this is just the intro to get you started on your journey into this work. The workshop is personal and vulnerable, and you’ll have some tough conversations in it, but it’s participatory and absorbing. You get out of it what you put into it!
After your introduction, the work requirements continue as you do additional anti-racism trainings at least every two years. CASA has sent our staff to Undoing Racism, Beyond Diversity, and Race: The Power of an Illusion workshops and hosted more of our own over the years.
In addition to big trainings and workshops, we host bi-monthly Cultural Lunches with discussions led by our staff. These can be about big, overarching topics like the foster care to prison pipeline, and they can be about what’s happening right now in this moment around race and culture. We have certainly switched topics last minute when a major event has sparked a new, crucial conversation.
In 2019 we started a group supervision (or support meeting) focused on racial and ethnic identity and how these issues appear on our cases and affect the children and families we serve. This year, at the request of the program team, we’ve continued that meeting with a focus on intersectionality, looking at all of the intersecting ways in which children and families might be experiencing oppression or being othered.
And through all of this work, these topics have become part of the common conversation. Just as we’re looking at child safety and trauma and engaging family on cases on a regular basis, we’re also looking at race and equity. We have courageous conversations to address inequalities in our largest meetings. We’ve even had staff members start traditions and host events around Dia De Muertos and Black History Month. In my opinion, there’s something to be said of an agency where people feel they can celebrate their traditions and share them with their coworkers.
You can’t be there to support a child of color—who will face additional challenges in the child welfare system—if you’re not able to have these crucial conversations on race, equity and inclusion with yourself or others.
Chief Program Officer Emily LeBlanc notes that, “What is really important to us as leadership is that anti-racism work is not an extra thing that we do. It has to be threaded through everything we do. So we’re trying to look at the advocacy for children and families we do, the recruiting we do, the hiring, the training, and everything we’re doing all through the lens of anti-racism.”
As we talk about in Knowing Who You Are, you can’t be there to support a child of color—who will face additional challenges in the child welfare system—if you’re not able to have these crucial conversations on race, equity and inclusion with yourself or others. We know that there is institutional racism within child welfare. It’s part of why children of color, and particularly Black/African-American children enter the system at rates disproportionate to their percentage of the population. And it’s why they experience worse outcomes inside the system. So we have to be armed with this knowledge to work towards counteracting these negative outcomes for children.
Learn more about becoming an advocate for kids on our Volunteer page. If you're a current volunteer, RSVP for our next Knowing Who You Are training happening February 28–29.
Culture & Diversity February 2020