In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, Solid Ground has been actively working to understand our role in the ongoing movement for racial justice and Black liberation. Through our work to center and practice anti-racism in our organization and community, we believe in the importance of following leadership and direction of communities most impacted by poverty and racism.
In that spirit, we reached out to Black-led and Black community-based partner organizations for their perspectives on what role Solid Ground might play and how we might use our privilege to further the demands of the movement. We connected with race equity organizers, organizational leaders, and others, and monitored the statements of many other coalitions and organizations, including The Urban League, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, Seattle Black Collective Voice, Byrd Barr Place, and more.
Marcy Bowers, Solid Ground’s Advocacy Director, says our Black-led partners encouraged Solid Ground to come out publicly in support of defunding the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and reinvesting those resources in alignment with recommendations coming from Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now, and other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, other People of Color)-led efforts. (Read our June 13 statement, Anti-racism requires action, in support of the defund movement.)
“They appreciated Solid Ground’s interest in following their lead, and they recognized the power Solid Ground has as a mainstream service provider that may be heard differently than Black community organizations,” Marcy says. “They also asked us to not stop at issuing a statement, but to commit for the long haul to addressing police violence.”
Our past police accountability efforts
For many years, Solid Ground played an active role addressing police and other types of violence. From 1996-2012, we operated the JustServe AmeriCorps program – an anti-violence, social justice team – which built community-based alternatives to incarceration, including placing AmeriCorps members with SPD to work toward institutional change from within. Before federal funding shifts eliminated it, more than 750 JustServe AmeriCorps members provided frontline support to a wide variety of violence prevention projects and helped develop anti-poverty leaders of all ages.
Following the shooting death of Sand Point Housing resident Charleena Lyles by Seattle police officers in June 2017, Solid Ground played an active role supporting the passage of Initiative 940, De-Escalate Washington, to enact legislation mandating increased training, transparency, and accountability to end police violence.
Defunding the police can sound radical to some people, or controversial at the very least – especially to white people who have had positive personal experiences with police. What is meant when we say defund and demilitarize the police, exactly?
M4BL (The Movement for Black Lives) offers a helpful frame: “Since we have only ever known a country with the existing policing infrastructure, it is hard to imagine anything else” – but by investing in community support, “we build the world we need … where safety actually exists” for ALL of our citizens.
We urge readers to check out M4BL’s Messaging Guidance resource on defunding the police, in which they outline frequently raised questions/concerns when discussing the current calls for police accountability. M4BL’s The Breathe Act is model legislation that “divests our taxpayer dollars from brutal and discriminatory policing and invests in a new vision of public safety – a vision that answers the call to defund the police and allows all communities to finally BREATHE free.”
Advocating for change locally
While we wholeheartedly support and stand by national calls for change, Solid Ground will focus on advocating at the local level, primarily on City of Seattle and King County budget processes.
For example, Solid Ground supported the successful effort to raise revenue through the JumpStart Seattle tax plan. We will continue to take leadership from BIPOC-led community organizations and from our own program participants to inform our advocacy to reallocate city funds from militarized police to community-based investments and harm-prevention efforts.
One focus of our advocacy will be to support additional funding for mental health and behavioral health services, especially culturally relevant and community-based services for BIPOC communities. With 38 years’ experience providing emergency shelter and other housing and basic needs services to people experiencing homelessness, we have strong evidence that behavioral health issues can both be root causes of homelessness and be triggered directly by the experience of living homeless.
Our Sand Point Housing campus, which houses over 400 formerly homeless people, for instance, cannot currently sustain 24/7 behavioral health/chemical dependency support on site. While we connect residents with these services through partner agencies, our success supporting residents with behavioral health and dependency issues would be greatly enhanced with partners who can respond to crises, as well as health and other needs of residents over time.
Looking inward: Our internal Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI) work
Over the course of more than 18 years of engagement in anti-racism work, Solid Ground has experienced ebbs and flows as is common to organizations that commit to race equity. Internally, we continue to focus our efforts to understand and address privilege and institutional racism within our organization and the systems in which we operate.
We’re currently working to create better ways for Solid Ground residents and program participants to provide input into our services and operations. Several of our programs are moving from brief written participant surveys to a focus group model to strengthen our community listening and gather more comprehensive input from people most impacted by poverty, racism, and police violence.
Our ARI Manager convenes Solid Ground’s Community Accountability Council (CAC), which meets monthly to help us understand and incorporate real-life experiences of Solid Ground residents and program participants. Their input helps shape organizational policies and programs, explore the root causes of poverty, and promote community-driven solutions to poverty-related issues.
Across all phases of our organizational journey, we have implemented various internal strategies to support change – from staff race-based caucuses, an Anti-Racist Leadership Caucus, and affinity groups, to departmental Action Teams focused on the addressing racialized aspects of our day-to-day work. The initiative is supported by an ARI Steering Committee comprised of staff representatives of the various ARI subgroups and the ARI Manager, who also maintains an anti-racism lending library and a dynamic ARI SharePoint site for staff with regularly updated articles, analysis, links to training opportunities, and information on community partner agencies.
Solid Ground recognizes that staff need extra support during traumatic community and national events. Following the death of George Floyd, the agency gave all employees extra bereavement leave to take time for self- or community care. And in the coming months, Solid Ground will bring in Dr. Pamela Taylor of The Circle Works to offer a series of Racial Healing Circles for staff.
From her website: “Circles create a safe environment where people who don’t normally voice their thoughts begin to speak, and people who normally monopolize the conversation begin to listen. In Circle, everyone’s voice is important to the process. Job title, expertise, education, and age have no bearing on who gets to speak and who is invited to listen. When framed properly, authentic dialogue nearly always occurs when time is taken to build enough trust and safety.”
Finally, Solid Ground is currently organizing a new staff-led Anti-Racism Change Team (ACT). This cross-functional leadership team will identify and address institutional practices and policies that are barriers to the full participation of people of color in our organization. ACT will dive into issues such as reexamining hiring practices to include more BIPOC staff input, supporting an Individual Development Program to create career and leadership development pathways for staff, and serving as a sounding board for agency-wide workplace issues and strategies. In addition, ACT will identify opportunities for local external advocacy, testify and contact local elected officials, and advocate on the City of Seattle’s budgeting and reinvestment processes.
In recognition that we can always do more to address our own agency’s institutionalized white supremacist tendencies and culture, Solid Ground is working at all levels of the organization to identify and address institutional practices and policies that are barriers to the full participation of BIPOC stakeholders in our organization.
Questions about Solid Ground’s Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI)? Please contact ARI Manager Tiffany Lamoreaux at email@example.com.