San Antonio Site Equity Council
The City Year San Antonio (CYSA) Site Equity Council (SEC) was established in the summer of 2020 as an initiative that former Executive Director, Kelly Hughes Burton, prioritized as an important means to affecting site-wide progress towards a more anti-racist, equitable workplace.
The need for action
At this time, across the network, staff, and AmeriCorps members (ACM) were facing social justice unrest on local and national levels that weighed heavily on the hearts of everyone. Amid a global pandemic, we were grappling with a desire to understand, channel our fear and anger surrounding the ruthless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless other members of the black community, and how to respond.
The need for action in what seemed like a helpless situation prompted the use of the previously established CYSA Affinity Groups as safe spaces to find meaning for us personally and to the communities we served. Our intentions were to build community and provide healthy ways to express our thoughts and feelings. Of course, as we all have come to understand, intentions and impact are not always aligned, even when they come from a good place. We had a lot to learn about what facilitating responsible, brave spaces really meant. But to learn, we had to first take a step back and ask hard questions. What evolved was an incredible journey for the SEC and our San Antonio site, from boots on the ground to leadership decision-making.
Listening and learning from our corps members
The SEC decided to better gauge our ACMs’ understandings of diversity, belonging, inclusion, and equity (DBIE) and concluded we needed to go further than the national CY survey. We needed to include an additional layer of inquiry by conducting our own survey specific to service in San Antonio, followed by externally facilitated focus groups. We knew important DBIE work was happening locally so we enlisted the help of SA-based leaders to bring an objective perspective and whole-heartedly listen to the ACM voice, however uncomfortable the results might be. We received feedback questioning the purpose and practicality of affinity groups. ACMs wanted to learn more about the San Antonio communities they served so that they could better connect with students while understanding how their own backgrounds and identities could contribute to relationship building.
According to our research, we saw the need to prioritize our site practices to include how we informed and prepared our ACMs to respond to the immediate needs of the 2 east and 7 west side school communities in which we had influence. Our ACMs reported the need to understand how to be effective in countering decades-long historical trauma limited by their 10 months of service to move the needle towards educational equity.
Creating affinity spaces
We decided if we were going to offer affinity spaces for ACMs to express and explore their identities, we needed to make sure we did everything we could to facilitate well. Our staff reported the need for professional development relative to our own personal journeys in DBIE. Coming from a wide array of experience, our staff soon discovered that of paramount importance was to have confidence in leading influential young folks to responsibly engage in DBIE conversations with their students.
Preparing our staff to facilitate the groups
Beginning in October through December, we invested in professional development by another local facilitator who took our entire staff through training, helping us align on social justice language so that we could share collective understanding. Our staff designed and participated in our own affinity groups to ensure we could continue our own journeys alongside our corps members. At the start of 2022, we launched our affinity groups with our corps with an overwhelmingly positive response.
We understand the setbacks and tribulations that emerge are necessary for the advancement of this kind of work and so much is possible when we allow for vulnerability, acceptance, and grace. We are moving towards responsive, responsible facilitation of affinity groups and caucuses that have been built on the foundation of staff who are willing to learn and grow, together.
City Year San Antonio’s Site Equity Council is (left to right) – Barbie Leal-Hallam, Impact Manager at De Zavala Elementary; Enjoli Page, Impact Manager at Sam Houston High School; and Eliud Uresti, Senior Learning and Analytics Manager. The Site Equity Council works to develop a positive and responsible understanding of City Year’s commitment to diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion in our site. Barbara shares about the work they have done in the last two years and the work they continue to do.
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