Letter to the Community from Our Executive Director
Dear Everett Community,
Over the past few weeks, I have wrestled with what to say in the context of the death of George Floyd and the scourge of systemic racism. I realize that as a Black person who grew up under Apartheid in South Africa, I don’t have the same experience that other people of color have. As the Executive Director of the Everett Housing Authority, I have struggled to separate my own pain from my responsibility to lead and speak. However, it is vital to allow some of the names of those who have died speak to you as you read their names:
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Botham Jean. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford. Michelle Shirley. Eric Garner. Redel Jones. Kenney Watkins. Stephon Clark. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. Sean Monterrosa. Jamel Floyd. Dreasjon Read.
The violent, vicious, and visual manifestations of racial oppression over the past few weeks have captured the nation’s attention. It has prompted millions of Americans to accept that there is something seriously wrong in the United States. And it has led to hundreds of thousands here and all around the world to engage in protest. These events have no doubt generated conflicting emotions and questions about what we and our community should respond.
As a public agency, the Everett Housing Authority is prohibited from taking any political positions and actions. For example, we cannot encourage anyone to take any political action or to vote for a particular party. However, each individual, including EHA employees, has a right to participate in action that you choose, including protesting and voting. It is the right of all who live in this country to engage in any and all peaceful political actions in pursuit of a more just society. As an employer, EHA will not take any action as a result of any employee’s political or other responses outside of EHA.
EHA’s Long-Term Commitment to Address Systemic Racism
Just more than a year ago, EHA’s Board directed us to incorporate into our mission the necessity of undoing systemic racism, observing that housing has been at the center of government efforts to institutionalize racism. Over the past year, we have begun to follow through on this directive in the following ways:
- Uniquely among housing authorities of our size, we have hired a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to lead the championing of this part of our mission.
- By the end of 2019, the diversity of our Board of Commissioners increased from one person of color out of six to four out of six.
- We are following through on our commitment to hire more diverse staff at all levels of the organization and provide advancement and training opportunities for staff of color, resulting in the most diverse leadership team in the agency’s history.
- We have provided ongoing training opportunities to all staff on systemic racism and the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- During the past three to four months, we have practiced the principle of inclusion in our decision-making by authentically engaging all staff to get input on several matters.
- Earlier this month we held a virtual town hall for all staff, providing them with an opportunity to come together and reflect on the recent protests and conversations about race happening around the country.
In addition to these efforts, staff and the Board of Commissioners have been working to develop a new mission statement for the Everett Housing Authority that explicitly states our commitment to replacing systemic racism with equity for all and a draft 10-year strategic plan that includes four core objectives, one of which is the pursuit of racial justice and equity.
Undoing systemic racism will take a long-term commitment. We are at the beginning of building the muscle of our organization for the long-term battle for racial equity. Change and racial equity does not happen overnight. But it will happen if we are focused, organized, and strategic.
If and when the protests and reports about racist incidents disappear from the news, racism and oppression will not disappear, and the Everett Housing Authority will continue its efforts to become a non-racist organization by pursuing our new mission.
As a Black person leading this agency, I am proud to be associated with the Everett Housing Authority’s stellar service to the people who are in need and particularly our pursuit of racial equity and justice.