By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity’s CEO
Habitat for Humanity is more than a nonprofit housing ministry. We have a vision of a world where we share one humanity, and that’s a world that we believe in and fight for every day. We are a faith-based organization, but we realize that faith alone is not enough. Our faith must be coupled with works and action.
As we share in the sadness, anger and uncertainty that have rocked communities across the United States since the killing of George Floyd — protests of the systemic and racial injustice that have infused and informed the life of our nation — we recognize that we must do more. I must do more.
In recent days, I have fallen to my knees in frequent prayer and reflection, seeking God’s guidance. Guidance to be a better listener. Guidance to be a better leader. Guidance to truly understand that my path as a white man has not been the path of so many of my fellow citizens and that my own experiences cannot be the measure of their journeys; that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And, finally, guidance to own where Habitat must go from here.
I know that I must change. I know that Habitat must change. And we must commit to tangible action.
We must commit to doing the work in our practices, our programs and our networks that brings equity to our efforts and helps bring justice to the communities in which we work. We must, throughout our ministry, do a better job of connecting issues of racial and social injustice with historic barriers to affordable housing and working to eradicate those barriers.
Historic discrimination in U.S. housing policy — particularly discrimination against Black Americans — is one of the chief drivers of racial inequities that persist today. Organizations like Habitat that work on housing must understand that history, and it must inform our work moving forward.
We want each of you, and all of our friends and supporters, to know the decisions we will make in how to proceed. Our answers cannot always be immediate, but I promise you that we will communicate with transparency.
Steps we are undertaking now:
- We have created a Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, a new position that will be posted on habitat.org/careers. This new role will serve as a member of our senior leadership team and will report to our chief operating officer.
- We recommit ourselves to taking bold actions to ensure racial equity through our collective advocacy efforts, specifically the Cost of Home campaign. The Cost of Home Policy Platform states, “Advocates and policymakers must acknowledge and address the well-documented patterns of racial discrimination in housing and land use policies — at all levels of government — that still impact the makeup and opportunities of our communities.” We will work to effectively address and respond to these urgent needs.
- Our recently launched +You thought leadership series will seek to inform and educate our audiences on significant and pressing issues in housing today — health, the impacts of COVID-19 on low-income families and particularly in communities of color, the role of redlining and racial inequality in housing disparities, and more.
- On Friday, June 19, Habitat for Humanity International will mark Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — with a Day of Reflection, Action and Solidarity. Our staff members are encouraged to use this day in a way that is most meaningful to them. Going forward, we will observe Juneteenth annually.
Every day and from now on, I and the leaders of our ministry commit to creating an environment where humility, open communication, dialogue and listening become our standard. In addition to being a space where people of all races, all faiths and all backgrounds can come together in common cause, we commit to being actively anti-racist and to affirming, through word and action, that Black Lives Matter and that our communities and systems must further this fundamental truth. We will ensure that our work is infused with courage and accountability so that we make our strong commitment to equity and true community a reality.
I promise to hold myself accountable for leading this organization to a better embodiment of these principles, and I seek your prayers, patience, support and help.
As we take up this work, we are reflecting on the list below, endorsed by the leaders of our Black Employee Success Team employee resource group. We offer it to you for your consideration as well.
- Seek out and listen to local Black-led organizations and leadership. Know your history.
- Commit to naming, understanding and uprooting all forms of racism and white supremacy.
- Be actively anti-racist in every facet of your life.
- Support the Black Lives Matter movement and organizations on the front lines.
- Advocate for racial equity and social justice reform.
- Register to vote and VOTE!
- Complete the census.
- Research and learn about Juneteenth.
- The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
- NPR: “The Color of Law” Details How Housing Policies Created Segregation
- Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, by Frances Kendall
- How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
- Stamped, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
- So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son, by Tim Wise
- The Atlantic: The Case for Reparations
- The Marshall Project: Bryan Stevenson on Charleston and Our Real Problem With Race
- The New York Times: Turning the call for racial reckonings back on the U.S.
- Segregated by Design, narrated by Richard Rothstein
- We Need to Talk About an Injustice: TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson
- The Urgency of Intersectionality: TED Talk by Kimberle Crenshaw
- PBS: Slavery by Another Name