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Facing the Past to Improve the Future:
Why Leaning into DEIB Is So Important

By Dr. Tracy Bailey and Ericka Wooten

Examining the Foundation’s journey to uplifting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging through the perspectives of Board Member and Mission and Values Committee Chair, Dr. Tracy Bailey, and Sisters of Charity Foundation Director of Culture and Values, Ericka Wooten.

The Why (Ericka Wooten)

For the Foundation, embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is an expression of fidelity to the principles espoused in our faith traditions and our core values of courage, compassion, justice, respect, and collaboration. Our core values speak to the actions and importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.  What is courage, justice or respect without standing for equity and inclusion? What is compassion or collaboration without seeing and honoring diversity? These values demand a commitment to DEIB. Our faith traditions are guided by recognizing the inherent dignity of every human being. That every human being belongs and there is no such thing as the “other”.

Our work in the DEIB space is about elevating all people, especially those individuals and communities that have been historically invisible and marginalized because of race, gender, abilities, and other characteristics that are used to “other” people. The Foundation’s work in the DEIB space is a tangible way for us to see and embrace the whole person and not their situation.

Learning with our Partners and Leaders (Dr. Tracy Bailey)

As I consider the DEIB work of the Foundation on MLK Day 2024, I reflect on Dr. King’s life, his legacy, and the sacrifices he and others like him made so that we could enjoy privileges he couldn’t even imagine in his lifetime. I consider the quote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Dr. King’s words on true peace resonate with me deeply and have served as a guiding light in my role as a parent and non-profit leader. Freedom Readers, a growing literacy non-profit, was established in 2010 with the mission of improving reading skills in low-income communities. From my standpoint, making sure that every child, regardless of socioeconomic status, zip code, family background or religious affiliation, has access to books they like and the ability to read them is a prime example of justice. When this dream is realized, we’ll have leveled the educational playing field, closed the achievement gap, and downsized the prison industrial complex.

The distribution of thousands of books and significant hours of free tutoring to families experiencing poverty was aided by financial and moral support of the Foundation. I am abundantly grateful to have partnered with the Sisters of Charity Foundation for many years, as a grantee partner, committee member, and now Board Member and committee chair. I have witnessed first-hand their commitment to the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I immediately accepted the invitation to join the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee when it was extended a few years ago. As a member of the committee, I found myself in the perfect position to learn more about how the Foundation actualized its commitment to justice. Not only did I observe Board members and staff speaking about the issue of racial equity frankly and consistently, but I noticed individuals from the top down making personal commitments to advancing this work. These examples encouraged me by illustrating action that is directly influenced by DEIB values. As a result, I felt confident in my ability to fulfill the responsibilities of a Board member because my values and the Foundation’s values of DEIB are aligned.  I know firsthand that the level of engagement of each Board member correlates directly with the strength of the mission. As a decision-making body, the Foundation board has a responsibility to support and intentionally prioritize DEIB, serving as both internal champions and external advocates.

The How (Ericka Wooten)

The Foundation is committed to working in the DEIB space because it is mission critical. The work of the Foundation, in the simplest terms, is to help people who are experiencing poverty in South Carolina. We accomplish this through our grantmaking and our work in the advocacy and policy space. The Foundation is also dedicated to finding ways in which to break the cycle of poverty and address the systemic barriers and interconnected obstacles that trap individuals and families within a cycle of hardship that is almost impossible to escape. The Foundation recognizes that to understand the systemic nature of poverty, historical context is crucial. Our 2020 Structural Factors of Poverty Study, along with decades of other data, have illuminated the disproportionality of poverty affecting communities of color. So, we have been asking ourselves how did the systems targeting communities of color such as segregation, political disempowerment, financial practices, and the criminal justice system (to name a few) still have such an enormous impact on these communities a century or more later? Systemic racism such as this is oftentimes so embedded in systems and institutions that it often is assumed to reflect the natural, inevitable order of things. This reality requires a DEIB lens to understand and guide our work moving forward.

The Foundation’s DEIB journey began with an acknowledgement and acceptance of the relationship between race and poverty. We must continue to center the work of the Foundation in the reality of persistent racial disparities that are found in healthcare, housing, incarceration, education and wealth building. With internal learning, sharing educational resources with our networks, and a constant commitment to honoring DEIB in all aspects of our work, we have dedicated time and resources to ensure these values are kept at the forefront of our efforts. The DEIB learning journey that the Foundation has engaged in over the past few years will continue as we seek to better understand not only the nuances of poverty but the reality of poverty so that we can make better decisions to ensure that all South Carolinians have the resources to thrive.

Moving Forward (Tracy Bailey)

Today I’m enjoying the privilege of serving as a Board member and the chair of the Missions and Values committee (formerly the DEIB Committee). What I have discovered in all my roles -parent, non-profit leader, Board member, committee chair- is that Dr. King’s 1958 quote on justice is evergreen. As the years progress and those who seek to use their influence to roll back progress in equity become more emboldened, the cost of justice escalates. The absence of tension is no longer enough. These are the moments when we must speak up, speak out, and take action. These are the times when we return to our basics and reaffirm our core values. This work deepens my belief that, to paraphrase Dr. King, the long moral arc of the universe truly does bend toward justice.

"Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced." -James Baldwin

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© 2024 Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. All Rights Reserved.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.
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