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Ellen Hwang says racial equity goes beyond just inviting people to the table

September 3, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
When Ellen Hwang thinks about growing up, she remembers vividly the times she visited her dad at his law practice. There, she got to know the North Philadelphia community it was located in and sat in on important meetings with executives.

“But I don’t think that’s the story for every minority group,” she said.

Now, as the Philadelphia program director of the Knight Foundation, Hwang wants to make more diverse populations feel valued and welcomed stepping into board meetings and sharing their perspective.

“There are people who never had that opportunity to learn and have the chance to naturally walk into a board meeting and feel really comfortable,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like a fish out of water.”

This month, The Knight Foundation made a $1.2 million grant to the Maynard Institute in order to foster diversity in newsrooms. This program will focus on training news organizations themselves to be more inclusive, said Knight Foundation spokesperson Roshni Neslage.

“This approach is different than the typical models of addressing diversity in newsrooms,” Neslage said. “Instead of putting the onus on marginalized communities to educate those around them about diversity, this program gives the organization at large the responsibility to shape a culture that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The grant will be used in newsrooms for six month periods, when an expert will help organizations make structural changes they need to improve their cultural dynamics and content.

The foundation also puts more than a third of its assets in the hands of minority- and women-owned firms. Neslage said this practice is part of the Knight Foundation’s belief that all aspects of their work should be inclusive.

Hwang said once people are given an equal and valued voice, philanthropy organizations like the Knight Foundation should be especially conscious of their grantmaking and how the funds are being used.

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This, she said, can be accomplished through recognizing and defining community — it could be a neighborhood, cultural group or the city as a whole — and assessing if the grants and programs are serving the intended community.

“We need to be asking these questions to folks before they become a grantee and be very vigilant about following their journey and making sure as they are doing their work they consider who is creating art and using public spaces and sharing media,” she added.

Hwang believes strengthening a diverse community in Philadelphia is a part of making more people comfortable in sharing their perspectives in a historically exclusive executive space.

“It’s all about creating a whole fabric of the city and making sure people really feel engaged with one another,” she said. “The city should be a place where people of all walks of life can really feel welcomed.”

Hwang added that it’s also important to realize that racial equity goes beyond categorizing people based on their race identification on the census.

“We need to make sure we understand the nuances and the diaspora in the racial groups,” she said. “I think being an Asian American woman is a strength but I don’t represent all Asian Americans.”

Although there are still more steps the city can take, Hwang said she has seen effort from organizations to follow through on their goal to become more equitable.

“We’re in really exciting times,” she said. “There’s not only energy but also pressure to be really intentional about how we’re talking about racial equity and executing our intent to include diversity.”

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