Jan. 26, 2021 3:10 pm

Want to build an organization of belonging?

"We have to recognize we haven’t gotten it right and that getting different voices in the room is not enough," says guest columnist Cheryl Thompson-Morton.

Still from a film by ¡Presente! Media, a collective led by Latinx filmmakers and journalists focused on social justice.

(Courtesy of Cheryl Thompson-Morton)

This guest column was written by Cheryl Thompson-Morton, program manager at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Inclusion isn’t enough.

To ensure equitable representation, organizations must orient themselves around belonging. They must move away from trying to have folks assimilate into an existing culture that didn’t take them into consideration from the start. Instead, they should co-create with people of the different lived experiences they want to attract with their culture or programs to ensure their desires and needs are addressed in the culture.

This nuanced distinction was one of the key concepts that emerged from BEYOND: Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism, a summit I led last year focused on equity in Philadelphia’s news community. While our focus at The Lenfest Institute, where I work, is on journalism, this applies to all mission-driven organizations.

“Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging means being able to participate in the design of political, social and cultural structures. Belonging means the right to contribute and it also means that we have the right to make demands upon society and its institutions.” said Dr. Shakti Butler of World Trust, who helped facilitate sessions at the conference.

This work requires intention and an understanding that in order to create a place where more people belong we will have to radically transform our culture. We have to recognize we haven’t gotten it right and that getting different voices in the room is not enough. We have to recognize that the power of the voice is it’s relationship to the ear. The problem isn’t that the community hasn’t been using its voice. The problem has been that we aren’t listening in a way that leads to the change communities need.

For an organization to be built around belonging it first must be held accountable to its espoused beliefs and goals. In order to truly be accountable to the staff and community, you need to be transparent not just about how you’re working to serve your community  but what your goal and mission are, what the deadline is to achieve that goal, and what are the consequences for not completing that action. It also is critical that these three criteria are designed in partnership with the community and not just handed down from leadership.

Another characteristic of an organization of belonging is that it provides access to people from communities it wants to serve. This access ranges from the qualifications we require to become staff or board members or be considered an expert.

From our Partners

There are journalism organizations locally that are pushing this work forward.

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists has created a model of building a space where Black journalists felt they belong and served as a model nationally. Resolve Philadelphia has built a collaborative of news providers where in that space every organization is vested with authority to help shape how the work evolves. Free Press has created space for community members to demand that news organizations reimagine the criminal justice beat to better serve us all. Independence Public Media Foundation has vested power into trusted community partners to recommend others in the community to receive funding.

Our goal at Lenfest is to create a Philadelphia media community of belonging. For us this means conducting deep, long-term listening with community members in the design of our work, incorporating their feedback and giving them the power to hold us accountable to our values. It also means sharing publicly what our plans and goals are for our work — and being transparent about what we’re doing and why.

By leaning into this work we will increase the access people have to tap into their greatness and thrive in this society — which should be our goal.


From our Partners

What Black professionals and professionals of color hope for from Philadelphia

Trade Diversity: How Workforce Development Programs Are Working to Close the Gaps

The Illusion of Inclusion


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