As was true for many organizations across the country, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 and national protests after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 pushed us at the Camden Coalition to reflect on our organization’s relationship to equity and justice. In 2021, we began work on a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement that both acknowledged our role in perpetuating systemic inequities and laid out a clear commitment to pursuing justice through our work in Camden, in New Jersey, and across the country. The DEI statement was spearheaded by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, with input from Camden Coalition staff and leadership. The statement is now published on our website.
The Camden Coalition’s formal DEI work began in 2016, in recognition of the fact that our lens of centering the needs of the most marginalized through complex care did not always extend to our internal practices. That summer, we convened a staff-wide retreat at which we adopted diversity and inclusion as a core value which we defined collectively as:
The Camden Coalition seeks to create a safe and equitable environment where everyone can contribute one’s authentic self. As such, we:
- Honor the inherent value of every individual’s unique story, experience, and perspective
- Recognize the inequalities of power, privilege, and prejudice that shape our current systems
- Address exclusionary and unjust practices
We also formed a staff-led Diversity and Inclusion (now Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) working group and steering committee. This group facilitated policy changes including removing mandatory drug screening for new hires, began the practice of monthly cultural celebrations, created spaces for reflection and mutual support around traumatic current events like police brutality and mass shootings, brought in external trainers to train staff in facilitation and bias, and in 2020 a DEI discussion series called TableTalks.
Current initiatives of the DEI working group include developing a mentorship program for staff of color, an internal resource library on DEI topics, and weaving DEI into departmental workflows and initiatives. Because advancing equity is one of the five pillars of our 2022-2025 strategic plan, each department will have measurable goals to ensure that the work we do is connected to advancing health equity.
Thus far, the majority of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work and conversations have focused on racial and economic justice, but we are committed to applying our DEI lens to understanding and addressing marginalization and oppression in all its forms. In January, staff received training on gender and sexual diversity, and how to support queer and trans patients and colleagues. We strive to act in explicit solidarity with all people who have been harmed by white supremacy, discrimination, and stigma.
At the Camden Coalition, our goal is that diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded in both our internal practices and our externally-facing work — and that we move away from seeing the two as separate or mutually exclusive. To that end, we recently moved our community engagement and human resources teams under the same director: Victor Murray, our Senior Director of Community Engagement & Capacity Building.
“We don’t always think of staff as an extension of the community,” says Victor. “We want to bring the same level of intensity, support, and engagement we’ve brought to our community-facing work into the walls of the organization.”
Ultimately, we hope to be a role model in Camden and across the country for practices that center equity, inclusion, and justice. Here are some ways we are working toward that goal.