Originally published in Nonprofit Quarterly
This article is the first in a new article series—Community Development: National Leaders’ Visions—that NPQ, in partnership with the CEO Circle, an informal network of BIPOC community economic development leaders, will publish in coming weeks. The series will focus on identifying what is required to address key transformational challenges and to help the field of community economic development better accomplish its twin missions of racial and economic justice.
Racial Representation in Community Development: The Vital Importance of Trust
Over the past few years, I’ve been delighted to see more people of color stepping into CEO roles at major national housing and community development organizations. It’s long overdue. As Miriam Axel-Lute observed just a little over four years ago in Shelterforce, “The community development world has a racial representation problem, especially in its top leadership.” The dearth of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in executive positions feels especially problematic in a field like community economic development, given that so many community development organizations work in communities of color.
That’s starting to change. Because it was such a rarity in the past, the appointment of growing numbers of BIPOC leaders has generated a lot of attention and optimism. But the field must do much more than just hire BIPOC CEOs. Community development groups need to recruit and retain people of color in the full array of positions and support them once they arrive. Associations can help build more robust pipelines of BIPOC professionals through career development services. Their partners—including neighborhood residents, community-based organizations, government agencies, private sector companies, and foundations—can also play key roles by cultivating trusting relationships with successive waves of emerging professionals.
One of the Surdna Foundation’s contributions to BIPOC leadership in the sector has been to join the Annie E. Casey Foundation in funding the CEO Circle, which provides opportunities for new national community development leaders of color to build relationships, support and learn from each other, and think creatively about challenges and opportunities. This Nonprofit Quarterly series features the perspectives of several of these prominent leaders.