WHY do we in 2024 still have to discuss the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

Hey Advocates,

Welcome! I’m so happy you are here. This week’s topic is more than a message. This week’s topic is an ongoing and evolving pledge of liberation and intentionality. As a matter of fact, it shows up, daily, in my professional and personal life. I want to ask you for a favor. I would love it if you would allow yourself to be fully present in this reading. 

I almost feel like I should put a trigger warning/content warning here (TW/CW: “Life be life-ing, yo” or “Humankindness should be more of a thing, because human-meanness definitely exists” or “Why can’t I be accepted just as I am” or “My tears have tears”). I know I am not using “TW/CW” correctly. I was trying to ease you into this topic, but let’s be real. There is no easing into ableism, discrimination, prejudice, implicit and explicit bias, stereotyping, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ageism, classism, sexism, xenophobia, microaggressions, etc. You are either giving me love and looking forward to this conversation, or you are clenching your jaws while muttering, “Not one of THOSE conversations again.” This is a collaborative, sacred space. We can’t do this work alone, which means I don’t have time to ease you into this conversation. You, by choice, are part of the “Leading Equity Center” family, so you shouldn’t really be expecting us NOT to talk about the hard things. That’s why you are here, right? Hear my heart on this: My goal is not to make everyone reading this feel good. I don’t work on “feel good” truth. I work on “just tell it from my experiences” truth. Since I am writing from my viewpoint, also keep in mind, we, as a people, are not a monolith. You may relate. You may not. Stick with me. 

The fact that you are still here tells me that you want to do the hard things. You want to talk about the proverbial “elephant in the room”. Otherwise, you would just yell “CAP” because we’re not walking the talk. Well, ain’t no “cap” around here, so let’s get to it. 

I know you’re wondering what I’m talking about - insert “loud sigh and pounding heartbeat.” In real life (IRL), I have a loud sigh and a pounding heartbeat whenever the acronym “DEI” or the words “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are stated. Loud sigh - because why is this even a conversation in the first place? Pounding heartbeat - because it never fails that someone tries to negate the positive impact these words have on the lives of so many, especially school-age children, or tries to weaponize these beautiful and innocent words. Do you remember, back in 2020, when a national effort was to ensure that corporations/organizations/industries - large and small - did the right thing by all people? I do. It gave hope. It offered a reset. It felt like fresh rain. Though very short-lived, the acceptance of DEI was not the exception but the norm.  


Let’s be clear, tho’. It’s not challenging for me to talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (throw belonging off in there, too, to give it some spice). I don’t understand how politics can be brought into everything, but the world manages to do it. If we didn’t have politics, we would have…I don’t know..humanity, perhaps. 

I’ve heard that talking about race is now seen as “being divisive.” I’d like to push back and say because race is a social construct and social constructs are politically founded, race is a political pillar, and therefore, politics are divisive. 

That was a lot in such a short amount of time. Let’s reset and check in. Remember, you’re supposed to be fully present. Some of you probably stopped reading when you realized we are about to journey into the world of DEIB - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. If you are still here, this is a safe space. It is a BYOB - Bring Your Own Bravery - type of gathering. You may feel joy, happiness, frustration, nervousness, anger, rage, shame, guilt, inadequacy, numbness, tiredness, and everything in between. These types of conversations bring many emotions, as they should, because we are talking about humanity in the most organic form. 

Let’s get back to the meat of the topic and ask a serious question - WHY do we in 2024 still have to discuss the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging? People say we shouldn’t be talking about that, and guess what? We shouldn’t! We should not be discussing the basic initiative for human needs to be met and rights to be validated in this big day and age. But here we are. Can I ask another question? I’m full of questions today. Why does DEI equate to being Black? Let me break it down, because the truth shall set us free…what is really being assumed is that Black people, specifically, are being given something that we didn’t earn. 

TW: Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Case in point, how did the tragedy in Baltimore turn into a conversation, not about the loss of lives or the suffering that families were enduring or the hurt that the city was feeling, but about the mayor? The Mayor. The Mayor, Brandon Scott, who only made a statement acknowledging the hurt and fear and concern the city was feeling, like any other mayor would have done. That was it. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He simply showed support for the city of Baltimore…and he was attacked and called a “DEI hire .” Now, what even is that? I think I know, and I think, if you’re still reading this, you also know. And it’s not good. 

Can we pivot for a moment? What if we summed up DEIB with the term “accessibility.” Would that be more digestible? We should all have access to all the things. Right? Let’s turn on the lens of accessibility for a quick second. I’m going somewhere here, so hold on. When we think about the term “accessibility,” we rightfully think about challenges and how to close the gaps. Accessibility supports empowerment, interconnectedness, self-sufficiency, and oneness. Sounds like something familiar, doesn’t it? It’s because it is! To make life accessible, education accessible, careers accessible, we have to consider the makeup of the person - holistically - their life story, how to make them feel connected and valued in spaces, and how to provide them with what they need to thrive.

I am an Exceptional Student Services Educator-turned School Counselor, so I have always had to amplify my voice to ensure all students are accepted, supported, and included. I do this challenging but fulfilling heart work because it’s right and necessary. It doesn’t take courage and bravery to do this work. Honestly, I am not being brave, when I make sure all students are able to receive righteous instruction while making sure they get a rigorous and relevant experience. I am not showing courage, when I recommend students be valued. We already know that students don’t learn from people they don’t like and who they know don’t like them. I am not wearing a cape when I ask for students to be seen beyond the protocols, the processes, and the procedures. I care for and about other humans because it’s the right thing to do. The great thing…I haven’t had to give up anything, and I haven’t lost anything by making sure that happens either. Let me make it plain: My paycheck didn’t change and my zip code didn’t change, by making sure others receive what they need to be accepted, supported, and included. I promise anyone can do this work without the fear of losing something. 

It’s time to decenter fear, guilt, and shame and center all of the principles and the pillars of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. In doing so, we can all receive the justice we need, see the beauty we all hold, and see our value of community and connectedness. It’s not about taking over spaces. It’s about being in the spaces…together…as one…unity…all of the things that we claim to care about and desire to uphold in these United States of America. 

This is a sacred journey and opportunity, and I hope that 2024 cultivates and nurtures belonging, as we create spaces that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. As always, this is an open invitation for you to pull up for a virtual coffee chat (or Spades game) and share with the Leading Equity Center family ways to unapologetically and radically engage in movements that help others not just be free but feel free. 

Written By: Sholanda Smith, Content Creator Leading Equity Center


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