Dismantling Institutional Racism: Our Journey

-by Pamela Ross
vice president of opportunity, equity and inclusion

For many, the thought of “undoing” institutional racism seems so abstract and monumental that having the audacity to take it on leaves many people not only skeptical, but often, adversarial. What sound mind would believe the people, power, resources and commitment to tackle this issue exists in a country so strongly rooted in racist acts, where talking about race often sparks turmoil, fear and denial? We are a society that perpetuates the injustice and disparities that we claim to hate through our lack of courage. There is a silent unwillingness to face the issue of institutional racism and, especially, the ways it creates barriers to people of color’s health, well-being and success. But recent studies by The Brookings Institution and other researchers have shown that race has a profound impact on whether or not a person has access to opportunity. If we want Central Indiana to be a community of inclusive economic growth, we can no longer ignore race. At the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), we believe change is possible and yes, race has to be a part of the discussion.

There is a silent unwillingness to face the issue of institutional racism…

Our organization can’t be a part of a conversation about equity unless we get smart about the history and enduring impact of institutional racism. Gaining that knowledge is an ongoing process, but we started by sending everyone on our staff and the CICF board to a two-day workshop called “Undoing Racism,” developed by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and presented by Child Advocates of Marion County. Undoing Racism is a highly informative opportunity for people to further their knowledge about institutional racism through dialogue, reflection, role-playing, strategic planning and presentations. It challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity and leave many people marginalized. The content covers the history, policies and practices that were intentionally built to affect people of color. The workshop goes even further in bringing the realization of how that same institutional governance exists today.

Sending CICF staff and stakeholders to attend a training including difficult content was not easy. The time commitment from staff, coupled with the uncertainty of how they might process the information afterwards, was complicated to say the least, but we did it. Over the course of a year, all staff was sent to the workshop in cohorts of 5-6 people with staff debriefings held a couple of weeks afterwards. The debriefings were intended to provide a safe space for staff to be vulnerable and authentic in processing the experience. We disagreed. We were emotional. But we grew. Today, we continue to grow through more conversation and learning. The experience continues to help our institution evolve.

We believe in the importance of the Undoing Racism workshop so strongly, that we have partnered with Child Advocates to make it available to more people in our community. Child Advocates began hosting the workshop in 2010 to help workers in the family court system better understand the disproportionate number of black children going into the foster care system and staying longer than any other race. Since then, under the leadership of Cindy Booth, executive director, and with the support of funders such as CICF, almost 3,000 people from education, not-for-profit, corporate and other sectors and backgrounds have completed this training. Workshops are now held monthly and people are attending at record levels. The desire to learn more, and therefore do more, is becoming contagious.

We support Undoing Racism, because you cannot tackle an issue if you do not understand it. This workshop is the best resource our community has to gain foundational knowledge of how institutional racism works and it was a crucial step in CICF’s current journey.

And while others may avoid the issue of race, we will not.

There are those that are unconvinced that an organization like CICF can take on this work and make a difference. But we are determined. CICF has changed its mission and we’re going all in. Our mission is to mobilize people, ideas and investment to make this a community where every individual has equitable opportunity to reach their full potential—no matter their place, race or identity. We aim to create neighborhoods and environments that empower people, change unfair systems and dismantle institutional racism to make this a place where everyone can thrive. While others may avoid the issue of race, we will not. We know race does not play a role in all of the inequities and disparities we see in our community, but we do know that it is still a major contributing factor.

We, at CICF, believe we can make a difference. However, we also know we cannot do it alone. With the support of many partners in the community as well as nationally, we hope to bring profound awareness, meaningful conversations and lasting impact to our community. We cannot promise to always get things right. In fact, we know that we will not. We do commit to remaining humble, learning and listening to our community. And we want the community to hold us accountable.

There is no quick or easy answer and everything starts with learning. In order to do something you’ve never done before, you have to build your knowledge and be open to change. We hope to be the change we wish to see in Central Indiana and across the country.

NOTE: For available dates and more information about attending an Undoing Racism workshop, please visit childadvocates.net/undoingracism.


Just a quick note to let you know I have been admiring your articles and site from afar but wanted you to know that you are doing a great job, fabulous readings and efforts, keep up the good work!


Very pleased to see CICF taking a leading role in this critical community issue that impacts us all, one way or another. You have your work cut out for you in Central Indiana and I hope you can share your messaging with schools, retailers and many others. Keep up the great work and stay strong.


Thank you for taking on this challenge and expanding access to “Undoing Racism”.


I am so proud to see my former employer taking on what has got to be one of the most challenging issues of our current culture. Addressing the issue head-on with knowledge and understanding may not change the world but it could change Indianapolis and central indiana. Keep it up folks.


The Undoing Racism workshop is fantastic–it is so great to see this being widely and wholly supported. This is using our powers for good.


Undoing Racism workshops are an enlightening experience. Thank you for your support of this great learning opportunity.


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