Why is focusing on race equity important to you as executive director of Cooper Foundation?
The mission of Cooper Foundation is to make Waco a better or more desirable place to live. I think about that mission a lot and have sometimes wondered, “For whom are we trying to make Waco better?” I believe we want to make Waco better for everyone, but disparities have existed for a long time and continue to exist.
Unfortunately, whether or not our city is a desirable place to live is directly impacted by racial inequities that have contributed to access, opportunity, and achievement challenges that many people in Waco (and across the country) face.
To make Waco a better place to live for all members of the community, I believe we must increase awareness about racial inequities and normalize equity as a value in our community.
Addressing racial inequities in Waco is in direct alignment with the mission and spirit of the Cooper Foundation. Our longstanding legacy of being a community leader makes this even more appropriate.
Have you attended any trainings focused on race equity?
I have attended the Racial Equity Institute’s (REI) Phase I training several times. Additionally, this past year especially, I tried to take advantage of nationally offered race equity trainings being delivered via webinar. The pandemic provided additional opportunities for learning about this topic.
How did you present this work to your staff and board?
After I attended the first REI Phase I training offered by Waco Foundation in 2016, I was convinced that Cooper Foundation should help support this work, so I put together a proposal that I presented to my board.
It was much like the proposals that nonprofits complete when applying for funding from Cooper Foundation. I started by identifying a few data points showing disparities in outcomes, specifically around health outcomes. I could have picked any topic – education, health, financial security, housing, job opportunities, you name it – because racial disparities exist in every issue area we care about, and white people are always doing much better. I selected teen births, infant mortality, well-woman exams, and prematurity; these four data points showed clear disparities between the races and, to me, demonstrated systemic problems that cannot be addressed with programmatic solutions alone.
So, I clearly laid out the need and then provided a solution, which was to provide more of the REI trainings to those in our community. Fortunately, my board was in full support of helping to fund these trainings, and we’ve been partnering with Waco Foundation ever since.
What type of feedback have you received from your staff?
The board and staff have both been receptive to this work. The board voted to fund the initial proposal immediately – the discussion was not whether or not to support the work; rather it was centered on the importance of it. As my board members have had the opportunity to attend the training, their commitment has grown.
The Cooper Foundation board has recognized the need to publicly state our commitment to racial equity for a while, but wanted to be thoughtful about what that statement included. We looked at multiple organizations’ statements on race equity (why reinvent the wheel?) and discussed what Cooper Foundation might say. After several discussions, I drafted a statement and after some tweaking, we settled on the following statement, which is now on our website’s homepage.
Madison Cooper created the Cooper Foundation with the mission to make Waco, Texas a better or more desirable place to live.
The Cooper Foundation board is committed to making Waco a better place for all Wacoans and envisions a community where one’s race or ethnicity does not influence how one fares in society.
We believe achieving that requires a commitment to racial diversity, equity, and inclusion. That means creating conditions in our community where all people are valued and have the ability to thrive, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
What do you hope will be accomplished by committing to an equitable environment?
The thing about inequities is that they harm all of us. I might be doing just fine, but the fact that so many in our community are not, impacts my quality of life. In communities where gains have been made in eliminating disparities, data shows that everyone actually does better—all outcomes improve, not just the outcomes for people of color.
I hope that we can help our community understand that this is not a zero-sum game where, if people of color start to have better outcomes, white people will start to do worse or lose. That is not the case. We can all do better.