We continue our Black History Month blog series with a reflection from Sonja Ervin on what drives her dedication to equity work. If you missed our first post of the series, be sure to check out CCC’s Black History Month Series: An Introduction.
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I never intended to actively do diversity, inclusion, and equity work. I am a clinician by degree, and a community outreach social worker by training and experience. I have always worked with folks who are marginalized in our society and are faced with enormous barriers. My shift to focus on equity was quite unintentional. It happened over time, but a turning point came when I had the privilege to help create the Over-Representation Program, Central City Concern’s first culturally specific service for the African American community. [Note: we will be highlighting the Over-Representation Program next week.]
At the same time, I was a single mother with a young African American son. As he moved through elementary school, I began to see and experience the lack of opportunities he was being afforded, the systemic issues that were keeping him from being challenged and reaching his full potential, and the incredibly exhausting fight required to ensure that he had access to those opportunities. Equity work became not something that I wanted to do, but something that I had no choice but to do.
Imagine the richness of our world if everyone had access to all of the opportunities to reach their highest potential. The physical, emotional, financial, and social benefits that would arise. The connections and communities that would be built and thrive. This is a world that I would like to live in and I feel a responsibility to do what I can to shift us a little bit closer each day.
I am honored to get to do this work at Central City Concern. CCC is a community of amazing people: those we serve, as well as those serving. There is a richness of history and experience that is present in the incredibly diverse staff and clients who are walking through the doors every day.
In response to the diversity of our staff and those we serve, not only has CCC recognized the need for culturally specific services, we took the step to expand them. In 2013, we began the agency’s culturally specific alcohol and drug services, Cultural Healing through Recovery. This program provides culturally specific peer treatment and support to African American men and women seeking addictions treatment. [Note: we will also have a forthcoming post highlighting Cultural Healing through Recovery!]
As an agency, Central City Concern has demonstrated commitment to providing the best possible care to the many distinct communities we serve. The organization is actively engaging in individual and organizational reflection through trainings; equity and cultural competence assessments; focus groups; and a robust and enthusiastic diversity committee to improve how we embrace and respond to the diverse world in which we work.
The work is not always easy; in fact it is often very difficult. But it is necessary and important and the dedication and commitment of everyone at CCC helps to keep me motivated to push us forward.
I’ve been unsure at times if I was up to this challenge of equity work. Could I do it? Did I have the experience and knowledge?
During those times of uncertainty, my wife has said to me, “You have been preparing your whole life for this moment.” This is how I move forward in this work. My experiences, who I am, and what I have done have brought me to this moment to do the work in front of me. So in the times I'm faced with doubt, I just remember that I’ve been preparing my entire life for right here, right now.
Sonja Ervin is the Director of Cultural Equity at Central City Concern.