Washtenaw United: Lessons learned through the UWWC's 21-Day Equity Challenge
ABOUT ELLEN COPELAND-BROWN:
Ellen Copeland-Brown works as a training manager at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. She also serves as DEI department liaison and an advocate in the health system.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we're going to explore diversity, equity, and inclusion and how self-examination and understanding can help improve the quality of life in our community. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. After a one-year hiatus to revamp the program, the United Way of Washtenaw County is relaunching its Equity Challenge. The 2023 edition will launch officially on January 9th and run through January 29th. It asks us to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes a day through the 21-day period to learn about the history and impacts of racism and to better understand how it continues to show up in our everyday lives. We could have had someone on to discuss the nuts and bolts of the program, but, instead, we decided to learn from someone who has participated in the challenge every year it's been available and works personally and professionally to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Ellen Copeland-Brown works as a training manager at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. She also serves as DEI department liaison and an advocate in the health system. Thank you so much for making time for us today, Ellen.
Ellen Copeland-Brown: Thank you so much for having me. It is my pleasure to help wherever I can and to try to be an advocate and raise consciousness to DEI.
David Fair: And right along those lines, what about your life's personal journey led you down the path of working for social justice?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: I think that's a question that I try to examine with myself all the time. But I will tell you that as one of the 21-day equity initiatives, I sat at the table--we came back together to meet at the table--to discuss what are we learning, what are we finding, what is our impression observations. And one thing that was brought up was talking about Sunday morning being the most segregated time in America. And I thought about that, and I thought about what had been my role in that. What role have I played in that? Have I stepped outside myself--my comfort area? What have I done to explore why this is? And could I also make it any better or raise consciousness with it? And it was there that I met others that were walking a different path than myself.
David Fair: And are we talking about the difference in Black and white churches and places of worship?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: I'm sorry. Yes, David. Exactly that. I'm in a all-Black Baptist church my entire life, and I've never stepped outside of that. And so, then we started to have a question conversation. And I took names of people who were in different religions, different races. And we began to speak and talk to each other outside of the meeting. And I think that really got my journey started. I started to examine and asking myself questions.
David Fair: So, in those conversations, did you explore with the others whom you had perhaps not involved yourself with before? The difference in color, the difference in perspective, in religion, and how those have so much in common?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: Yes. One of the things that the others were happy about was that I said I want to be that person because they had reached out to people in different races, cultures, backgrounds, and they said one of the things that kept coming up was it's not my responsibility to educate you on that. And one of the things that I also examined about myself, why do I believe that to be the case, the other thing is then, how do you make any advances if there is no dialog, no conversation? And if those aren't pointed out to you, we'll just be spinning our wheels and going over the same tracks over and over again. So, we start talking about please ask me. Be uncomfortable. And ask me the questions. And allow me to do the same. And so, it began relationship building.
David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation with Ellen Copeland-Brown continues on 89 one WEMU. As I mentioned, the 2023 edition of the Equity Challenge will get underway on January 9th, and Ellen has participated every time the challenge has been put forth. For those who have not experienced it, how does it work, and how does it help you face our own implicit bias?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: Great question. It's very simple in the way that it does work. There will be opportunities to click on a link, to go to the website. There will be ways to sign up. It's very easy. You just put your email address in, and they will send you back a confirmation that you're signed up, and then they will send out to you various forms ways to engage. So, you can read a book. You can read an article. You can watch a video. You can do an activity that causes you to interact with others. And you have your choice each day of how you want to interact. And then you have resources. But one of the things that does also offer you is the opportunity to jot down what was that experience like. What did you learn from it? What would you like to see different? And what will you do going forward as a result of it? And you get tons of resources that you can share with others to help them on this walk.
David Fair: What did the process and education not only teach you about yourself, but about our community as a whole here in Washtenaw County?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: It taught me just how really the definition of unconscious bias. When we hear the word bias, we shut down. I'm not biased. I think that was one of the first things that I said. I don't even know why this is being shared with me. I'm not biased. I don't have any biases. But, born and raised in Ann Arbor--
David Fair: I think we all like to tell that lie to ourselves, don't we?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: That's it. And I think because we put a negative connotation to it. There's all these things that we say to ourselves, but we don't really dig down deep enough to understand what it is that we're saying when we make those statements. Because, consciously, we may not feel that way, but subconsciously, what those things conjure up when we see people of a different race. Do our stereotypes creep up? What things happen immediately that may be outside of our consciousness. That may have been embedded in us, that we didn't know, or from experiences or TV, from all kinds of walks that we're not even conscious about. And that's all of us.
David Fair: Well, once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking diversity, equity, and inclusion and the upcoming United Way of Washtenaw County Equity Challenge with Ellen Copeland-Brown. She's employed at Michigan Medicine and has been an active participant. Ellen, when this equity challenge was first put forth, the George Floyd murder hadn't happened yet. The Black Lives Matter hadn't been launched. The #MeToo movement had yet to begin. In your estimation, are these things changing the dynamic in our community in the way we have to explore social justice?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: It is coming to us less packaged. More is seeping into our everyday life. It is now very visible and it is felt. And we have a desire to talk about things. We have a desire, now that is in our consciousness, to explore it more. And so, having the right language, resources, and opportunities to do so, so that we have a safe space on occasions in order to learn and use the correct dialog, correct terminology, so that we can engage in these conversations and have civil discourse.
David Fair: I think we are sometimes really afraid to sit across from someone who is different from us and ask the questions that are uncomfortable, that might be embarrassing, that might be difficult to answer. Are the conversations you are having now personally and professionally changing as we begin to better grasp these issues of inequity and a lacking system of social justice?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: I think they are changing from the perspective of awareness. I think they are changing from the perspective of listening. But I think behavior is slow. Change is often uncomfortable. And conversations will remain uncomfortable unless you practice it. And it's just like anything else, any muscle you don't use begins to...you have to use it. And so, as you learn the proper terminology, as you learn what is going on with you, as you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, I think there's greater opportunity to engage with one another and begin to learn.
David Fair: These are all issues being addressed in a realm that was already your passion. For those who have yet to participate in an equity challenge and may not have the same level of passion of you at this moment, what would you share with them that might light that flame?
Ellen Copeland-Brown: I would say sign up. If you do nothing else, sign up for the 21-day equity. If you do nothing else but take a look at the resources read in the comfort of your own home, it begins to spark questions in your mind. Then try to take some of the steps through the activities that are identified and reaching out to someone different than you. There's always the first step, and that's always the scariest. But, in order for us to engage in civil discourse in the way that our world is going right now, and it's absolutely necessary because, believe it or not, or want to believe it or not, we all need one another. So, in order to make that more powerful step outside of yourself, and the only way to do that is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and know that you have the tools and support or a safe space in order to do so.
David Fair: One of the most uncomfortable things we can do is take a hard look in the mirror and that change begins at home. Thank you so much for the time today, Ellen.
Ellen Copeland-Brown: I thank you for having me.
David Fair: That is Ellen Copeland-Brown. She works as a training manager at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor and serves as DEI Department liaison and advocate in the health system. She will once again be a participant in the upcoming 21-day Equity Challenge. It runs from January 9th through the 29th. For more information, pay a visit to our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
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