Working Towards Equity: A Millennial’s Perspective on Tackling Justice Issues in the Year of Chaos

Evan Stanfill, Equity InternA few years ago, on a rainy summer night in Indianapolis, I found myself in a hotel bar as part of a small circle of clergy and seminary students being led in prayer by Rev. Dr. William Barber II. I can’t tell you exactly what he said that night, but I will always remember how empowered I felt by the words he spoke. I am still not entirely sure of all the steps that led me to be in that spot on that night, but I know that my experiences in NBA XPLOR accelerated me in that direction. I was a resident in the 2015-2016 XPLOR cohort and was placed in St. Louis, Missouri. I arrived in St. Louis just over a year after the death of Michael Brown, a few months after the Ferguson Report was published, and still in the middle of its cries for justice. Being present with the people, churches, and history of St. Louis taught me many lessons and gave me more than I could ever hope to give back. It is a time I am eternally grateful for, and a place I will always cherish.

I want to pause my story to take a moment for a quick refresher on equality vs. equity, because people tend to use these terms interchangeably, and if there is one thing I have solidly learned in doing this work it is that they are not the same. Equality means being equal—everyone or everything is treated as identical. Equity is the quality of being just—everyone or everything is treated in a way that justly accounts for the realities of the world. Equality is a nice ideal, and works for some things, but if we truly want justice, the nuance of equity is a necessity. Holding this understanding of equity, I believe that no matter the size of a systemic problem, it is easy to connect that issue to equity and inclusivity not being considered during decision making processes.

I am convinced that the work of justice around equity and inclusion is the most necessary work to do to make the spaces we exist in a better place, and what I am called to do as a person of faith. As someone who is called to ministry, I can’t think of anything that is closer to my understanding of God’s heart than pursuing equity and justice for those who have been excluded. This is the work that the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures call us to participate in, Micah 6:8 tells us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is what Jesus proclaims as The Gospel, what he lifts up in the beatitudes. There are many more of these moments in the Bible and in my study, it is truly the through line that connects so much of the scripture. This clarity and understanding for me is part of the reason I said yes to becoming NBA’s Equity Intern this spring.

I began this work with the NBA in an official capacity in early March 2020. I was contacted about an Equity Intern position with the NBA that they wanted to fill with a former XPLOR resident, that would be working entire organization and with the XPLOR program more specifically. This role was created to specifically have a staff member who is focused on accountability to being equitable and inclusive, especially internally. I’ve been connected to the NBA and XPLOR since 2015 when I spent ten months in St. Louis as an XPLOR resident, but I was unsure if I should be the one to take on this role. As an able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual, white male, I wasn’t sure I was the person that would do justice to this position. After several conversations with the NBA and those close to me, I came to an understanding that this position, would allow me to leverage my privilege in a way that would be difficult to do on my own, and would allow me to develop my skills in ways that will continue to allow me to leverage my privilege in other spaces as it relates to equity and inclusion. If I am not willing to use my privilege to for equity and inclusion in all the places that I’m in, then I am complicit in the change not happening. Which if 2020 has made anything crystal clear, it is that when we are complicit and don’t actively fight for what is right, history repeats itself.

The work of equity is something that budded for me while in St. Louis, and has become more and more centered in my education and ministry. When I accepted the position with NBA, I knew that the work to be done was important, necessary, and difficult. What I did not know as that COVID-19 would be altering all of our lives and our focus. It has changed more than we could possibly have guessed. It has exposed the inequities of this nation, the status quo, our “normal” in new ways each day. Systemic injustice in healthcare, employment, wages, policing, the list is endless.

The killing of George Floyd, the protests that have followed, and the continued national coverage and conversation of police violence laid bare our systemically racist policing system. As we process these events as a country, it seems like there is more movement and calls for change in this moment than there has ever been before. I’m not entirely sure what to attribute it to, but there seems to be something different about the amount of white people who are ready to stop being complicit. After past acts of blatant injustice it has often felt to me that there were plenty of people, especially white privileged Christians, who were willing to say “yes, systemic injustice is real and a problem, but what can I do about it? I’m just one person,” and then would go back to their “normal” lives. This time feels different, and I am continually more hopeful that this confluence of events has pushed us past the acceptance of the status quo. I have to believe that as long as we keep pushing and don’t let up in the pursuit of equity, that this year, even in all its terribleness, could be a true turning point for justice and equity.

As a thirty year old millennial, and fast approaching whatever comes after “young” adulthood, I am hopeful that what I have shared here helps people grapple with the fact that there are no easy answers when it comes to this work, and that we all have a responsibility to continue to be a part of the solution. On a larger scale, I hope that this moment might be a point that allows us as millennials, especially millennials of faith, to claim this as the beginning of our movement to become a more vocal, active, and equity-oriented generation. One that does not just reluctantly buy into the status quo of the generations before us, but actively chooses our own role in society, one that brings us closer to the Kingdom of God.

“Prophets believe that what they proclaim on any day can be transformed into real action” –William J. Barber II, Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation

Evan Stanfill served as a resident in the 2015 St. Louis, Missouri XPLOR cohort. He now serves as NBA’s Equity Intern and on NBA’s Equity and Inclusion team.

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