Equity strategy intern helps United Way prioritize community voices

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Jessica Brown, participant in Western’s Black Leadership University Experience (BLUE) program

Jessica Brown
Equity strategy intern, United Way Elgin Middlesex

As part of its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and Indigenous Collaboration, and to strong community partnerships, United Way Elgin Middlesex became a participant in Western’s Black Leadership University Experience (BLUE) program. Fourth-year student Jessica Brown joined for a paid, five-month role as an equity strategy intern, with a goal of helping us improve how we operate and create impact.

Can you briefly describe the project you’ve worked on at United Way Elgin Middlesex?

I’ve worked with the Community Impact team on finding local organizations that would be eligible to apply for the federal Community Services Recovery Fund. My focus was targeted towards racialized and diverse populations in an effort to increase United Way’s community reach. I am also working on the development of best EDI and Indigenous Collaboration practices for internal and external communications. This includes social-media etiquette and ways to improve representation and inclusivity in our posts.

Why does EDI matter for community-based organizations? What changes/opportunities can happen when we view the community through an equity lens. What happens when we don’t? 

EDI builds  education and awareness in community-based organizations, and this leads to a respectful and inclusive work environment. It also creates a stronger understanding within partnerships and fosters improved collaborations. When we’re viewing the community through an equity lens, there is more opportunity for diversity in perspective-taking. It can broaden the conversation by bringing in unique voices to add input into discussions. Failing to do so can limit our ability to remove systemic barriers that continue to exist for vulnerable populations.

“Real change will happen when we prioritize the voices of those who are most affected by the problems we wish to solve.”

Jessica Brown, Equity strategy intern, United Way Elgin Middlesex

Why is EDI/representation important to you personally? 

It was not until recently that the concept of EDI became recognized in schools and workplaces. Before this, few resources existed for marginalized groups. As a Black girl growing up, I found it difficult at times to find camaraderie in peer groups where I never found myself represented. Being the equity strategist at United Way allows me to give back and deliver resources to others who may have felt, or are still feeling, excluded or unheard.

How can donors practise/embrace equity and diversity?

Doing your own personal research in diversity is the most important piece: what it means to you, and the history it embodies. Education is the best way to better support organizations and the individuals within them. From there, it is important to include representation in  discussions. This encompasses individuals of different skills, educational backgrounds, ethnicities and life experiences. Real change will happen when we prioritize the voices of those who are most affected by the problems we wish to solve.

You’re part of the first BLUE cohort at Western University. Have you encountered any unexpected challenges or joys?

The most rewarding part of the process has been the United Way team itself. I look forward to every meeting because of the positive energy and passion everyone brings. It has been a challenge to balance multiple responsibilities, all of which carry great importance. Whether it it’s keeping up with a demanding academic workload, or pushing myself creatively for a UWEM project, the past few months have kept me on my toes!

What have you learned from us at UWEM? 

I have learned that the process of creating change is thoughtful and takes time to do properly. Most people see only the final deliverable of a project and are not aware of the inner workings in achieving it. I have also learned how truly rewarding a career can be. UWEM introduced me to some amazing people who inspire me each day because of the passion they have for what they do.

What’s next for you?

I’m not sure! I am graduating this spring and will be pursuing further schooling in September, either medical school, or a public health degree, and I’m excited for my future and the opportunity to enact change. Whatever it is, I look forward to the challenge and beginning this next chapter.