Racial Equity

Corps Network: How to engage 139 organizations in racial equity learning


Whether the experience involves an individual, organization or community, lasting transformation takes place from the inside out. For the next several weeks, we’re pulling lessons from our new Racial Equity Spotlight series. This set of three publications gives an insider’s view of a wide variety of WKKF grantee partners who are committed to transforming their internal practices and ways of being to strengthen their work in support of children and families.

In Brief

A key pillar of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s was the creation of the federally funded Civilian Conservation Corps, which created jobs for millions of unemployed Americans and allowed for investment in public lands and parks. A dimension of the CCC still exists today, known since 1985 as the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps or The Corps Network (TCN). The Corps Network coordinates service projects on public lands and in rural and urban communities throughout America, providing environmental justice and economic mobility for 25,000 young adults and veterans annually.

Conversations about equity and justice had long been a part of the Corps and among Corpsmembers. However, a full racial equity analysis is complicated within a networked organization like TCN. The national office has only 24 staff members, but the network covers 139 organizations across the country, with different staff, boards and Corpsmembers, and at different locations, all experiencing their own equity journeys.

Why This Matters

Racial equity conversations within TCN started at the grassroots level. Two Corps organizations in California facilitated a racial equity workshop in 2016. Interest was so high that TCN made its 2017 annual conference theme “Moving Forward Together: Promoting Racial, Environmental and Community Equity.” That spring, with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, TCN launched its Moving Forward Initiative to address unconscious bias and structural racism within the Corps community. The first MFI cohort consisted of TCN staff, board members, federal land management agency partners and 10 Corps organizations, representing the broad diversity of ways in which the Corps collaborates and functions. After the first MFI training, a virtual community learning space was established to continue conversations, and from those conversations and shared resources TCN developed a racial equity “course” in which participants could engage at their own pace.

Cohort participants named several benefits of their MFI work, including:

  • A deeper understanding of concepts like structural racism or unconscious bias;
  • How their organizational structures might reinforce inequity;
  • Rethinking opportunities for Corpsmembers, including after their TCN work is completed;
  • Making formal investments in racial equity programming and initiatives;
  • Engaging consultants to help further their organization’s equity journey;
  • Creating advisory councils to prioritize Corpsmembers’ experiences;
  • Charting their own organization’s shared vision and buy-in;
  • Aligning policies and structures with organizational equity values.

The Opportunity

If your organization is made up of complex networks, you may struggle to envision how racial equity conversations could work when your partners and colleagues are at different places in their racial equity journey. Read more about how The Corps Network developed its Moving Forward Initiative and how it prepared them to react in the summer of 2020.


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