PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2015

November 3, 2015

By: ArtPlace America

Hello Everyone!

Last week our team was able to attend PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2015 in Los Angeles. 

PolicyLink is our research and documentation consultant for our Community Development Investments and were kind enough to invite us down for this Summit.

In PolicyLink’s own words, the Equity Summit 2015 strived to “ground inclusion, justice, and prosperity in the urgent issues of today and connect them to the creativity and bold vision of the equity movement. Advocates from Ferguson to New Orleans, Minneapolis to New York, and all points in between, will be part of interactive panels, tours, and in-depth, skills-building sessions that showcase how local leaders can impact policy change. Equity Summit 2015 will forge powerful partnerships for building an equitable and prosperous nation."

We asked our team what learnings they brought back with them from the Summit!



There were many new and exciting things I learned and took with me from the Equity Summit; many seemed simple on the surface but contained such depth as to require their own blog posts. A perfect example of this is Nick Tilsen’s (Executive Director, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation) Lakota interpretation of the seventh generation principle: “Respect and learn from the three that came before you, respect and work for the three that come after you, and see yourself as the seventh.”

I also brought back with me new language for and understanding of the challenges behind immigrant integration at the local level; the immigration sector shares with the arts sector a commitment to ‘openness’ (as defined in the Knight Soul of the Community study) and we have a lot of as-yet-unexplored common ground.

And though it’s already underway, I was very excited to learn about Redgreen Rivers from artist Oskar Ly. Redgreen Rivers is a site where fashion designers and traditional artisans have come together in response to the global popularization of ethnic designs, patterns, and handicrafts (often without credit or backstory).

Now looking back at all I took with me, I can see they are in a way reflective of that Lakota saying. Respect and learn from the past. Respect and work for the future.



On Thursday morning I attended the plenary to launch Policy Link’s All-in Cities Report; a publication that provides clear direction and tools for local leaders to build more equitable cities.

The panel was moderated by none other than Rip Rapson, and Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, who offered her impressive perspective that most cities in this country were not designed and built to be equitable. She shared the harsh self-critique that while the overall unemployment rate had gone down for her city, when the data was disaggregated, they found that the average income for African-Americans in Minneapolis had gone down by $14,000 in the last year.

I was impressed with her ability to talk about what it takes to change the people working inside city government, to ensure that services provide equitably to all of their residents, and that this work is about good management.

It also became clear that much of the work she, as a leader, would like to advance is stifled by the existing framework of city governments.

In the end, I was left with two questions: What would it take to begin to build a new framework that supports elected officials in more effectively advancing equitable communities? And, how might the National Grants Program support local governments in implementing new initiatives with private capital to make the case for ongoing public investment?



The most enriching session at Equity Summit for me was Strengthening the Voice and Health of Native Populations because it made explicit through both data and storytelling the critical connection between health, community, and culture.  I particularly appreciated that the session included the amazing Lia Abeita-Sanchez who was there to speak directly about her own personal experience and understanding from the Native lens of what health means in a community context instead of just relying on data and analysis. I’ll be bringing back lessons from both the subject (expanding discussions about individual health/medicine to community/cultural health) and the format (data + individual storytelling).

There were a lot of other very interesting moments that will stick with me, including the opening video,“Our Moment” featuring poet Mayda del Valle, highlighting where we’ve been and where we are in the big social movements of our time. It hasn’t been posted yet, but I have a feeling it will see great traction as an inspiration for many folks who are trying to move the dial on equity issues. 

During a particular session on Building Sustainable Community Change: Beyond the Pilot (ie how to scale successful programs and ideas into broader policy agendas), Minnesotan Abou Amara pointed out something that will stick with me. He said: “Every time philanthropy steps in to soften the blow of a faulty system, it reduces the instigation to get people to change the system.”  To me it was a very clear way to frame a very big tension that exists in philanthropy.

In addition I really enjoyed learning more about the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California’s Hidden HiFi project, and can’t wait to follow it from this point forward.



Attending the Policy Equity Summit allowed me to connect with colleagues old and new. I was particularly excited to meet William Cordery, a Program Officer at the Surdna Foundation. He presented at the session Funders Boost Organizing and Advocacy to Deliver Policy Wins, where attendees unpacked the relationships between movement building and philanthropy.

William presented a powerful idea and call to the grantmakers in the room:  in order for philanthropy to support social justice causes and movements equitably, grantmaking programs need to mirror the causes and movements they intend to support.

That means everything from requirements, to guidelines, to internal review processes may need to become more flexible, nimble, and thoughtful. If movements are fluid in form and they use their own metrics for evaluating “success”, we shouldn’t ask them to change, and we as grantmakers, may need to adjust accordingly.

It was wonderful to hear other colleagues in the field reimagining their own grantprograms as Javier and I begin to consider some of these very concepts in the National Grants Program. I look forward to bringing these ideas back to my work, along with the wise words of Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley CDC: “Take the truth with you everywhere you go.”



Manuel Pastor from USC blew me away during the opening plenary.  The world needs to watch how he adeptly wove Kendrick Lamar lyrics into his closing remarks, but it’s his use of a Van Jones quote that stuck with me the most, “MLK famously proclaimed ‘I Have a Dream’ not ‘I Have an Issue.’”

Equity is a significant issue and translating it into a dream takes serious work—like what Sam Sinyangwe is doing to bring data to the public in the wake of Ferguson.  He breaks the issue of police violence into its components and leverages data to help push toward root causes.  

It was phenomenal to be part of a 3000-strong group of people who are committed to translating issues into dreams and outlining actionable steps so that grassroots and grasstops advocates alike can make dreams a reality.


Thank you to the ArtPlace team for such fantastic and thought-provoking takeaways. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!