Hello AEA crew! My name is Cynthia Mackey, MSW and I am a doctoral student within the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. Over the years, I have collaborated with a number of nonprofit organizations who work directly with racially and ethnically diverse communities. While sharing our work, I learned one of the most underrated activities in research is taking the necessary time to build meaningful partnerships with communities of color. Sadly, I’ve seen relationship-building placed as an afterthought, suited primarily to fulfill grant requirements. Successful collaborations occur when lasting partnerships are established and well before any grant opportunity exists. While not an exhaustive list, I offer a couple tips based on my coalition work for researchers struggling to develop those meaningful partnerships.
What is a meaningful and lasting partnership? In the wake of the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and others over the summer, I witnessed many organizations re-examine their organizational cultures and practices, including within our research community. Many sought opportunities to demonstrate public allyship. While allyship is generally well-intentioned, I am most in agreement with Dr. Andrew Jolivette, who suggests moving beyond allyship to kinship. While allyship involves a series of steps aimed to address social injustices, including being informed, taking accountability, and contributing to action-based work, it also maintains the traditional safe distance between the community and research. Under allyship, researchers can still enter and exit the partnership whenever it’s most convenient for them. Kinship involves a deeper connection – an unconditional and persistent presence and support.
What can trust building look like? Engagement in community coalitions is one way I have established and maintained relationships. In addition to attending monthly meetings, I participate in planning, marketing, execution, and simple evaluation of activities and events free of charge. Through these activities, I learn about issues affecting the community, the resources and strengths available, and community-identified needs. In our work, sharing food while collaborating is integral to building relationships. Through these regular gatherings, we form an extended family of sorts. We count on each other when needed and we know we have each other’s best interest in mind and heart. When I share information about research opportunities, they know I don’t see them as numbers to fulfill grant obligations. Rather, they are seen as valued members of our society.
How do I make time for community engagement? Participating in community coalitions is an investment of time, often during work hours. Gaining the buy-in from your employer is one strategy that I use to ensure I can attend regular meetings. You can commit to reporting back to your team at staff meetings and sharing organizational resources to promote the team. Community engagement doesn’t have to be a solo act – inviting two or three team members to join at meetings also has its benefits.
As researchers, we have a responsibility to build bridges between researchers and communities of color to correct wrongdoings in our past. Let’s make sure it’s genuine and authentic.
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