United Way Champions Discuss Racial Equity

By United Way of King County, on June 8, 2020 | In Champions, Racial Equity

The scheduled conversation with United Way Champions this week around racial equity was an especially timely topic. Given recent unrest over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the group rooted the discussion in the acknowledgment that these acts are a result of generations of oppression and racism. Also a result of this systemic and institutional racism: the current inequities in our schools, housing, justice and health care system.

That status quo is not sustainable, nor is it safe for people of color. The veil has been lifted on America and our giving and our actions now should lay the foundation for a different kind of country in the future. One that is resilient, equitable, and humane.


Co-hosts Kathy Surace-Smith and Brad Smith shared some of their personal reflections on recent events before turning it over to Tricia and Jeff Raikes. Through their foundation, the Raikes have spent more than a decade combatting youth homelessness, a crisis that impacts millions of young people each year, particularly youth of color and LGBTQ youth.

With more than 40,000 students in Washington’s public school system experiencing homeless, they’ve learned that the key is fixing the systems that touch their lives long before they’re on the streets. Tricia said, “Funding shelter beds is necessary and admirable. But keeping young people out of those shelters in the first place means changing a juvenile justice system that routinely sentences black teens to harsher, more traumatic stays in detention, more equitably funding our school system to better support all of our students – particularly our low income and young people of color who attend schools that receive a fraction of the funding available to schools in wealthier neighborhoods.”

None of us succeeds without significant support – and many of our current systems are designed to help those of us who are white and privileged at the expense of others. I think we are all seeing that much more clearly today.


United Way CEO & President, Gordon McHenry, Jr., shared how the work that Champions make possible at United Way is very much focused on addressing the byproducts of systemic racism. “We intentionally look for racial inequities and design our work to address them,” McHenry said. This year-round work helped position United Way to support people quickly in this economic crisis and not let the needs compound.

Our presence on ten college campuses has helped hundreds of students remain housed and continue their education. Our expanded eviction prevention work has allowed thousands of families to make their rent and remove that as a source of stress.

Throughout the evening, the group shared books they have read around racial equity and highly recommend:  

Thanks to Co-hosts Kathy and Brad, Tricia and Jeff Raikes, and all United Way Champions who joined us for this important topic.  


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