Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can better embody the ideals of a man who stood for unity and courage. When we look deeper into these ideals, we must honestly ask ourselves, are we being courageous while facing challenges against attempts at unity in our day to day lives? Are we looking at mistreatment, unfairness, disparities, and inequalities, and taking a stand against these injustices? If the answer is no, we urge you to think about the ways in which you can make a change – one situation at a time.
Our CEO, Sam Sipes, encouraged us to evaluate a particular Dr. King quote during the holiday:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At LSF, we are making a continued effort to acknowledge and embrace the differences that make up not only our LSF community, but also the community members we serve. Many of the communities that receive our services are marginalized and/or persons of color, coming from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. We are proud of who we serve and strive to serve them with compassion and acceptance in spite of these differences – with a central focus on what connects us as part of a global community
In 2020, we established our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DE&I). We also made the decision to add Justice to our LSF values. For us, justice looks like working towards creating systematic changes to better support the wide variety of clients we serve. In our day-to-day efforts, we seek to ensure equity across the LSF experience, not only for those we serve in the community, but also for LSF staff. We provide vital human services to Florida’s citizens regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural background, perspective, or belief system.
As part of our DE&I efforts, Nancy Sung Shelton joined our team as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, recently changed to “Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (JEDI)”. Nancy brings decades of experience in cultural competence and responsiveness to our team and works to elevate the voices of others so they can share their truth, to better inform and influence, change and shift mindsets. While Nancy continues to elevate the voices of diverse groups within our staff, we wanted to elevate her voice today, to share some words of wisdom as you move through MLK Day and beyond.
Q: What does your role look like?
Nancy Shelton: Rather than being the sole person speaking on matters regarding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, I work to give those in our organization who are not always adequately represented a chance to speak and share their truth, their reality. I also work, in partnership, with leaders within the organization in considering the impact their decision makes on marginalized cultural groups; and establishing a common language and an understanding around JEDI approaches and strategies; and informing all of the significance of current events as it relates historically to cultural groups who usually experience the poorest outcomes.
Q: How are you working to better elevate a variety of voices at LSF? What happens behind the scenes to ensure this is happening?
Nancy Shelton: We’ve created the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Task Force to bring together a diverse cross-representation of LSF’s staff demographics, positions/titles, programs, and regions. Members of this Task Force go through a vetting process to ensure they are committed to being change agents in the space we are looking to create. The Task Force looks out at the community regarding their challenges and concerns and looks to them to help influence the decisions we make. The Task Force is not looking for allies to stand behind us, rather we are looking to create accomplices who are able to stand alongside our underrepresented and marginalized staff who voices may not sound as loud as others.
Q: When reflect upon the Dr. King quote mentioned by Sam, how would you advise people to embody the light when they are faced with darkness?
Nancy Shelton: When we think about what light means to us, words like “warmth”, “safety”, and “illumination” come up. On the flip side, when we think about darkness we think about “fear”, “unknown”, and” anxiety”. When you are in a dark space and a light is switched on, you can’t refuse the light. You can choose to ignore it, but it still will be seen. Sharing that light when fear comes up helps people who have been existing in dark spaces in oppression and feeling diminished be seen and feel safer.
Q: You mentioned fear as an adjective for darkness. It is often hard to face one’s fears when presented with hate, do you have any tips for facing those fears?
Nancy Shelton: Using humility to truly understand others and holding up an honest mirror to yourself and really taking in your reflection can sometimes be uncomfortable and scary, but if we don’t hold ourselves accountable and believe what our reflection reveals, we can’t change. We must enter spaces with the humility and openness and a willingness to accept that our truth may not be everyone else’s truth, we all have our own realities, perceptions, experiences that help us to frame our world When we take a courageous step forward out of our own space of the familiar, to better understand another’s view and desires, we can position ourself as a compassionate resource to them and build a trusting and collaborative relationship with them. Fear is uncomfortable and knowledge and understanding combats the discomfort and nurtures our humanity.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom to leave people with as they continue to grow in this space?
Nancy Shelton: We should ask ourselves, is this world perfect enough for our children? If the answer is “no”, then that should be enough to compel us to continue putting in the work. Be a lifelong learner and continue to be willing to listen first to understand, then to be understood. In the end, you’re either green and growing, or you’re ripe and rotting – it’s up to you!