New & Next: Becoming Miss Ann
Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler looks back at lessons from the woman who taught her about equity as she launches The Equity Project, LLC.
Over the past four decades, we have spent an enormous amount of time in iterations of the same conversation: Why don't we have racial equity in the United States of America? The dialogue is complicated, as we have come out of a history that was built with a type of normalized inequity built right into its psyche. It is here, in this moment in history, that we have the best opportunity to not only define equity -- but to actually do something to operationalize it in how we live, learn, play and pray.
I am Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, chief catalyst of The Equity Project, LLC, in Denver, Colorado and I know a thing or two about inequity. I grew up in the segregated South (Atlanta, Georgia) and experienced the real-life examples of inequity -- separate water fountains, segregated neighborhoods and schools, "Negroes not allowed" signs and even cross burnings.
I have always known that I had an uphill battle because our U.S. systems were never built to include or validate me -- neither as a Black person or as a woman. Though I've certainly developed skills, abilities and tough skin to contend with that now, that was a tough experience for a little girl.
The story of equity for me begins with my kindergarten dance teacher, Miss Ann.
Miss Ann would be considered heroic today as she chose to teach ballet to little Black girls, in inner-city Atlanta, during a time that we were not allowed to enter 'white' ballet studios. Not only were we not allowed in these dance spaces, it was even ludicrous at that time to assume Black people could even become ballerinas. Miss Ann came to the Black community to hold these classes. That took courage. She celebrated our accomplishments and she told us that we were excellent. We believed her.
Call it whatever you'd like, it was in those moments that I learned what inclusion really was all about. Having the face of who was considered "the oppressor" be the very face that denounced oppression and marginalization in my life was a lesson in possibilities. It was a lesson that has shaped every step of my life.
Miss Ann's handprint on my life influenced my amazing 30-plus-year career. I have held ground-breaking roles like executive director of the Office of Human Resources for the City and County of Denver (I was the first Black woman to hold that role in the 63-year history of the agency) and chief human resources and inclusion officer for Children's Hospital Colorado. (I was the first Black woman to ever hold the last role in the 100-plus-year history of the organization.) Through these positions and experiences, I clearly see the need to discuss equity in a different way.
Equity is a difficult topic because we have officially confused it with the pure definitions of diversity, inclusion, equality and fairness. This sort of "word of the month" evolution of trying to do the right thing has thoroughly confused our country and in many ways, has caused a diversity fatigue that has immobilized the most well-meaning social justice advocates. We have created synonyms out of words that were designed to be codependent and reinforcing of one another. Diversity isn't the same as inclusion, and equality and equity don't really mean the same thing.
We need to understand our complicated continuum. I believe diversity is about our differences and is the fabric of who we are. Inclusion is the action; it is how we leverage diversity around us. Equity is about course correcting or developing systems so they deliver and work equally as well for all of us.
All of this was the fuel that helped me launch my organization, The Equity Project, LLC.
The Equity Project, LLC, located in the trendy Taxi Community in Denver's RiNo (River North) Arts District is designed to support businesses, governments, nonprofits and communities in the development of their equity strategies.
The Equity Project, LLC features what I call, "disruptive analytics." We provide research and data analytics services that effectively prove just the right points, heightening awareness and catalyzing changes we need to see in our world. The Equity Project, LLC is also known for its speaking and facilitation services -- I feel honored to be recognized as a national expert and sought out speaker on the topics of diversity, inclusion and equity.
My organization also serves as a community convener -- pulling together organizations and communities to work together on common causes. We ignite the power of "us."
It is also my goal to leverage the strengths of The Equity Project, LLC to create an incubator for others to test and nurture their own equity projects. Oftentimes people have great ideas to create equity in our systems and communities, but have no platform to test out their theories. We will be the organization to give them the testing ground for equity.
I thank Miss Ann for the gift of learning about the importance of providing opportunities for others to be excellent – even when existing systems may be driving the opposite message. I credit Miss Ann for giving me the gift of courage, the wisdom to dream and the confidence to perform well in unknown waters.
Sometimes the most unlikely people provide you with the tools to be free. My 'dance' is about my commitment to creating an equitable world. I love that I have grown to become my own version of Miss Ann, reaching in, lifting up and helping others to dance their well-deserved dance.
I encourage each of you to take your place in the world of equity. Understand that you have the power to be "the unlikely person" who teaches others what it means to be free. Justice and equity begin with each of us reaching in and lifting up. Join me in this journey at www.theequityprojectllc.com
Trust me. Becoming Miss Ann is kind of amazing!
Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler is founder of The Equity Project, LLC.