Racial Equity Initiative now part of INTERRUPT RACISM

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

The Urban League of Rochester is the new steward and agency administrator for the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. 

This program will be combined with the Urban League’s anti-racist educational initiatives under the INTERRUPT RACISM name as a primary focus of its newly created Equity and Advocacy Division.

“The Urban League is an ideal fit for REJI, because racial equity work is our primary mission, and a comprehensive education component like the one that REJI has developed will complement and enhance our INTERRUPT RACISM initiative,” said Seanelle Hawkins, president and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester.

REJI is a communitywide initiative that addresses racism by building community capacity for racial equity and focusing on change at the individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. Under the leadership of Saint Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, REJI has engaged over 40 organizations and more than 400 leaders in the community across two cohorts in dismantling racism.

“We can think of no better organization to take over REJI than the Urban League,” said Christine Wagner, executive director of SJNC. “It is with confidence that we put this important program in their hands.” 

The Urban League plans to continue and build upon the legacy of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Both preexisting REJI cohorts will receive ongoing support and resources from the Urban League.

“The need to continue this work is increasingly apparent, especially during the current climate, and we are so grateful to be handed the baton in stewarding REJI” Hawkins said. “We are receiving more requests than ever from organizations to assist with tackling complex issues associated with all aspects of racism and creating spaces that demonstrate a more equitable Rochester.”

The Urban League returns to its roots in facilitating civil rights initiatives and actions in the creation of a division centered on equity and advocacy led by Kiah Nyame, a position that Hawkins likened to a “community DEI officer.” Nyame will join the executive leadership team of the Urban League to augment the focus on equity in each of its more than 25 programs.

“The work of INTERRUPT RACISM will build on the current foundation of REJI while also transforming it to utilize a holistic approach model that ensures all community stakeholders are heard and advocated for,” Nyame said.

Sashanna Mitchell, REJI’s program coordinator at SJNC, will continue in this capacity as the coordinator of INTERRUPT RACISM. Applications to join the first cohort under Mitchell’s leadership will be available in April 2021.

“I am committed to this work, not just my individual job and program, but to real change, and I’m honored to continue it here at the Urban League,” Mitchell said. “The reason why I’m so committed is that I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have had to go through as a Black woman with respect to pay inequity, internalized racism and oppression, and questioning my own worth. 

“There are systems at play in Rochester that haven’t allowed me and other Black Rochesterians to live our best lives. When I realized that this struggle was by design, I committed myself to interrupting that process for my community. I won’t give up and the Urban League won’t give up.” 

INTERRUPT RACISM started after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis this summer as the Urban League’s response to the public outcry for racial justice and equity. In three days, INTERRUPT RACISM moved from conception to execution as a “communitywide suggestion box” and collective impact platform for racial inequities in Rochester. 

The Urban League developed INTERRUPT RACISM into a racial equity educational initiative culminating in a virtual conference this fall attended by seven keynote speakers, more than 30 presenters and workshop facilitators, and over 500 attendees from across the country.

“This is just the beginning of the equity and advocacy work we have envisioned for Rochester,” Hawkins said.

Visit urbanleagueroc.org for information.

Stock photo.