Episode 19, 41 min listen
In this episode, we lean into Community Equity with Kimberlee Archie. We touch on complex topics such as reparations, sharing power, and confronting community history. Join us as we continue our journey to learn more about how individuals and their communities are taking on this challenging and difficult task of building a more inclusive world, one community at a time.
Article about Charleston, SC development mentioned in the podcast.
Article for more detail about reparations in Asheville, NC.
Kimberlee Archie provides dynamic management consulting as the CEO and Principal of Knowledge + Skills = Options Consulting, LLC within the sectors of non-profits, local government, higher education, and private organizations. Since 1997, services have included facilitation, training, planning, learning development, and strategy design. Kimberlee’s purpose is to impact community conditions by disrupting the status quo of systemic racism. Additionally, she became a Managing Partner with O&G Racial Equity Collaborative, LLC in 2019, where she and the founding partners cultivate, coach and consult with municipalities and organizations to advance the practice of racial equity.
Ame Sanders 00:11
This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better, and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders. Welcome. Today we are happy to welcome Kimberlee Archie. She’s the CEO and principal of Knowledge + Skills = Options Consulting. Kimberlee works with nonprofits and local governments across the country. She also works with higher education and private organizations to help all of them serve their clients and communities more equitably. Welcome, Kimberlee.
Kimberlee Archie 00:57
Thank you so much, Ame.
Ame Sanders 00:58
Thank you for joining us today. I was particularly interested in talking with you because of the perspective you have across multiple communities and multiple organizations. You’ve worked with neighborhoods in Seattle. You were you headed and helped found the Office of Equity and Inclusion in Asheville, North Carolina and you now consult with different communities and different organizations. You’ve seen a lot, I’m sure. So we really want to get your perspective on that.
But first, I’d like to ask you a question about what brings you to this work of diversity, equity and inclusion? What brings you here? And what is it that you want to accomplish with this work?
Kimberlee Archie 01:38
I would say that I learned about the idea of equity and racial justice in the early 2000s, through the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which is based out of New Orleans, Louisiana. I attended some trainings with them and realized that what I had been feeling and experiencing growing up in Seattle had much more of an explanation than I originally thought. This is where I learned about systemic racism and institutionalized racism. I also learned about the cultural pieces of white supremacy, and it just all clicked. I’ve been a person that was raised to be of service in many different ways. At that point of learning more about racial justice, equity, racial equity, I figured out that that’s how I wanted to be of service. So I truly believe this is my purpose in life. The reason I’m here is to encourage and educate, as well as provide the skills necessary for more practitioners of racial equity. I do it through working with cities or municipalities, counties, state government, but also in the private sector. It’s going to take all the institutions that control people’s lives and the different parts of people’s lives to operate more equitably if we’re going to see a change in conditions for our communities, especially our communities that are most negatively impacted by the injustices that have occurred over centuries of time.
-Where to Start?
Ame Sanders 03:38
That’s a big purpose. You have worked with a lot of communities on that purpose. You helped establish the Office of Equity and Inclusion in Asheville, North Carolina, and you advise as you said organizations and communities, cities, counties. What advice would you give to cities or counties or those in leadership roles who wish to build a more equitable community? Where should they start? How do you get started with a community when they want to work on this?
Kimberlee Archie 04:09
That’s another great question. My advice to anyone interested in this work is to really look within first. Although our systems have been made to create the inequities that we see and the disparities that we see in our communities, systems are run by people. So people, the individuals (especially those in power) need to understand how we got here. So they need to have a really good understanding of our racialized history, our patriarchy that has been in control, as well as how settler colonialism, especially in the United States, has impacted indigenous people, and African Americans being kidnapped from Africa and brought to the United States to to work for free. So understand how our policies and our laws and our history have harmed people is a really important place to start. I also believe that it’s important to listen to the community members that are most impacted, who are usually the folks that are not heard and listened to. I talked about those in power a little earlier in my answer and getting to understand the idea of sharing power, instead of having power over everyone, especially in government. The tenets of the United States are about the government of the people, by the people, for the people, and we don’t operate that way most of the time. The people that are hurting the most are the ones that are harmed the most and are the ones that we should be paying attention to, not those that are benefiting the most. So again, I would start with looking within–understanding our racialized history and how our organizations, our government, institutions, and municipalities are continuing to harm people. You can look at your data and listen to the stories and the pain and experiences of people in communities to get an idea of what’s going on, where the pain points are, where they’re harmed, and how the government can do something about that. We have to be able to identify and recognize as government entities that we’ve harmed folks. In Asheville, they started the conversations about reparations because there was a realization that there was harm done to certain groups. Other cities that I know of across the country are doing the same thing and have already started talking about reparations, or just beginning to start talking about reparations. All of those kinds of conversations are because there’s a realization that harm has occurred, and they want to do something to repair or restore the communities that they’re having these conversations in.
-Focusing on Policies, Practices, Procedures
Ame Sanders 07:53
Changing city and county governments to be more inclusive and equitable, either from the inside or the outside, is certainly a political process. There’s no question about it. How do you feel politics factor into making and sustaining systemic and long term positive change?
Kimberlee Archie 08:11
That’s a really tough question, Ame, because politics do play into it. However, policies are how we got here. Regardless of your political leanings, thoughts, beliefs, perspectives, the fact remains, we are where we are currently because of policies, practices, and procedures that have been embedded in our system and created divisions, harm, injustices, and disparities where there didn’t have to be. Yes, politics play into it. I try not to fall into the politics. I’m not interested in politics so much as in policies. I want to see us operate differently. A lot of times there are winners and losers when it comes to politics. It ebbs and wanes because of who’s in political power, but people are sometimes political hostages. That is not part of my belief system to operate that way. So I am a person that believes in operating from understanding the data–the qualitative and quantitative data–that points to where there’s harm, where there’s injustice, and doing something about it, not sitting by and playing politics with people’s lives.
Ame Sanders 09:56
Yeah, so it’s a difficult point, because I’m also like you. I’m very data-focused and tend to gravitate towards things that are observable and measurable and understand what’s going on in people’s lives. But, changing cities and counties is political. It does require some political will from the top, and it requires some work to sustain beyond one political administration. That becomes challenging as well, because you may have one administration who’s very supportive–a mayor in place for a while, or person who’s hitting a county council–who is very focused on this, but then they are not in power for very long and the next person may or may not have the same level of commitment. So that’s a big factor for us. And I know you’ve run into that, as anybody who works in city and county government does. Your advice is a good one, though, which is to focus on the policies and procedures, and practices in order to make change. So that’s some good advice for us all to be thinking about.
Kimberlee Archie 11:03
Before you move on let me also add again listening to the people. So, the qualitative data that we gather, things that we can observe, and actually centering the work on those that are most negatively impacted. If we’re continuously listening to them, no matter our political leanings, and no matter how political it can be, that should, I would hope that would be enough political will, to, you know, move us forward, a city government is, you know, has responsibilities. And if they can admit, and, you know, see, and identify how they are harming, or that they’re treating a particular group differently than another group. They’re allowing one group to benefit over other groups benefiting, that’s not that’s not in the charter of any particular, you know, government or their constitution. So there should be the political will to serve all of the folks in your jurisdiction in your municipality. And to do that, you have to again, focus on or center those that are most negatively impacted. Because, again, usually, they’re the ones that are not serving very well.
Ame Sanders 12:24
So that’s a good point, there’s a couple of things I want to bring out in that. One is, you mentioned earlier, this notion of sharing power. So it isn’t only enough to listen; it is important to ensure that everyone is at the table for decision making and that they are part of the power process of deciding what actions take place in a community and what things and how people are served. The other point you mentioned, is when we talk about data, it is both qualitative and quantitative data that we need to include in any of our analysis and any of our thinking. The other point that I pull out of what you said is there is one place that almost everyone in county and city government can align. That is in mission of service, because most everyone chooses to work with city and county governments to be of service to the community. That is a common area that you can align around. When you can find those areas of common interest and common purpose that’s a good place to work from with a larger group who may or may not have the same understanding or the same orientation to the community or the same life experiences. So those are all really good points that you bring out for us to think about.
I want to go back to this question of reparations. So we talk about harm. Certainly, because of systems, policies and practices, people have been harmed and they have not been treated equitably in many communities. I won’t say all communities, but all the ones I’ve looked at that’s true; there is some form of inequity. So, in Asheville you guys made national news on working in your efforts towards reparations. Talk a little bit about that. I know that happened while you were there, so talk a little bit about how you guys came to that conclusion, how you thought of harm, and then also how you thought of taking action about that.
Kimberlee Archie 14:25
Right. So let me start off by saying although that work occurred while I was employed as the Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion in Asheville, North Carolina, I actually was not the driver of that work. I think the decision to move forward came from some of the momentum of the work that I was doing in Asheville along with my team, but it really was driven by former council person Keith Young. He was of course an Asheville resident and was instrumental in there being an Office of Equity and Inclusion. He helped to get it started as a council person–not only voted for it, but really pushed for there to be a person hired and create the budget for all of that. And so, for the reparations work that was being done, from what I understand, Keith did a lot of work in the community. He worked with community members and listened to them to guide the reparations resolution. That was key in moving that forward. He also worked really hard to collaborate with his other former council members to vote for the reparations bill, because if I remember correctly it was a unanimous vote to move forward with that reparations resolution. I would say that the key for him was that he is passionate about it, he saw a need, he saw that there was momentum talking about it in the community, talking about how we can move past past harms, as well as what we can do to interrupt harms or disrupt the harms that are currently happening, and wanted to do something about it. So again, I think what was critical and key for him was working directly with community members–listening to them and sharing power with them to come up with the wording of the resolution. Then, using his political stature and strategy to bring along the other council members so that they could pass the reparations resolution. I will say that while I was still there, the resolution did state that the Office for Equity and Inclusion was supposed to lead the work and we were never invited or our leadership didn’t involve us in any of it while I was still there.
Ame Sanders 17:31
That brings up a couple of good points. So one, let’s talk about the reparations work in general. One of the things that was interesting to me about Asheville’s approach is there weren’t direct payments as I understand. Asheville’s resolution was more focused on overcoming some of the historical injustices that had happened related to development and growth of the city and to try to enact, as you’re saying, policies and practices that would, in fact, tilt the other way, in terms of development and growth.
Kimberlee Archie 18:11
Reparations can happen in lots of different ways. I personally don’t agree with municipalities or governments that put together these additional programs necessarily, because these are things that the government entity should have been doing anyway. And so to couch it in, “We’re going to do this special thing now” to me is a little disingenuous, because the policies, practices, and procedures need to be changed. They just need to be changed so that there’s less harm and so that we reverse or disrupt the harm. That’s going to take a lot of time and it’s going to take more than just changing policies for there to be reparations to repair a relationship. I would also go as far to say there wasn’t a relationship to repair, because it’s always been this way. So if we’re thinking about going back to something, the only thing that we can go back to is very purposeful and intentional policies that separate African Americans and Native American people. It’s a much deeper subject than I think we can cover here but I don’t necessarily believe that programs that should already be a part of what a city government or a county government or a state governor is doing needs to be considered reparations. Those are just those are regular services, regular opportunities, regular funding, that should just go to people because that’s how cities and governments operate and serve their populations. I think reparations means something more than that.
Ame Sanders 20:06
So that’s a good point to bring out where cities and counties and communities may be thinking about reparations. They need to think about a spectrum of possible solutions or actions that they can take. What you’re saying is on the end where they are just normalizing their policies and procedures to what they should have been before that’s certainly not reparations. Where they begin to put their finger on the scale in favor of a community that has been previously harmed, that’s probably not really reparations, either. That is an action that a community could take, and perhaps should take, depending on the degree of harm and the type of harm that’s taking place. But then, reparations is a bigger initiative, even beyond that. So what I hear you saying is, when we talk about Asheville, they were somewhere along that spectrum. But, as communities think about this, they should be thinking about where they want to find themselves and what their objective really is and they should be careful about the terminology they use, because that can also alienate people. If they’re using terminology, like reparations, to take normal civic action, then that is certainly perceived negatively by those who are suffering that harm on a regular basis. So communities need to think along the spectrum, but they also need to think about the language that they’re using, when they take these actions. Is that fair?
Kimberlee Archie 21:39
I would say that’s a pretty fair way to restate and bring out points of what I said. I’d like to give an example. So if a city says that they’re going to put together a fund that helps people of color buy homes, because we know that homeownership or land ownership is the largest way of building wealth in this country. Okay, that’s all nice and good, but the fact remains that in Asheville, in order to build the interstate, they got rid of homes that were owned and took over land that was owned by Black people and maybe some poorer people. How do you repair that? You can’t go back and give them the land because now there’s a freeway there. There’s an interstate there. But how do you repair or give back to these folks that have been harmed, and generations later the wealth of the families is much less than it would have been? Money can definitely help to bring those communities up to where they should be, but just a program to help them by homes is not going to necessarily bring them to the place that they would have been had that wealth been in the family all these many decades and generations. So I agree about the spectrum piece, but that’s one example of why I think regular homeownership programs, for instance, aren’t necessarily the way to go and call them reparations.
Ame Sanders 23:42
I would emphasize a couple of things in what you said. First, I would say stop doing harm. There was a recent article about some development that is happening near Charleston. And there is a sense, by some at least, that it is a continuation of what you just described happening today. So the first question is to stop doing harm to certain communities. That’s an important step for us all to take before we even think about reparations. Then the question of reparations. Your point is a good one, which is that wealth inequity is a big inequity in our society across many locations. It is multigenerational, so it is a complex subject to tackle. It isn’t, as you said, as simple as just having homeownership programs. It is more complex than that. The other thing that you talked about, because I love the example you gave, is you need to think about your own community’s history. So get in touch with your local community’s history. Again, it’s about talking to people who have been marginalized or who have been impacted and understanding their history.
-Understanding Your Community's History
We are often not aware of the things that have gone on in our very own communities–down the street, around the corner, across town. We may or may not be aware of what happened 40 years ago, 50 years ago, 70 years ago, that set up the conditions that we currently all live in. So I think your point is a good one with the example of Asheville which is understanding the very specifics of your own community’s history.
Kimberlee Archie 25:29
Very much so. There are a lot of people that are living in homes today that are older homes in older neighborhoods that if they really looked at the original deeds of those homes, they would see that there were race covenants that said that folks could not own homes at that time. I was just in conversation with a city on the West Coast yesterday that’s looking to do more work in the racial justice/racial equity/antiracism area. They were saying we didn’t have a particular policy that said that we were a sundown town–for folks that are listening that don’t understand what a sundown town is, these were towns where if you were Black, in the 20s 30s 40s (anytime after slavery during Jim Crow) you could not be in town after the sun went down. Your life was put on the line. Not only could you be arrested, but you could also be lynched. So this particular city, which again I said is a West Coast city, said that they didn’t have specific language in our policies around being the sundown town, but everything that you read about the daily operations of that city, let you know that it was a sundown town. So, they are looking to repair that harm that they were a part of as a city. Of course, none of the people that work there now were part of perpetuating a sundown town, but they understand that they are of service of a community as a whole and they want to do something about repairing the harm that was done by the folks that were in power at that time. Just another example of how the understanding of history and the localized history, how racialized it could have been, or has been, is important to really look at.
Ame Sanders 27:49
Right, so talking to people who have been harmed by practices, not just policies. So we have to look beyond policies and systems and look to practices. The only way you really see historical practices is through reports that were taken at the time or people who have been harmed by that telling you their stories and sharing those stories with you. So it’s multi-layered and complex work that you’re doing, and that communities are embarking on that is so important.
-Preparing for Obstacles
One of the questions I want to ask you about and this kind of leads into it, you know, this work is often quite messy. You feel like you take two steps forward and maybe 10 steps back, you’d uncover something that you didn’t know about, which makes you feel like you’ve moved back when in fact, it was always there. But your sense of where you are has changed, and everything doesn’t go as you want it to go. It doesn’t always work out the way that you think it should work out. And some of the things that you try may inflict new harms. So it is a complicated and messy process. So can you share with us because you have a unique experience where you’ve worked with multiple communities? You’ve been at this for a while. Can you share with us some of the obstacles that you know communities might face or might have to confront? And what advice would you give people to prepare for those or to help overcome some of those?
Kimberlee Archie 29:32
Sure. I appreciate how you just described it. It is complex and multi-layered. I have been in situations where we felt like we were moving forward to accomplish something great and then there’s a blow that takes us back. We feel like we went back five steps instead of moving forward half a step or whatever. That was a constant part of the process. Yes, I think that having leadership in your municipality or your institution or your organization, that understands that this is all about change management–it’s about organizational change, culture change, and then operational change as well. This is really change work, and change work takes time. You have to have the buy-in of leadership and leadership has to have the fortitude despite, as we talked about earlier, the political goings on to stay the course. Staying the course doesn’t mean only trying one thing, or trying something and sticking with it just because you want to because you think it’ll work. It means understanding that you have to stay in this work, that you have to keep walking on the journey, even if you have to take pivots because something didn’t work. The way that you know that something didn’t work is because you’re sharing power and you’re listening to folks. You’re trying things right and you innovate, you do this particular thing. You make these different changes and then find out oh, it’s not, it’s not changing conditions for people; it’s not changing people’s lives. It’s not impacting them in a positive way. So, we need to try something else. It’s an iterative process, because it’s so complex. It’s not a straight line. It’s not to do this and then check that off and then do this and then check that off, right? It’s much more fluid than that. It’s a cyclical process in that you have these like principles or tools that you can use. What we do is we teach a lot of the tools and the skills that are necessary to really analyze what’s going on from this equity lens–this way of seeing the world in a way that shows who’s benefiting, who’s being burdened, and how they’re being negatively impacted. And then, centering on them. So fortitude, some patience, but patience sprinkled with a sense of urgency, if that makes sense, are necessary to do this work. Then understanding that situations will come up where you feel as though you’ve been knocked backwards. But again, the fortitude and the will to serve will move you forward and propel you towards success. Celebrate those successes as they happen, because again, if you get knocked backwards, you lose sight of the successes that you’ve had. I think those are some things that come across the different jurisdictions or communities that I’ve worked with. I do want to go back and say again, about the leadership piece, that’s so important. A good leader not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. I think it’s important to make sure that if you are a leader, even if you don’t know how to do this work, because not everybody does, you provide the cover and the support and be the champion that the work needs, which is all based in change. This is change work.
-Sustaining Yourself for This Work
Ame Sanders 33:54
That’s a lot of good advice for our listeners all packed into your response that you just gave. As we end this discussion, I’d like to end on a personal note for you. How do you personally remain encouraged and motivated for and heartened for this arduous work that you take on as part of your purpose and mission?
Kimberlee Archie 34:24
So Ame as you can see, I am a Black woman who was raised in the United States by people who were raised in the southeastern states of the United States and did not have the greatest experiences as they lived their lives, grew up, etc. As I said before, this is about service for me. So, how I have figured out how to continue to do this work to sustain myself in this work is to create a community myself. So although I have my own consulting company and do a lot of my work as a solo principal consultant, I also have partnered up with other folks that do this work. We are able to strengthen each other. That’s part of my community. Part of my community is a network of other racial equity leaders, sometimes called Chief Equity Officers or directors. Different titles, but with a lot of the same responsibilities in different jurisdictions. I’ve met numerous people; we were a part of some learning groups, a community of learning. Those are the things that keep me sane through this work. Again, as a Black woman, not only have I experienced many of the injustices that I’m fighting against, I’m also in the work and doing the work at the same time. So it’s emotionally draining; it’s mentally draining. So I also am a huge proponent of self care, taking time away, to do other things to get your mind off of the situations of our communities, your own situation, my own situation at times. So I love the beach and I love warm weather. So, I take myself to those locations, change my environment, so that I can really feel like I’m thriving, and not just surviving through this work. I’m a huge proponent of self care in the networks and in the communities that I’m in of people that are doing racial equity work. We talk about it constantly and encourage each other and support each other in taking care of ourselves first. I do believe that if my glass is half empty, or half full, because of the emotional labor and mental labor of this work, that is a loss for the community that I serve. So, I work really hard to keep it as full as possible. Those are the ways that I do it and one is by traveling and going to places that are warm and have beaches.
Ame Sanders 37:45
That’s some really good advice for all of us in this work because it is, as you said, demanding and tiring and frustrating to confront this every day. It’s important work, but it can be overwhelming. So what you just described is to find yourself or build yourself a community of like-minded people who are doing this kind of work and can be part of helping you shoulder that burden. Then, partner with people to do the work that can make it easier and more pleasurable, more of a positive experience. Also, focus on self care so that you make sure to fill up your own life so that you can pour back into this work what is necessary to move it forward. Miss Kimberlee Archie, thank you so much for talking with us today at State of Inclusion. We appreciate your time. Thank you.
That was a great conversation with Kimberee Archie. She reminded us of so many important things. She told us that we should look inward first before we begin to look outward for change. Also that politics are important and are ever present, but it is policies, practices, and procedures that have done the harm, not the politics. She also reminded us that we should listen to those who have been harmed and who are marginalized, and include them in the decision making process and share power across all of the community. We also touched on the subject of reparations, and it’s such a big subject, so we just barely touched on it. But we did talk about a few things. First, it exists along a spectrum, and that merely doing things that the community should already be doing is not considered reparations. In addition to that, the first thing we should think about is to stop doing harm. If you found this episode of interest, you’ll probably enjoy looking back to the episode that we did where I interviewed Davelyn Hill, the episode “Creating Community Conversations.” We had a good discussion towards the end of that episode about what it means to share power. If you’re interested in a practical example of how this could play out within a community, you’ll be interested in listening to my upcoming episode with Joel Dock of Louisville, Kentucky. He is the coordinator for their land development reform project. He’ll tell us about ways that they have chosen in Louisville, to own their own community’s history and to make that visible, and to use that to make intentional and deliberate change within their community.
This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. Join us again next time. And if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others or leave us a review. We’d love your comments. Thanks so much for listening.
Guest: Kimberly Archie
Host: Ame Sanders
Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson
Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski
Sound: FAROUT Media