It's a situation that benefits no one—and a disparity that an exciting new project has set out to change. In a little over a year, the Cultural Inclusion pilot project has identified and trained nearly two dozen Latinos and Hispanics to serve on boards of local nonprofits, and has paired them with nonprofits looking for more diversity on their boards.
The project—an outgrowth, in part, of a long-standing focus on immigration issues by North Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in North Andover, Mass.—also trains the nonprofits on cultural competence and inclusivity, to enhance their efforts to retain board members from minority or historically disadvantaged groups.
The Cultural Inclusion project is the latest effort of Jericho Road Lawrence, an organization created by a group of North Parish members dedicated to eradicating problems caused by the high rate of poverty in Greater Lawrence. Jericho Road Lawrence focuses on strengthening the operational and leadership capacity of nonprofits.
The organization, which is separate from the church and became its own 501(c)(3) in 2006, is modeled after the Jericho Road Project, established by First Parish in Concord, Mass. "Jericho Road" refers to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermon about the Good Samaritan, who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho when he stopped to help an injured traveler; it also refers to the importance of doing more than just assisting someone in need, but finding out what contributed to their situation.
The Cultural Inclusion project came out of a series of meetings started by Jericho Road and ultimately in partnership with the YWCA of Greater Lawrence. "We were working with all these nonprofits, and as I became more and more entrenched in the residents of Lawrence, I was meeting all of these highly qualified professional Latinos," said Joan Kulash, a member of North Parish and executive director of Jericho Road Lawrence. "I was just in awe that they weren't part of the leadership of the nonprofits serving the community."
Meanwhile, many Lawrence nonprofits—whose clientele is largely Hispanic and Latino—were searching for more diverse board members to give a broader-based, more inclusive voice to their governance. But they often had trouble identifying or retaining them, and were unclear on why. The non-whites who joined boards, meanwhile, often felt unwelcome or unsupported, and some dropped off.
"I started talking to the Latinos I know that had been on boards, and they said, ‘It just didn't work for us. When we got on the boards, we didn't know what we were supposed to be doing.' They didn't feel that they belonged," said Kulash.
Two years ago, Jericho Road Lawrence partnered with the YWCA to launch the pilot project. In evening classes over the course of several weeks, lawyers, CPAs, and other experts train the "recruits" on the basics of board membership, including fundraising and finances; a lawyer from one of Boston's premier law firms provides a three-hour session on corporate governance. Both the recruits and the nonprofits participate in group discussions and exercises to promote cultural competence and inclusivity.
"Once we start populating these boards so they become truly reflective of the community," said Kulash, "that's when we really begin to understand" how to best assist the people of Lawrence.
Last year, the project trained 10 Latino and Hispanic recruits—all young professionals with college degrees—as well as six organizations, including the YWCA and Jericho Road itself. It then paired the recruits with nonprofits; one recruit joined the board of Jericho Road, Kulash said. Word quickly spread, and interested people contacted Kulash: this year, there are 14 recruits and six nonprofits in the training program.
"The people who we want to be in our project are people who care about Lawrence deeply and want to make a difference in their community, and have some kind of skill or the desire to be involved," said Kulash. So far, they've included bank managers, social workers, pharmacists, administrators from local educational institutions, and others.
The initiative is having a positive influence on all stakeholders as well as on the city's image, Kulash believes. "When you read about Lawrence, in particular, the news is always bad," she said. "You're going to see pictures of immigrants who've committed crimes, who are on drugs—this is what newspapers print. And so the immigrant face becomes a face to be afraid of.
"And yet the city is replete with so many incredible individuals who are so determined to make better lives for themselves and for their communities," she continued. "They've graduated from college and come back to the city to make a difference." These potential leaders can now meet and learn from non-minority board members, who, in turn, "begin to see the professional side of the immigrants who've come over here, and what they can bring to their country."
Although Jericho Road is a separate entity from North Parish, many of its board members and volunteers belong to that congregation, which has a long history of social justice work aimed at immigration issues. In addition to legislative and other forms of advocacy, its volunteers have helped young adults with legal paperwork to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and accompanied a local family in danger of deportation to meet with authorities of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Last year, North Parish engaged the congregation's children in a Family Heritage Project to talk about immigration, create art and video stories, and share a multicultural, multigenerational potluck supper. It has also held study circles and invited voices on immigration to the pulpit, including Jesse Jaeger from UU Mass Action and Latino poet Martín Espada, who teaches poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Cultural Inclusion project "is working on an entirely different level," Kulash said, "fostering wonderful new connections and generating a real sense of excitement and possibility for the future of individuals and organizations in the city—involving Unitarian Universalists and non-UUs alike."
Photograph (above): Fourteen trainees are participating in this year's Cultural Inclusion project. (Joan Kulash).
- Jericho Road Lawrence. Nonprofit with UU roots coordinates volunteers who donate technical and business skills to help Lawrence nonprofits and the people they serve. (jerichoroadlawrence.org)