Everyone’s an expert on their own experience.
AROW (Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace)
After undergoing an intense multi-year process to move toward becoming an antiracist, anti-oppressive organization, we know first-hand the pitfalls, stumbling blocks, and rich rewards of such an endeavor. You can read the full story of YPT’s antiracism journey below.
Based on our knowledge and experience, we provide Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace (AROW). AROW is an initiative that supports companies in implementing meaningful antiracist and anti-oppressive policies and procedures within their own workplace.
Since 2020, we have provided over 200 hours of antiracism consulting for organizations across the Washington, DC region.
If you are a leader of an organization interested in learning more about AROW, please complete the intake form.
If you are a staff member who wants to learn how YPT can support your antiracism and anti-oppression goals, please contact Jared Shamberger, YPT Education Director, at email@example.com.
In 2017, we found ourselves in crisis. For 20 years, Young Playwrights’ Theater had been a predominantly white institution, and like many nonprofit organizations, we had structures, policies, and practices in place that reinforced a white middle-class dominant culture. Similar to other institutions, we knew we had a problem with diversity, and we made the too common mistake of trying to address that problem directly through intentional hiring before examining whether we had a culture in place that would actually be safe, inclusive, and welcoming for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. Pushing for rapid staffing change without truly examining our underlying culture led to an emergency. Our Black employees said they were unable to fully participate in YPT’s office culture and do their best work. They were excluded from a culture that assumed trust, sameness, and “good intentions,” and they had no clear or effective process for reporting or resolving microaggressions and other oppressive behavior they experienced from both managers and subordinates.
And, when we attempted to talk as a staff about this issue, it became clear that we did not have a shared language for discussing racism and oppression, or a shared understanding of the harmful impact of our workplace culture. Our first internal conversation caused even greater harm, and led us to understand that we needed support from outside consultants to move toward repair and organizational transformation.
Addressing the Problem
At the height of this crisis, we began work with antiracism consultants, Aaron Goggans and Rebecca Mintz, and focused on identifying the areas where YPT’s culture and structures were perpetuating oppression. The first step in this process involved naming the harm that had occurred throughout our history and taking steps to repair that harm. Through facilitated staff meetings, caucuses, and one-on-one conversations, our consultants supported conversations about harm that had occurred, the ways white staff members had been harmful or complicit and began to establish steps we had to take to repair that harm. As these conversations occurred over multiple months, we began to develop a shared language and regular practice of discussing race and oppression, a practice that is central to today’s culture at YPT.
A Path Forward
The next step in our process involved coming together through a strategic planning process grounded in our antiracism and anti-oppression work, and facilitated by Aaron, Rebecca, and their collaborator, Brigette Rouson. With the support of these consultants, we created a shared set of antiracist and anti-oppressive values, rooted specifically in addressing anti-Black racism, that would become our guiding document and the lens for power distribution, organizational culture, and decision-making. In 2018, we developed our Touchstone and Core Values, a list of organizational values and guidelines for how we implement them.
Our Work Is Ongoing
Most importantly for YPT, our work is ongoing. Following the creation of our Core Values, we built a Strategic Frame that combines our mission, the touchstone informing our work, and our organizational values in a guiding document for our organization. We employ our Strategic Frame daily, grounding every organizational decision—from program delivery to production practices, from hiring to external communications, from fundraising to partnerships—in antiracist and anti-oppressive values. This Strategic Frame is a living document used every day at YPT, and we most recently updated it in 2020 to reflect new health and safety values codified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, YPT is a very different organization than we were in 2017. Thanks to our antiracism and anti-oppression work, not only is YPT a more just and inclusive organization, our service, our culture, and our structures and practices are significantly stronger than they were before.
After sharing our story with the DC theatre community in a presentation at Theatre Washington’s 2019 DC Theatre Summit, we created Abolishing Racism and Oppression in the Workplace (AROW), an initiative that supports other organizations committed to building antiracist and anti-oppressive structures and practices.