Equity to us means that, regardless of race, sexuality, age, zip code, ability, or any other consideration, all people innately have absolute dignity and value. No consideration should determine a person’s well-being, nor should it determine the allocation of power and distribution of benefits and burdens among peoples. We believe that all people have an absolute right to opportunity–to take part fully in civic and economic life and to reach their full potential. Multiple forms of oppression–racism, sexism, and classism, to name a few–steal that opportunity. These oppressions have caused rural communities to suffer systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment, prejudice, and exploitation, which undermine the health, beauty, and well-being of all people and communities. We know that cultivating equity and justice is a long-term process because injustice is pervasive, enduring, and systemically embedded in our culture.
That’s why RSP’s approach and mission are long term. Our vision will be realized only when oppressions in Central Appalachia and other rural communities are dismantled, and pathways of equitable opportunity and well-being are instituted in their place. To get there, we strengthen and sustain the change infrastructure that will continue the work of liberation long after us. RSP uses this image of equity as a compass to guide the work we do in every project. Further, we believe that the leverage point in the system where deep liberatory change can occur is with the organization as organizations (and leaders) impact individuals, communities, systems, and ecosystems. As consultants and thought-partners to hundreds of nonprofits, foundations, and financial institutions in the region, our role is to help organizations envision and implement more equitable structures inside their operations, in their communities, and in the systems and ecosystems where they work. Our results show that organization-level work leads to:
- organizations being more inclusive and welcoming to their staff and the people that they serve;
- increased awareness of the issues that may prevent people from being included in the first place;
- organizations that employ and empower marginalized people to participate in decisions that impact them;
- strong systems leaders who have lived experience with multiple oppressions;
- greater community and regional alignment, organization, collaboration, and impact;
- and, ultimately, more power for rural people to influence issues affecting their lives.