AFC Board Chair Craig W. Johnson, photographed by Bailey Williams
CHICAGO--Today, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) is announcing its first-ever racial equity action plan, a three-year plan intended to heal past harms and achieve racial equity within AFC and the Center for Housing and Health (CHH)'s spheres of influence. The plan is both historic and necessary as AFC and CHH work to end two epidemics that disproportionately impact Black communities.
“We cannot end the HIV epidemic or homelessness without achieving racial equity,” said AFC board chair Craig W. Johnson. “Black gay, bisexual and same gender loving men are still the group most impacted by HIV while Black men are also disproportionately impacted by homelessness. We must do more to proactively address the ways racism has harmed our communities.”
In March of 2020, AFC revealed a new logo and brand identity rooted in racial equity. Following the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, AFC realized it needed to do more and began to deeply confront its shortcomings as a white-led service organization. At the time, most of AFC’s senior leadership, including our President/CEO, were white. Many of the client materials AFC distributed were only provided in English, creating language barriers for our Latinx clients. In addition, AFC did not provide salary transparency in its job postings.
It was abundantly clear that AFC needed to make substantial internal changes to improve racial equity within the organization, so in September of 2020, AFC partnered with national consultancy Morten Group LLC to begin the process of creating a racial equity plan. First, Morten Group created a racial equity assessment that was distributed to AFC’s staff and board in November of that year. Participation in the survey was optional, but 195 people submitted responses.
The report identified several opportunities and needs, including increasing transparency in decision-making and compensation; embedding racial equity principles into AFC’s hiring process; creating more leadership opportunities for Black, Latinx and other staff of color; further diversifying the board of directors; providing equitable pay for direct service staff; and holding partners and funders accountable to racial equity work. You can read Morten Group’s full report here.
“Morten Group has supported several organizations’ racial equity work, so we were well-equipped to co-facilitate AFC’s first Racial Equity Action Plan,” said Mary Morten, President of Morten Group, LLC. “AFC had many assets to support the work, including leadership who was willing to undergo this process despite the inherent discomfort and the necessary surrendering of power and resources that come with this work.”
In January of 2021, AFC began the work of drafting a plan that reflected staff and board members’ feedback. First, AFC leadership invited staff from various departments and job levels to form a small group who’d work on drafting the plan. These staff members, which included people living with HIV, Black women, Latinx staff and other staff of color, met with their individual teams throughout 2021 to provide updates, collect feedback and collaborate with leadership to write the first draft of the plan.
Once, the group produced a first draft, it was shared with all of AFC’s staff. Staff were able to provide feedback anonymously, verbally in affinity groups and department meetings and through written comments. The group who drafted the plan read and responded to each piece of feedback and did their best to incorporate as much as possible into the final draft.
After months of reflection, feedback and edits, AFC is ready to release the plan and an accompanying glossary. In the future, AFC is committed to releasing a dashboard where community members can see in real time the progress AFC is making on each of our racial equity action plan goals.
“Two of AFC’s core values are accountability and innovation,” said AFC President/CEO John Peller. “The dashboard will allow us to achieve both. It’s an innovative way to remain transparent and accountable to our community, donors and other stakeholders as we work to achieve racial equity.”
Some of the work listed in the plan has already begun. Since AFC embarked on creating the plan in 2020, AFC has increased staff salaries, provided salary transparency on all job postings and promoted Black, Latinx and other staff of color. Over 60% of AFC’s board members are now people of color. That work is a part of a larger history. Even before the rebrand and racial equity action plan, AFC advocated for health equity, provided services to empower returning citizens, and facilitated capacity building for Black- and Latinx-led organizations.
“This work is not new for us,” said Dr. Cynthia Tucker, Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships and Special Projects. “Since AFC’s founding in 1985, we’ve continually innovated our programming and services to better serve Black and Latinx communities. The new plan will add benchmarks and transparency to the work, but it will not mark the end of our commitment to racial equity. We must and will keep going for as long as it takes to achieve justice and equity for the communities we serve.”