The 21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge

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Looking for an Equity Challenge that focuses on women-centric issues?  Check out the 21 Day Challenge shared with us by our YWCA Cleveland:

Week One: Voting


Before you get started, we encourage you to refer to the Aspen Institute’s structural racism glossary for key terms and definitions that will come up in the challenge.

Participating with a group? Check out this toolkit for further engagement ideas throughout the challenge.

We want to thank Food Solutions New England for inspiring this challenge. They were the first to adapt an exercise from Dr. Eddie Moore and Debby Irving’s book into the interactive 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, which they launched in 2014.


OPTION 1: Watch this video that explains that, while race and racism have a real and significant impact on our lives, race is a social construct and one that has changed over time. None of the broad categories that come to mind when we talk about race can capture an individual’s unique story. For more information, read this article on how science and genetics are reshaping our understanding of race.

OPTION 2: Read this article defining Anti Racism and why the term is so powerful. If you are ready for a deep dive, you can listen to the podcast featuring historian Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be An Antiracist.

OPTION 3: Watch this video about the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist. YWCA’s 21 Day Challenge will encourage you and give you tools to be an anti-racist because it doesn’t require that you always know the right thing to say or do in any given situation. It asks that you take action and work against racism wherever you find it including, and perhaps most especially, in yourself.


The fight for women’s suffrage was not as straightforward as you might think. Today we will examine the intersections of race and gender and how this played out during the fight for the 19th Amendment. Black women were marginalized in the movement and their contributions sidelined by history. Today, we will look back at these pioneering leaders and how they laid the groundwork for universal suffrage and the civil rights movement.


OPTION 1: Read this article about the African American suffragists who fought for the right to vote, while fighting racist backlash from the movements white leadership, many of whom did not believe that any black person should have the right to vote before white women.

OPTION 2: Watch this video that re-frames the way we look at the suffrage movement and encourages us to do more to honor and remember the black women who bravely fought for universal suffrage.

OPTION 3: Read about five amazing women of color who bravely fought for the abolition of slavery, the rights of women, and civil rights in the United States. They pioneered the idea of intersectionality more than a century before the term would be officially coined in 1989.


Today, we are looking at the history of voter suppression and how people of color were systemically kept from the ballot box, as well as the challenges they had to overcome in order to exercise their right to vote. Today’s activities will provide much-needed context for tomorrow’s challenge, which will show how voter suppression has changed over time and how it is disenfranchising marginalized communities today.


OPTION 1: From the 1890’s to the 1960’s literacy tests were designed to disenfranchise people of color from voting (white men were exempt). Print out and try to complete this test. Be sure to set a timer before you start, you would have been given 10 minutes to finish.

OPTION 2: View this interactive timeline of the history of the Voting Rights Act and see how access to the vote has been expanded and restricted over time.

OPTION 3: Read this article highlighting the role that the Voting Rights Act played in protecting Asian Americans’ voting rights. Until 1952, federal policy barred immigrants of Asian descent from becoming U.S. citizens and having access to the vote.


Yesterday you learned about voter suppression and its impact on American history and people of color. Today, we are going to learn how voter suppression continues to impact our democracy and disenfranchise marginalized groups. With 2020 being a significant election year, it is important that we recognize the barriers to voting that many people still face and work to eliminate those barriers, so that our representatives and laws reflect our increasingly diverse country.


OPTION 1: Read this article and see how the fight for universal suffrage began and how modern voter suppression tactics continue to deny the vote to people of color.

OPTION 2: The right of Native Americans to vote in U.S. elections was not recognized until 1948. Read this article on the systemic barriers to voting that Native Americans face today and what steps are being taken to protect the suffrage of Indigenous people.

OPTION 3: 150 years after the 15th Amendment was passed, barriers to voting remain. Learn about how social media, gerrymandering, access to polling places and other strategies have all been used to limit access to the ballot box.


Every 10 years the federal government undertakes the important task of counting every person living in the United States. Today, you are going to learn about the Census’ history, why people of color are routinely undercounted, and how this unsung program impacts the lives of every American without most of us even realizing it.


OPTION 1: Read this article about how the census was historically used as a tool to silence people of color. You’ll also learn how certain tactics continue today and why the debate over adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census may depress engagement from the Latinx community.

OPTION 2: Watch this video about the challenges facing the 2020 census and how failing to accurately count the population would threaten the integrity of the country’s most authoritative dataset that drives public policy.

OPTION 3: Listen to YWCA USA’s Organize Your Butterflies podcast about their YWomenCount campaign to encourage everyone to participate in the 2020 census.

OPTION 4: Read this article from University Hospitals about the importance of counting children in the 2020 Census and its impact on driving health policy.

Week Two: Education


Welcome to week two of the 21 Day Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge 2020. This week we will discuss the history and impact of inequity within our education systems. Over 65 years ago the Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case declared racial segregation unconstitutional, yet today we see our schools just as segregated, if not more than in 1954. The result of this continued segregation has perpetuated a lasting negative effect on children and communities of color. Today we will explore that history and it’s continued and renewed impact on our education systems.


OPTION 1: Read this article on how busing within school districts was implemented as a way to break segregation’s stranglehold in education and its effect on generations of students. Find out how in 2020, we find our schools once again segregated.

OPTION 2: Districts can draw school zones to make classrooms more or less racially segregated. Read this quick article and find your school district to see how well it’s doing.

OPTION 3: Read this quick piece to better understand how America has used schools as a weapon against Native Americans. From years of coercive assimilation and historical trauma, generations of Native children find themselves suffering with subpar education outcomes.

OPTION 4: As the child population becomes “majority-minority,” racial segregation remains high, income segregation among families with children increases, and the political and policy landscape undergoes momentous change. Check out this study on the consequences of segregation for children’s opportunity and well being.


If you’ve ever changed schools in the middle of the year, you may be able to recall minor differences in curriculum between districts. However, imagine moving from a predominately white high school in Texas, to a more diverse school in California, you may not think much about the vast ways in which the exact same material can vary depending on a pupil’s school, school district and instructional materials. Today we will examine how textbooks, authors and state legislation, collectively “what we teach,” impacts society’s world view and understanding of history.


OPTION 1: Textbooks are supposed to teach us a common set of facts about who we are as a nation, but the influence of religion and politics in instructional material can skew those facts. Read this article to see how history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery.

OPTION 2: Half of all school-aged children are non-white. Of children’s books published in 2013, though, only 10.5% featured a person of color. In 2016, this number doubled to 22%, but white is still the “default identity.” Read this article to consider ways in which some educators are reconstructing the canon.

OPTION 3: Very few states require Holocaust education in their school systems and a 2018 survey showed that two-thirds of U.S. Millenials were not familiar with Auschwitz. Read this article on how one state hopes to change that statistic, during a surge of anti-Semitic hate crimes.


As individuals interested in learning more about racial equity, you’ve likely heard of the term “school-to-prison pipeline,” (if you haven’t check out this infographic made by the ACLU). Most notably this term is tied to the systems that funnel African American boys out of school and into prison at alarming rates. Today we will learn more about how school disciplinary policies disproportionately affect Black students including Black girls. Stereotypes and misperceptions, which view Black girls as older, more mature and more aggressive have led to a lesser-discussed trend, the adultification of Black girls.


OPTION 1: Out of school suspensions have doubled since the 1970s and continue to increase even though juvenile crimes have continued to drop. Watch this quick video which explains the school-to-prison pipeline.

OPTION 2: Across the country, Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls. Check out this study to better understand how Black girls are being pushed out of school.

OPTION 3: By age 9, the behaviors of Black girls are often seen as and treated more like adults than children. Peruse this study on the erasure of Black girls’ childhood, particularly pages 9-11 as it pertains to discipline in school.

OPTION 4: In this interactive data-set, you can plug in your school system and those around you to investigate whether there is racial inequality at your school.


Yesterday we challenged ourselves to look deeper into the ways in which school disciplinary policies disproportionately affect children of color and Black girls. Today, let’s take a look at the early impact teachers have on student’s educational outcomes and their likelihood to attend college. Unconscious biases in white teachers, who favor a “colorblind” approach may cause unintentional harm to their students, while the early acknowledgment of differences can prepare students for a diverse world. Positive outcomes sparked by same-race role models can potentially shrink the education achievement gap and usher more Black & brown students into colleges and universities.


OPTION 1: Watch this quick video that illustrates how some California preschools are getting children to participate in conversations about racial differences at an early age.

OPTION 2: K-6 classrooms are lead by a primarily white, female teacher population, who’s inherent biases often come into play in their approaches to children and teaching. Read this interview with Dr. Robin DiAngelo, YWCA’s 2020 It’s Time for Equity speaker, on white fragility in teaching and education.

OPTION 3: Black students who had just one black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college. Check out this quick article on how the role-model effect can potentially shrink the educational achievement gap.


To wrap up week 2 and our discussion around issues of racism and inequity within our educational systems, let’s challenge ourselves to consider some of the barriers that minorities face in attaining a college degree. Standardized tests designed to keep students of color & women out, the adversities poor brown and black students experience while on campus and the economic turmoil graduates of color face in repaying their loans, are all a part of a flawed higher education system.


OPTION 1: Carl Brigham, the creator of the original SAT believed that American education was declining and “will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive.” Watch this video on how standardized tests were designed by racists and eugenicists.

OPTION 2: While popular misconception characterizes Asians as the most educated minority group in the U.S., Southeast Asian American students experience serious educational inequalities that are often masked due to their categorization as “Asian.”

OPTION 3: Read this piece by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Anthony Abraham Jack, on why colleges must learn that students who come from poverty need more than financial aid to succeed.

OPTION 4: 12 years after starting college, white men have paid off 44% of their student loans, while black women owe 13% more. Read this article to better understand how the student debt crisis has hit black students especially hard.

Week Three: Criminal Justice Reform


Welcome to week 3 of The Challenge, we’ve reached the half-way point! Bias within the criminal justice system is not a new phenomenon, however, in recent years, the massive impact of these biases on communities of color has been highlighted in the media, creating a national movement around criminal justice reform. Today we will learn about the damaging and often fatal effects of bias and over-policing.


OPTION 1: In communities in which people have more racial biases, African-Americans are being killed more by police than their presence in the population would warrant. Read this article to see how data is used to pinpoint where disproportionate shootings of minorities were most likely.

OPTION 2: Stanford University researchers found that black and Latino drivers were stopped more often than white drivers, based on less evidence of wrongdoing. Read this study to uncover the extent of this evidence, which is driven by racial bias.

OPTION 3: Following the fatal shooting of Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, The Washington Post began creating a database cataloging every fatal shooting nationwide by a police officer in the line of duty. Check it out.


Welcome to week 3 of The Challenge, we’ve reached the half-way point! Bias within the criminal justice system is not a new phenomenon, however, in recent years, the massive impact of these biases on communities of color has been highlighted in the media, creating a national movement around criminal justice reform. Today we will learn about the damaging and often fatal effects of bias and over-policing.


OPTION 1: Watch this video on mass incarceration to understand how for certain demographics of young black men, the current inevitability of prison has become a sort-of normal life event.

OPTION 2: Despite the portrayal of Black fathers as absent in the upbringing of their children, African American dads are more likely to engage in a variety of activities with their children on a daily basis over white and Hispanic fathers. Read this article on dispelling the stereotypical portrayal of Black fathers.

OPTION 3: The existence of racial disparity in the criminal justice system has a ripple effect on nearly every other social system. Read this article and infographic to learn about some solutions that chip away at those racial disparities.

OPTION 4: Muslims make up about 9% of state prisoners, though they are only about 1% of the U.S. population, a new report finds. Listen to this report which sheds light on the obstacles some incarcerated Muslims face in prison while practicing their faith.


Ohio has an incarceration rate of 679 to 100,000 people, meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than many wealthy democracies do. Today we will take a deep dive into the multitude of policies that keep Ohio residents tied up in the criminal justice system at an alarming rate. From pre-trial holding to probation, as well as disturbing occurrences within the juvenile system, Ohio has a serious criminal justice issue that needs to be addressed.


OPTION 1: 78,000 of Ohio’s residents are locked up in various facilities. Check out these infographics to see how many Ohio residents are locked up and where.

OPTION 2: Nationwide, an estimated 7.1 percent of youth in juvenile facilities reported being sexually victimized. Read this article, which finds that Ohio’s juvenile prison system has the nation’s highest rate of sexual victimization.

OPTION 3: Four years after the 2015 Cleveland Police department consent decree was reached to address its use of excessive force, the department still struggles to improve data collection and beef up training units to ensure reform success. Check out this article and the full study to learn more.


Over the past 30 years, the trend of confining more women to federal, state and local correction facilities as exploded at an increase of 700%. Today we will discuss how anecdotal and antiquated healthcare policies, harsher disciplinary consequences and unmet needs, while incarcerated and post-release, perpetuates a cycle of generational imprisonment, poverty and trauma for women and families.


OPTION 1: A recent study of 22 U.S. state prison systems and all U.S. federal prisons, found that roughly 3.8% of the women in their sample were pregnant when they entered prison. Read this article to see how prisons neglect pregnant women in their healthcare policies.

OPTION 2: Listen to this investigation , which finds that in prisons across the U.S., women are disciplined more often than men and almost always for low-level, non-violent offenses.

OPTION 3: Read this article on the cycle of poverty, trauma and the unmet needs of women in jail and after release, to understand how the criminal justice system exploits the poor and vulnerable.


Life after prison can often be just as difficult as time spent behind bars. Most former convicts struggle with culture shock, mental health issues, disenfranchisement, unemployment and a whole host of other problems upon release. Today we will learn more about some of those issues and the struggle the formerly incarcerated face when trying to re-engage in society.


OPTION 1: Long-term imprisonment inevitably changes the personalities of former convicts. Read these findings from interviews with 25 former ‘lifers,’ who had served an average of 19 years in jail.

OPTION 2: Maryam Henderson-Uloho was convicted of obstruction of justice, she was sentences to 25 years in a Louisiana prison. When she was released she felt dehumanized. Watch the incredible story of how she turned her life around – and continues to support other female ex-offenders.

OPTION 3: Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% – higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression. Read this article which outlines the barriers formerly incarcerated people face when looking for unemployment.

Week Four: Public Health


“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Welcome to the last week of the 21 Day Racial Equity and social justice challenge. People of color suffer worse health outcomes than white people, even when controlling for income and other factors. Learn why these disparities aren’t about race, but racism. Today we are talking about the impact of toxic stress caused by daily exposure to discrimination on the health of people of color.


OPTION 1: Watch this TED Talk about how research has found that higher levels of discrimination are associated with a broad range of negative health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure, breast cancer, heart disease, and early death.

OPTION 2: Listen to this podcast about the effect of chronic stress from frequent racist encounters on the health outcomes of people of color. The article also features a case study on how a large scale ICE raid in Iowa impacted the health of pregnant Latinx women across the state.

OPTION 3: Read this article about how the mental burdens of bias, trauma, and family hardship lead to unequal life outcomes for girls and women and girls and women of color in particular.


America is the most dangerous wealthy country in the world to give birth. This is, in part, due to the dramatic racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality. Toxic stress and bias in medical care mean that women of color are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Racism is a public health crisis and it is time to treat it as such.


OPTION 1: In the US, black babies die at twice the rate of white babies. In Cleveland, the mortality rate is nearly three times as high. Read this article about the infant mortality gap and what black doulas doing to change it.

OPTION 2: Watch this interview featuring Stacey D. Stewart, the President and CEO of March of Dimes, where she and her co-panelists grapple with the growing maternal health crisis, and how to provide every mother the best care.

OPTION 3: Read this article on how the negative impact of institutional racism on maternal and infant mortality for Native American women closely parallels that of African American women.


A large part of our health is determined by our environment. For generations, the impact of pollution and environmental damage has largely fallen on marginalized communities. Systemically racist policies have resulted in people of color having an increased likelihood of exposure to unsafe drinking water, lead paint in homes, and industrial waste. Today we are looking at the environmental justice movement and the people of color pushing for change.


OPTION 1: Watch this video about how systemic racism means that African Americans face disproportionate rates of lead poisoning, asthma, and environmental harm.

OPTION 2: Read about the climate crisis’s disproportionate impacts on Indigenous communities, and how Indigenous people have been at the forefront of the fight against the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and other environmental injustices.

OPTION 3: Watch this interview with scientist and philosopher Vandana Shiva where she links environmental activism to social justice and how that intersection can help us find common humanity.

OPTION 4: Listen to the podcast about the history of toxic waste sites in Cleveland and how environmental burdens unequally impact communities of color.


“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

The history of the exploitation and brutalization of people of color by doctors and others in the medical field is one of America’s most tragic and largely untold stories. Thanks to the work of people like Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid, there is a new willingness to grapple with the impact of this trauma. Knowing our past if the first step towards a more equitable future.


OPTION 1: Watch this video about the history of institutional racism in American medicine and how racist 18th-century beliefs and practices are still leading to adverse health outcomes for people of color today.

OPTION 2: Listen to this podcast about the United States Supreme Court ruling, Buck v. Bell, that institutionalized the racist eugenics movement and led to 70,000 forced sterilizations of people of color and people with physical and mental disabilities.

OPTION 3: Read this article about how racist stereotypes led to approximately 20,000 people – many of them Latino/a – being forcibly sterilized in California and how this is echoed in the political landscape today.


Have you ever been to the doctor and have them tell you that the pain or discomfort you are feeling isn’t real or isn’t serious? Do you worry that, in an emergency, unconscious bias could delay or deny you life-saving care? If you are a person of color this is an all to common experience. Today we are learning how a history of racism in American medicine combined with unconscious bias from health care professionals is impacting the quality of care that people of color receive today.


OPTION 1: Watch this interview with Harriet Washington, author of “Medical Apartheid” who talks about how, even though the worst medical practices of 18th and 19th centuries are over, there are still a lot of medical research studies that can be abusive.

OPTION 2: Read this article about the dangerous racial and ethnic stereotypes that still exist in medicine today and how they impact the care that people of color receive from their healthcare providers.

OPTION 3: Listen to this podcast about how unconscious bias becomes dangerous in emergency medical situations where providers are much more likely to default to making decisions based on stereotypes.

OPTION 4: Read about how outbreaks of new diseases have historically lead to racial scapegoating and why we need to be vigilant against rising anti-Asian racism fueled by fear of Coronavirus.

Well done, you’ve reached the end of the 21 Day Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge 2020! Myself, along with the dedicated staff of the YWCA Greater Cleveland, our affiliates across the state and our organizational partners thank you for your commitment and participation. When we started this challenge, no one could have imagined that we’d end it, confronting a new way of life in the midst of a global pandemic.

It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. When we began this challenge at the beginning of March, our goal was to provide valuable content and to facilitate meaningful discussions within our community, around current issues of injustice and inequity. It was our hope that this challenge would uplift individuals to adopt new thoughts and habits, and to spark a renewed commitment to the fight for a more just and equitable society.

In light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, which has challenged us in ways we could have never imagined, the mission of this challenge is more pertinent than ever before. As our content exemplified, it will be the marginalized, disenfranchised and historically discriminated against populations, that will be the most affected during this time of uncertainty and unrest.

In addition to adopting new habits which empower you to confront issues of racial equality and social justice, it is our sincere hope that each participant TAKE ACTION to help those people whom they know will suffer greatly during this crisis. In addition to the many action alerts presented to you throughout the last 21 days, I urge you to find opportunities to work on behalf of those vulnerable groups. Volunteer your time at a local foodbank, support local businesses or provide resources to the homeless and hungry.

If you have not read or interacted with each piece of content from this year’s challenge, now is a great time to go back and engage, find additional content to share in our Facebook group, and keep the conversation going. Discuss with your family and friends the impact that this crisis will have on marginalized people and invite them to take action.

In order to end the spread of COVID-19, a virus which affects people from all walks of life, we know that we must work together. It is my sincerest hope that on the other side of this pandemic, the spirit of togetherness, love and compassion that I have seen displayed will continue on and be extended to all people, creating a more just and equitable society. Again, thank you for your commitment and dedication to this challenge.