SALT LAKE CITY — Amid ongoing demonstrations over racial injustice sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, YWCA Utah is one of the first organizations in the state to offer the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge in an effort to bolster understanding of everyday racism in America.
“We right now have over 4,600 people who are signed up to take the challenge. It’s pretty much anybody from any walk of life. We have over 550 unique ZIP codes represented, so it’s not just here in Utah but across the country,” YWCA marketing and communications manager Madeline Gardner said. “And we actually have some people that are participating in the (United Kingdom) for this challenge.”
She said the challenge promotes many of the same values espoused in the nonprofit entity’s mission statement: “Eliminating racism and empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”
The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge was developed by Eddie Moore, director of The Privilege Institute and The National White Privilege Conference; author and educator Debby Irving; and Marguerite Penick-Parks, graduate coordinator for educational leadership and policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The trio of racial justice educators created the free curriculum aimed at helping participants further their understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression and equity in everyday society.
In the three-week challenge, participants are offered 21 days of different perspectives and modalities on how to notice and learn positive racial equity habits. Noting that many well-meaning people have been disturbed by recent events that have highlighted the vast social and racial disparities that exists in today’s society, Penick-Parks said the challenge is an initiative that helps to answer the question, “What can I do?”
The curriculum is an action plan to help people develop habits that are multidimensional, multicultural and multi-intersectional.
“It really was that idea that you need to do something every day so that this (concept) really becomes something you recognize and you see all around you because it is all around you,” Penick-Parks said. “And it’s as much about learning about it as learning to be able to see it everywhere.”
The program gives participants one thing to accomplish daily for 21 days to “wake up,” broaden their horizons, adjust their opinions and begin to change their behavior, she added.
“(It’s) really a specific general overview with which to look at privilege, inequities, power oppression and how they impact on you,” Penick-Parks said. “It’s directed at anybody who really wants to be able to get a well-rounded experience of social justice.”
The program includes a list of readings, podcasts, TED Talks, radio interviews, numerous videos, a list of things you might start to notice about white privilege and America’s systems of oppression as well as suggestions of people and organizations to connect with and follow on social media. There are also tips on how to engage in racially mixed settings, actions to take, as well as self-education and reflection materials, inspirational music and planning tools.
“One of the things that I find most meaningful about the 21-day challenge is when people talk about what they’ve done and what they’ve learned from it. So when I would do it in class, we’d always start class with people saying, “‘What did you do? Did you have anything you did that you really learned from —that you want to share with the rest of the class?’
“It’s not just doing the 21-day challenge, but it’s doing the 21-day challenge in a group that allows you to deconstruct what you’ve learned,” she said. “One of the parts of the 21-day challenge is to push you out of your comfort zone.”
The information and lessons are meant to be “bite-sized so that you can absorb it in little pieces” so that participants will not become overwhelmed, she said.
“You have to watch something. You can watch a movie, you can watch a TED Talk, you can watch documentary, there are a bunch of things you can watch,” Penick-Parks said. “You have to engage, which means you actually have to go out and either talk to someone or have a discussion or in these days and ages, a lot of people are engaging in protest.”
She reiterated that the plan calls for participants to personally engage and take real action.
“One of the things you’re supposed to do is act. So do you interrupt a racist joke? Do you make sure that more books are bought for your library?” she queried. “Do you go out and talk to other people so that they can? You have to act and that’s what’s so wonderful about the 21-day challenge.”
Gardner said the Utah YWCA’s goal with the program is to provide knowledge and information for participants regarding racial equity and social justice, including covering topics such as racial identity and juvenile justice reform, among others.
“It’s just kind of an education campaign and, we as an organization, are engaging in this work alongside the folks who are taking the challenge and continually educating ourselves and striving to be more true to our mission,” Gardner said.
A University of Utah social scientist suggested the plan can be constructive if implemented using a thoughtful, holistic approach.
“What in the awakening process are you going to get that you can really enlighten white people to start to say, ‘Ah, I see how our behaviors, how this system that we support penalizes and abuses black people,’” explained William Smith, professor of education, culture and society and ethnic studies. “Maybe 2020 is a year of enlightenment and now it’s going to be a real new world order that we go into where white supremacy doesn’t reign.”