Breathe Equality Celebrates Black History by Making History
Since its founding in 2020, Breathe Equality (BE) has been busy: making plans for the future, making a difference in the present, and making history as the agency’s first-ever employee resource group (ERG) since 1953.
The group formed after the murder of George Floyd sent shockwaves across the nation and Ability Beyond. Since then, BE has created a detailed roadmap to “educate, lead, inspire, and engage” employees—including a Black History Month series underway now to celebrate recent promotions among Black staff.
“Our duty is to create a safe space for employees of color, and encourage effective communication with non-Black employees as we journey together toward the most inclusive, successful workforce we can envision,” said Shaileen Brighton-Ortiz, assistant director of Programs and Service and chairwoman of BE.
Today BE is supported by 52 members and 42 allies, including Ability Beyond senior leadership.
“When people chose to join the Ability Beyond team, they committed to standing up for diversity and inclusion, in all its forms, for the people with disabilities we serve, for everyone we work with, and for the people in our community,” said President and CEO Jane Davis, who strongly encouraged the creation of the ERG.
To date, BE has:
○ Led roundtable conversations on race, diversity, and inclusion with the leadership team
○ Produced and distributed an educational segment on Juneteenth
○ Conducted an agency-wide survey on work culture to better understand the experience of diverse staff
○ Coordinated a major volunteer effort to hand-deliver meals, clothes, and other supplies to people without shelter across Manhattan
○ Played an instrumental role in spreading awareness among staff about the benefits and safety of the COVID-19 vaccination
BE has even launched a book club; right now they’re reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
“Advancing diversity and inclusion—this is something we do every day for the people we serve.” – Dwayne Moore
Future goals include improving retention among Black employees, expanding the agency calendar to recognize a wide range of cultural holidays, and purchasing from a more diverse selection of suppliers in Connecticut and New York.
Davis applauded the BE roadmap as “an impressive foundation to improve the work experience for Black employees, and to strengthen the entire organization.”
She added: “My real, immediate hope is that we can provide a welcoming, beautiful environment for every team member.”
ERGs—also known as affinity groups—unite employees based on shared characteristics or life experiences. Davis said Ability Beyond was already considering an ERG when it became apparent that Black employees, who comprise the majority of the agency workforce, needed immediate resources and support. BE is part of the organization’s Ability, Stronger initiative to create more affinity groups in the future.
In August the group will celebrate its two-year anniversary—a milestone for BE and Ability Beyond, said Dwayne Moore, a 13 -year veteran of Ability Beyond who oversees career development in the Chappaqua office.
“Advancing diversity and inclusion—this is something we do every day for the people we serve,” Moore said. “We thought, we might as well do it for ourselves, too.”