Strengthening our commitment to equity action

2020 ecga staff
East Coast Greenway staff members pictured at the Durham Civil Rights Mural during our annual staff retreat in February 2020.

We live in a historic moment in many ways. Such moments can be marked by great progress, but that isn't guaranteed. My hope is that the statements and outpouring of solidarity for Black people in this country will translate into action that achieves major progress through listening, learning, and healing together. As a nonprofit organization serving a wide spectrum of communities throughout our beautiful corridor from Maine to Florida, I would like us to step up to be part of the solution. In this note, I aim to share some background on our ongoing effort and a look into the future for this journey. We will share updates on progress in the quarters ahead.

I'm proud of the Guiding Values and Principles that our staff developed together in early 2018 after a Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) training at our annual staff retreat. We moved the conversation forward at our 2020 staff retreat around Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work and the continued engagement many of us have participated in through convenings, webinars, and other trainings and educational sessions. I appreciate the deep commitment and care that I’ve seen so many Greenway advocates bring to these important issues.

I am also proud of the programming we have put together that intentionally lifts up a balanced and diverse array of voices in our summits and events from the equity-focused panel to kick off the 2018 New England Summit in Boston to New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver's Mid-Atlantic Summit keynote in 2019 and Guillermo Peñalosa's Southeast Summit virtual keynote this past April.

As an organization, we aim to dive deeper into how we act through our work. Yes, the Greenway effort is inherently more equitable and inclusive infrastructure than stadiums and roads that require paid entry. And I cherish the great mix of people enjoying the Greenway here in Durham, North Carolina. But how can we utilize resources like the Inclusionary Trail Planning Toolkit that we helped develop to move this critical effort forward? What best practices can we institutionalize as we develop our State Committees and engage leaders in the field?

In the months and years ahead, we plan to take further action in many areas including:

1. As leaders of the East Coast Greenway Alliance staff, Deputy Director Niles Barnes and I will continue our journey of JEDI trainings and conversations to help ensure we are aware of the latest best practices and language to inform our leadership.

2. Our Regional Coordinators will weave best practices from the Inclusionary Trail Planning Toolkit into their everyday work if they haven't already. As speaker Charles Thomas of Outward Bound in California shared in a talk last week, “If you don’t count it, then it doesn’t count.” With that in mind, we are requesting quarterly reports from staff that include progress made in this area in practice and in learning through trainings and authentic relationship-building. As always, a cookie-cutter approach won't work for our diverse 3,000-mile corridor that includes rural and urban areas, is marked by different demographics, and is made up of varied socio-economic realities. But we will aim to set standards for our Greenway development efforts that can complement and improve upon the public processes underway.

3. We are working with our Board of Directors to extend the progress we have made in our Advisory Board these past several years to become more representative of the full spectrum of cultures in our corridor.

4. Feeding into our Strategic Plan: During our hiring process for Strategic Plan consultants, we intentionally hired a firm -- Mission Partners -- that is a leader in DEI thinking and action. We aim to build on our progress from the Strategic Plan period of the last four years, and will welcome input from our members and allies in this work. 

This moment requires us to be leaders of action. And yet, some of that leading will be the act of listening and maintaining open minds as we learn. We won't complete this work in the next few months and declare mission accomplished. Navigating race relations that have centuries of history takes time and will remain ongoing. 

The COVID crisis is a difficult time for all of us, and we will have financial pain ahead that can make this additional focus a challenge. But our country needs us right now to step up as a bridge that brings people together, and I am inspired by the foundation of good work we have done together so far. This is an essential part of our work, and the East Coast Greenway Alliance will do what we can to tackle the challenge with you.

Again, I'm proud to be part of a team full of people who are so thoughtful, respectful, and dedicated to the work of building community that informs our trail-building process. I look forward to learning together and taking action with you in the marathon ahead.

Thank you for your support and your commitment to completing a Greenway that is inclusive and welcoming for everyone,


Dennis Markatos-Soriano,  Executive Director

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