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February 18, 2021

The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge

At McKinley, we are committed to always doing better—for our staff, our clients and our greater community. As a small step forward in our own DEI efforts, we recently held a firm-wide 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge©.

What is the 21-Day Challenge?

The concept was conceived several years ago by diversity expert Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. to advance deeper understanding of the intersections of race, power, privilege, supremacy and oppression. The Challenge is designed to help participants create dedicated time and space to build more effective social justice habits. To do this, participants make a relatively short daily time commitment over a span of three weeks. Daily challenges or activities include reading an article, watching a video, listening to a podcast, reflecting and more.

Why the 21-Day Challenge for McKinley?

I first heard about the 21-Day Challenge last summer and knew I had a lot to learn and unpack in my own journey. To hold myself accountable, I organized a group of ten association professionals to engage in the Challenge this past fall. Each participant committed to next steps. One of my action items was to organize a Challenge for McKinley. We often talk with our clients about considering their spheres of control and influence, so organizing this for my colleagues was one way for me to have a ripple effect on the firm and hopefully beyond.

When we launched the initiative in early 2021, McKinley staff were provided syllabi from several well-respected sponsors and could choose one that best matched their interests:

Topics focused on important themes such as racial injustice in voting systems; disparities in housing, education, and employment opportunities; how to talk to your kids about race and more. In the words of one of my colleagues Lindsey Burns, “The 21-Day Challenge vividly depicts how racism permeates all aspects of our society. Impacting everything from education to healthcare to voter suppression, systemic racism can’t be appropriately addressed if we’re not educating ourselves and doing the work to become better allies.”

Our staff engaged in 15 minutes of individual daily learning for a period of 21 days, along with regular group check-ins to share our thoughts and experiences. For our conversations, we used some recommended ground rules to help make it a safe place for authentic, judgement-free and open exchanges.

Tips for Implementation

Consider the pros and cons of required versus voluntary participation. We knew that some of our colleagues were already familiar with the issues and/or were already doing work on their own or in groups. In addition, we recognized that a separate DEI training series would be launched at McKinley in 2021. We offered this as a voluntary program and about three-quarters of our staff participated.

Give people plenty of time to prepare and alternative options. We scheduled our kickoff, mid-point and wrap-up calls about a month before the Challenge launch, so that staff would have fewer calendar conflicts. Due to the strong staff response and busy schedules, we offered multiple options for each session so everyone could participate.

Provide additional opportunities for conversation and resource-sharing. We created a Slack channel and encouraged participants to talk about what they were learning and feeling. In addition, the channel provided a forum for participants to share resources, including this 28 Days of Black History virtual exhibit.

Find a way to give back to the organizers. We also gave participants the option to donate to one of the 21-Day Challenge sponsors we followed. To encourage participation, McKinley made an additional contribution for every individual who donated.

The Value to Participants—In Their Own Words

Our participants offered feedback on what they learned and how it would influence their thinking and actions going forward. The group discussions, individual learning and overall education on critical disparity issues were noted as influential in creating awareness and becoming better allies.

It provided room to pause and reflect. Tim Hopkins shared, “I found the 21-Day Challenge incredibly helpful in providing motivation to intentionally pause and reflect specifically on racial equity issues in a fast-paced world. Throughout the daily lesson plans, I was able to frame some of my own life experiences from a more modern perspective. I could have candid conversations with colleagues and listen to other perspectives to gain deeper empathy for the journey we are all on as individuals and collectively.”

It provided context for understanding complex social issues. Suzanna Kelley shared, “I participated in the National Capital Area Challenge and found the local information and tools particularly compelling. This is where I have chosen to put down roots and raise my family and it has become increasingly apparent to me in this pandemic how important community support really is. Specifically, the topic of disparities in school discipline is one that came up directly for me while participating in the Challenge. Schools in Montgomery County where I live are currently considering a proposal from the DEI committee to make sweeping changes to how schools handle disciplinary issues including the use of School Resource Officers. There was an op ed article in the Washington Post about the topic. Because of the work I had done with the 21-Day Challenge, I felt more informed about the topic and was able to share resources with other parents who were trying to understand the issues better themselves.”

We’d love to hear about your experiences with a 21-Day Challenge. Please get in touch.


The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge is the registered copyright of America & Moore, LLC, 2014.


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