CV - Katrina Hays and the 21-Week Equity Challenge

Jan 22, 2021

Katrina Hays, United Way of Central Illinois director of community impact invites residents to join the 21-Week Equity Challenge. 

Register to join the 21-Week Equity Challenge

Randy:  Welcome to Community voices I'm Randy Eccles and we are excited to get to talk today about the United Way's new campaign with Katrina Hays of the United Way of Central Illinois. Katrina I believe you're the director of Community impact.

 Katrina Hays:  That is correct. Randy :  Before we get into the the the details, we'd like to get to know our neighbors here on Community Voices so tell us a little about yourself if you don't mind. 

Katrina Hays
Credit springfieldunitedway.org



Katrina Hays:   I have been at United Way -- now I'm in my eighth year. I think it was and through Community impact, I really feel like I get to to be a part of all of the things that I'm passionate about. I get to meet people, I get to work with people, and I think that's probably the number one thing I love about my job. It's also a good fit for my personality; I like to collect stories and there's a lot of stories to collect through through our work. I'm married, I have a husband who is in sales with flooring. Our son just turned one on the 13th so i've been navigating this new lifestyle of the pandemic with with a new baby. Lucky, for me, I don't know I don't know anything about mothering outside of a pandemic. We think we're doing okay, but i'm excited to be able to take little things, like going to the grocery store with your son, or going to the post office, being able to just complete chores on a whim. Other than that, I do love to volunteer and I do a lot of that through the Junior League of Springfield. I've been involved with that organization for a good number of years now. Networking through that organization, I've gotten to know a lot of people. 

Randy:  I appreciate you joining us today. Are you a Springfield native or did you find yourself getting here somehow? 

Katrina Hays:  I did, I found myself getting here, actually. I grew up down South in southern Illinois -- Clinton County in the middle between Lebanon, where McKendry University is and Carlisle Lake. I went to college over at Quincy University and in my last year of college, I was an intern with the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois. I got hired on in the in the last semester of college and worked with them and and completed my degree. Literally the Monday after graduation I started at the headquarters office in Springfield so that is how I found my way there. After working with the Girl Scouts for about two years I think, we'll see what happens, and I found my way to the United Way. Randy :  You said one of your passions that fits well with your current job is you like helping people. What else do you have as a passion that you like to do? Raise your child, I suppose, too. 

Katrina Hays:   This is where my husband and I are a good match for each other, we both are very eclectic in the sense that we like to take on a million different hobbies. People who know me probably say, "Oh, she's a really good cook." I really love to cook. I feel like I'm a pretty decent baker. I love all the artsy things, painting, whatever it may be, I kind of just like to dabble -- knitting. 

Randy:  It's good for these stay at home times to be into cooking. Have you been able to get to try some new things? 

Katrina Hays:  Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! That's kind of my goal for this year. Sundays we kind of dictated that's the day that I get to spend in the kitchen to do different things , such as Ethiopian food or Indian food. We really want to expand our son's palette. We don't want him to be like, "Oh, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese," we want to allow more more than those. He's been pretty interested in in a lot of different flavors so we're we're pretty lucky in that in that regard. 

Randy:  You mentioned the whole time of raising your child has been during this coronavirus time. How's the family getting by? 

Katrina Hays:  We're getting by. I would say it's probably hard on the grandparents a little bit. I think that they haven't been as actively involved as they would have loved to be. Prior to the pandemic, I would go visit my family back in Clinton County about once a month and it's been once this year we've made it down. My parents are older and my husband's parents are older, but we want to protect our bubble. We've been following the physical distancing, but he (the baby) has been in daycare and so that kind of expands our bubble a little bit more. Introducing grandparents, we would just hate for anybody to get sick.  

Randy:  You've got a really interesting program that is starting at the United Way and I don't think i've seen this program before. Is it the first time it's been done? 

Katrina Hays:  Yeah, at least as far as I know. It definitely for us to be a part of it. It's the 21-Week Equity Challenge. Now, I will say the 21-Day Equity Challenge was started a number of years ago, out of New England and they they transitioned it from food insecurity to talking about equity. Many other organizations, including other United Way's across the country have done the 21-Day Equity Challenge and it's really just to say like hey as a community let's be looking at some of the same resources. It's kind of like a big community book club focused on equity and systemic racism or or topics associated with that, so we can have a base level of understanding. For us, when the Healing Illinois grants came out from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Chicago Community trust, our collective network, known as United Way of Illinois, applied for the money and received it. I think that was one of the things that we've learned from our colleagues, is that people had a hard time really committing to 15 minutes a day. It's easy to say, "Oh, I don't have time." Five days go by and you have five challenges to do. It's easy to be like, "Oh, well let that go." With this, because of our position with working with business partners we really wanted to make it something that was really accessible. The 21-Week Equity Challenge provides you one email once a week for 21 weeks. It started on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day it'll run through June 19 --Juneteenth. It will provide you information in a number of different challenges that you can complete that week. For example, I spent 30 minutes last night. You're only asked to spend 15 minutes each week in this information. I spent 30 minutes because it goes quick, because the information is just gut wrenching but it's also eye opening. I want to sit with some of that information, so 30 minutes came and went and and I was, "Okay, what's next week? I hope that people really see it as something that's invigorating as as as much as it is deeply challenging. 

Randy:  You mentioned it started this week. Is it too late for somebody to start? 

Katrina Hays:  People are going to be able to join throughout the entire 21 weeks. As you join the challenge, you're given access to the 21-Week Equity Challenge portal and that's where they're storing all of the information. If you join in week five, that's completely fine. You're going to be able to revisit revisit at your leisure all of the past weeks. I think it's also great, I think, particularly for white people, we're going to be faced with some information that you may you may think you disagree with. I feel like that's one of the things we are taught, and i'm only like in the smidgen of infancy infancy in this work, that you might need to go revisit something because this is jarring -- I can't I can't take this in right now. Then you can revisit that information as you need to give this another read. As we continue through the weeks, maybe something clicks with you in a different way that you're like, "Oh, now I can revisit this information." 

Randy:  it's an excellent resource to help people dive into this at their own speed. I got my first email today. I have not been able to complete the 15 minute work yet, but it's about personal identity and... 

Katrina Hays:  Racial identity. With it being week one, I think it's a great week to start, and I will say I got a few emails. If we're just having a casual conversation, Randy, I got a couple of emails like, "Hey, Katrina, I thought this was only supposed to be 15 minutes a week but activity one is a 45 minute video." That was a little bit by design. People who complete the 21-Week Challenge will receive a certificate of completion, which I think is pretty cool. You can bring that to your employer, to your Community network organizations you may be a part of and be like,  "Hey, I care about this work and I, and I did something about it." You also get a digital badge which, we know social media is all the rage, right? You can share it there, if you feel so inclined. So I think it was great the way it started, but the the goal is to just complete one of the five activities that they recommend to you. Personally, I've done four of the five activities. Again, for me it was going so quickly and I wanted to continue to dive in but, I haven't made time for that 45 minute video. Again, it's by design that you have different options also based on your level of knowledge on this topic. Some people are coming in and this might be the first time that they're even open to having this type of conversation or even being faced with some of this information. For them, they might want to only start with certain activities. For other people who are a bit more steeped in the information, they're probably like, "Okay, let me do all of it because I'm ready to continue to be faced with the reality that racism is. 

Randy:  So it scales to both your experience level with the topic, and to your time constraints. It's on demand; when you want to do it -- if it's before bedtime or if it's early in the morning, that's fine. 

Katrina Hays:  Yeah, absolutely. I think there's activity for this week, they shared about the New York Times videos, and they said watch one of them, and I ended up watching all of them and I tell you what, that was tough for me this week, but I think it's also really great. Everyone learns differently. Some people are going to read the written word and and be able to understand all that it has to offer, other people are going to need to listen to the interviews of the doctors. How would you even present this information to your children? People might need to watch those videos at the New York Times that are posted about racial identity to be able to again grasp the topic in a way that's definitely accessible. People of color are kind of assigned an identity, without choosing that identity for themselves. 

Randy:  So, give us a sense of some of the topics that you might be covered over the 21 weeks. 

Katrina Hays:  Racial identity, bias, unconscious bias, privilege. I feel like some of these words have become buzzwords and depending on who and where you sit, maybe politically, you might have a different reaction to that word. Privilege is just a word, but it does have meaning, especially in this context and it's important for people to understand what it is. Justice system inequities, we saw that play out pretty deeply this past year and we also know that health disparities exist, economic disparities, redlining, housing, again historical inequities that have had generational repercussions that we're continuing to learn more and more about. I know there's going to be just some challenges. So, what do you do now with with this information? It'll be heavy but also you have to be faced with the reality. I did it through the election. You can get in your bubble and you protect yourself from a lot of the information around you in order to maintain your sanity. You gotta take a break, but sometimes ignorance can be too much of a bliss. We need people to also be educated. 

Randy:  How did you decide that this was the right program for the community? 

Katrina Hays:  Well, I will say I think United Way of Illinois did that for us. They said a statewide goal of 15,000 people and we knew that by populace Chicago could have done it by themselves. What good does that do for the rest of our state? We were happy to be a part of this once they said that they got the money. I know john our President and CEO he has been a part of board meetings and so he was quickly like yes, we will definitely be a part of this. We are doing our best to promote it locally because, wouldn't it be cool if we can our county has the highest per capita participation in the challenge? We will get some zip code date data, which I think is important as well, taking it a step further. We also, through Healing Illinois, were the recipient of some pass-through grants and we we're able to put $25,000 back into our community in in different racial healing initiatives. One of which we're partnering with Watson Diversity Solutions. Dominic Watson with the Springfield black Chamber he's also in in the legislature, he does work there and he's our partner. He's taking the lead and also providing six Community conversations throughout different segments of the 21 week conversation and we're really excited about that. It's one thing to get the information yourself and read it and understand it, the way you need to understand it. It's another to take it a step further, if you come to a table where other people have read. It is a like a book club -- people have read what you've read and you can have a conversation about how the collective is feeling. The biggest part for Dominic really is to plug people in to initiatives that are happening locally, because the work of racial healing and overcoming racial disparities is not new. It might feel new to some people, but it's not new, and so, if we can help people plug into work that's happening locally, we want to do that. Based on the different segments of topics we're going to make sure people have that opportunity to learn about different local initiatives as well. 

Randy:  that's amazing, and I know the United Way's involved in a lot of different things in the community. The need for this has been obvious, especially this past year, with everything that's happened. This is an excellent attempt to address some of the concerns that have been made very apparent through Black Lives Matter and other things. Equity is not just about race, it's about a variety of other ways of identifying ourselves. Are there  specific areas like that that the program looks at? 

Katrina Hays:  Through the 21-Week Equity Challenge, you will see things as far as disparities and economics like class, there is a topic about LGBTQ disparities disparities, on sexual orientation. Within each of those different variables, we know that our our neighbors of color are disproportionately affected still with even within those classes, so when we look at poverty rates, we know that our African-American, our our our neighbors of color, are disproportionately affected and with lower income, especially within Springfield. I'm sure you've seen it but 24 Seven it's a financial magazine, and they put out a list of based on urban areas, the worst places for Black Americans. Springfield has made it on that list ever since it started being published and I think that that's a sad reality for us. The long answer to your question is yes, we will touch on different different areas of of disparity or discrimination, but again within each of those we see our our neighbors of color being disproportionately affected. 

Randy:  You have a lot of local partners that are participating in or helping out, like you mentioned Dominic is doing some conversations in the community, but i've also seen other businesses that are at least helping promote the campaign. We are up to 15 different organizations who have signed up to help share about the 21-Week Equity Initiative on our behalf, however, I know, particularly that we have many business partners who have signed up it or sent it out internally through their companies. To say here's this opportunity for you. They're not forcing it but they're definitely making it readily available and I think that for some companies is the best step, especially if they don't have committees focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion -- if they don't have people who are deeply trained in this work. That's why we are partnered with Dominic and others. You need a level of training and knowledge in this space to be able to be effective, because the goal is healing. I wouldn't try to do brain surgery. I'm good at community conversations, but when it comes to having people be faced with things that they're uncomfortable with as it relates to historical inequities and racial discrimination and racism, I don't have that level of training. That's why we are excited to lean on partners and I think other people are leaning on this challenge to to bring them into that next space as well leaning on experts and the content over the 21 weeks that has been nationally developed by experts. One of the things that I really love about how United Way of Illinois doing this. We're making it Illinois based. We have some of the leading researchers here in Illinois and so one of the things that they are making sure to do is to elevate the local the Illinois voices to help lead this conversation nationally. I think that'll be a great thing and also a point of pride for Illinois as we go through the challenge. 

Randy:  Your you're listening to Community Voices on NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS and we're talking with Katrina Hays of the United Way of Central Illinois about their 21-Day Equity Challenge. You can go where to sign up? 

Katrina Hays:  It's the 21-WEEK Equity Challenge. We want you to text '21 week' to 41444 or you can also check out our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/unitedwayfanpage) or https://unitedwayillinois.org/equity-challenge/ to also sign up. 

Randy:  Great and we'll make sure we put those links on nprillinois.org.  If you forget them, you can find them there. When the 21 weeks are done, where would you like people to go next? Where would where would the United Way, like to go next? 

Katrina Hays:  Well, I can tell you that if it doesn't shake things up for our organization, as far as you know, our approach or just being more cognizant of how things operate, I think we've done ourselves a disservice. I don't think it'll happen. I know that we're committed to really using this information and the way we need to be, but I think what I want to see, and I think the collection of United Way of Illinois would would say, we hope that it leaves people with a greater understanding. Whether you agree with it or not, you will now have a better baseline of what information, we can all share, we can we can talk about it and as a community. For us with the community conversations, we want people to be able to find themselves feeling compelled to be a part of work that is happening locally. I think some of these initiatives fly under the radar. We want to bring them further into the light, not that they're not in the light, but we want to make sure people get get engaged because that's where it happens. Just like we need more mentors, we need volunteers to connect in in our issue area work. The more we have knowledgeable people in our Community, who are getting involved and feel compelled to do so, the better off we will be. 

Randy:  Is there anything I should have asked you or something more you'd like to tell me about it. 

Katrina Hays:  I would love to give an update. Our goal is 15,000 people across the state and, as of yesterday, we are up to 8,725 people so we're halfway to goal. We still have a long way to get there, but the more we can partner with people like you, so we thank you so much for bringing us to Community Voices. The last thing I want to remind people that this is statewide. I just had a conversation with my mom this morning like, "Hey, did you sign up?" and she's like, "No, I thought it was something you were doing." I was like, "No, it's for everyone, mom. You live in Illinois." I hope that people do reach out to their friends their neighbors who live in different counties, other than saying i'm in, to make sure they're sharing this information because, again, it statewide and we need everybody on board.

Randy:  In case somebody tuned-in to the middle of this conversation, briefly recap what this is and how to participate. 

Katrina Hays:  We are talking about the 21-Week Equity Challenge, and it is a email-based challenge, so you sign-up and you receive one email, once a week, for 21 weeks that will introduce you to different topics, including maybe understanding privilege, housing and redlining, justice system, and equities. To really continue to educate us about things that have happened historically that are still playing out today and also how we all individually are faced with racism, even when we don't know it. I think that that's the key and, so again, it's it's an individual challenge that you take. You can read the information and have a conversation with a colleague, read the information and keep it in your own head or journal, that is totally up to you. Over the 21 weeks, we hope that people do take 15 minutes a week to complete at least one of the activities that are brought to you once a week. After the 21 weeks, people who complete the challenge will receive a certificate of completion and a digital badge they can share. 

Randy:  You mentioned this earlier, but how is it you sign-up for the 21-Week Equity Challenge? 

Katrina Hays:   They can text '21 week' to 41444 or go to https://unitedwayillinois.org/equity-challenge/. 

Randy:  Thank you very much for talking with us today. We've been conversing about the 21-Week Equity Challenge with Katrina Hayes. She's the director of community impact for United Way of Central Illinois. Thanks for taking the time to talk on Community Voices. 

Katrina Hays:  Thank you so much for having me.

Register to join the 21-Week Equity Challenge