The Mel King Institute’s Public Housing Training Program is taking steps to ensure racial equity is intertwined in its trainings/activities

After two years of trainings, the Public Housing Training Program is updating its Resident Leader Training curriculumA group of residents, trainers and partners has come together to make the curriculum more interactive and more grounded in resident experiences, and to add a stronger racial equity lens.

The Mel King Institute for Community Building launched the Public Housing Tenant Training Program in 2016 with the purpose of increasing the voice of residents as stakeholders in decision-making in public housing management and administration. Trainings are conducted by Sarah Byrnes, Manager of the MKI Public Housing Training Program, along with co-trainers and residents. Since its first training in 2017, across the Commonwealth, the Public Housing Training Program (PHTP) has trained more than 250 residents, equipping them with the knowledge they need to fully participate in the oversight of their housing authorities. 

The current Resident Leader curriculum focuses on skills such as outreach, conflict resolution, and running meetings in order to help tenants start or sustain tenant groups. “After two years of conducting trainings, it became clear that we needed to be more explicit about our values around racial inclusion,” says Sarah. “Public housing communities are often wonderfully diverse, and many residents are looking for tools to make sure that their tenant groups include everyone. This will impact the way they do everything from outreach to running meetings.”

The first step in the process was a Racial Equity Train-the-Trainer session, so that the curriculum committee could seek shared understanding around race and racism in the United States. With participants from a variety of cultures, races and nationalities, the conversation was spirited, informative, and sometimes challenging. The group learned about racism as a manifestation of both prejudice and power, about the four levels of racism, and about the history of white supremacy. The two-day session included time for race-based affinity groups, which the residents enjoyed so much that they decided to keep meeting monthly in online affinity groups!

While the group is still defining what a “racial equity lens” means to them, these conversations laid the groundwork for a shared definition. Sarah believes that in addition to centering inclusion, as mentioned above, “A goal for the curriculum is that it will also empower facilitators to confront implicit biases when they show up, and to convey our lessons about race, racism and white supremacy as needed.” More residents will also be invited to participate in the online affinity groups as follow up to the trainings.

Currently, the team is making plans to offer a training based on the “spiral” framework. This framework centers resident experiences and helps residents see common patterns in those experiences as a basis for building inclusive networks. After testing out this framework, the group will return to the conversation about racial equity in order to adapt the spiral framework and other materials into a cohesive whole. They expect to start using the new curriculum early in 2020.