As the year comes to a close, I am thinking about the last 12 months, the changes we have made at the DC Bar Foundation, our work with grantee organizations, and the relationships built through our networks.
One of the changes I made was to be more intentional about how I communicated about the DC Bar Foundation and the collective impact of our work. I cannot connect with each of you daily, so my monthly CEO letter is an opportunity to share, connect, inform, and hopefully inspire. This year I have shared my thoughts on liberty, justice, and civil legal aid, the importance of our core values, and transforming legal aid through collaboration.
I want to use my last CEO letter of the year as a DCBF year-in-review. Standing before us is the ever-important task of ensuring access to our civil legal aid system in DC. The road ahead is not easy—justice never is—but we all continue to do the work because DC’s most marginalized populations deserve a legal system that treats them fairly and equitably.
This list is not exhaustive, but it captures the depth and breadth of our work in 2022.
Racial Equity and Racial Justice
Using the definition Race Forward provides for racial justice and racial equity as a guide, DCBF defines racial justice as transforming society to eliminate racial hierarchies and advancing collective liberation so that all communities have the dignity, resources, power, and self-determination to thrive fully. And racial equity means the process of moving toward the vision of racial justice, including measurable milestones and outcomes.
This year, we continued this work through our racial equity training for grantees, board, and staff. Also, we continued to implement the recommended actions from the 2021 racial equity assessments of the Foundation's grantmaking processes, operations, and overall structure by creating a Racial Equity Roadmap that outlines specific steps and timelines to advance DCBF's racial equity priorities.
Within our newly developed organizational core values, we included “We Stand Against Anti-Black Racism” to ensure we constantly challenge anti-Black racism in every decision we make.
Finally, we understand that language and how we speak about marginalized people are often rooted in racism. Our goal is to use people-first language, so we began creating a DCBF Racial Equity Style Guide. It will address the importance of making this change and include examples of more affirming language we will implement in our communications. We will complete the style guide next year.
Programs, Evaluation, and Collaboration
The DC Legal Aid Transformations Network continued to grow and evolve, hosting four convenings this year, establishing subnetworks, and starting a Slack channel. DC LATN includes legal aid providers, funders, community activists, and social services providers, among others, and it continues to grow. If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to attend a Convening next year (the first will be held on March 8). If you have a question about getting involved, contact our Network Project Manager, Michanda Myles, for more information.
The focus groups we hosted during the first quarter allowed us to hear directly from the community and allowed 72 DC residents an opportunity to offer feedback on Coordinated Intake and Referral—a system that will make finding a legal services provider easier and more efficient.
Our community has made considerable strides in developing a Coordinated Intake and Referral system. This year we built a provider directory database, reached out to legal services organizations and asked them to complete their organization profiles, began coordination for user testing that will happen early next year, and produced two CIR reports with feedback from community members and legal services providers and allied organizations.
The DCBF board recently approved $26.44 million in grants for 37 legal aid organizations. While specific grant awards will be announced in the coming weeks, this marks a record high in the amount of funds awarded and the number of organizations receiving awards. Thank you to the District Government for its commitment to the core principle of access to justice.
From April 2020 through September 2022, the Family Law Learning Network provided assistance to DC residents on various types of family law matters. The Network sunset in September, and in October, DCBF, in conjunction with NPC Research, released a summary report highlighting progress made and accomplishments achieved during the two-and-a-half years of the network.
We expanded our Programs team, led by Aracelis Gray. The team hit the ground running and is currently wrapping up a successful grants season.
We created a few key positions to help us move our work forward in dynamic and productive ways, including a network project manager and a senior communications officer.
We found new ways to foster staff-board relationships, starting with Board President John Relman joining us for a staff luncheon at the start of his term in October.
I am happy that I can look back over the year fondly. We have been busy, and we have been challenged, but we have made progress, and I look forward to continuing to use this space to amplify that work.
On behalf of the entire DCBF Team, I wish you a safe, restful, and happy holiday season!