Williamson’s Notes: Rising to the Occasion

Last month we concluded the United Way Worldwide Equity Summit hosted right here in our beloved Crescent City. Beginning with a small reception for our new U.S. Network President Suzanne McCormick and ending with a second line led by a jazz band and Mardi Gras Indian, the event was pure New Orleans through and through. Thank you to Capital Area United Way, IBERIABANK, and our United Way staff for supporting and organizing a successful week.  
The summit filled our days with learning and sharing best practices for injecting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our efforts. We recognized, as a United Way network, that our communities are all at various points along their equity journeys. For some, racism and structural inequities were top of mind. Gender and LGBTQ inequities took precedence for others. Still, we shared a lot of emotions, frustrations, and hopes for the future. That’s a good thing. 
I had the privilege of supplying opening remarks on Wednesday. It was both my opportunity to welcome our guests and share my personal thoughts on DEI. I cannot judge my own remarks but let me share some of the thoughts I offered. 
When I learned that we had an opportunity to host the second Equity Summit here in New Orleans, I was overjoyed. 
We celebrate a true melting pot of diversity and history in the Crescent City. But we’ve also witnessed unimaginable heartache out of hate. Hate for those who don’t look alike, love alike, or think alike.
Sadly, today, enormous inequities still exist throughout our beloved city. 
UWSELA is embracing the chance to take on those inequities and challenging our partners, both business and nonprofit, to cultivate an equitable, inclusive community in which all individuals are healthy, educated, economically stable – and HEARD.  
We recognize that business has an opportunity to change the population’s perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  
As the philanthropic advisor to hundreds of businesses across our region, United Way can lead that effort. 
We’re looking forward to a day soon when we can walk that path with our corporate partners. 
Imagine a reality in which our experiences around diversity, equity, and inclusion at work transform our behaviors outside of the workplace. 
What transformational power that possibility beholds for a community. A nation. 
Let me say this: It’s no secret. The realities of structural racism and gender inequities, not to mention other forms of discrimination, evoke a range of raw emotions. Lived experiences for some and a lack of understanding among others have created a challenging environment for us to exist within. Relationships have been challenged and lost. 
United Way of Southeast Louisiana is in a unique position to play a leadership role and move the conversation from an echo chamber to action. United Way has committed to eradicating poverty in the communities we serve. While it will be a long journey, we know the solutions.  
We can move mountains with increased access to quality education, affordable health care, and economic opportunity. Our Blueprint for Prosperity’s vision is focused on those indicators of a vibrant community where “all individuals are healthy, educated, and economically stable.”   
While the zip code in which you live can predetermine your prosperity and even how long you live, we must pursue the Blueprint’s vision with vigor, vigilance, and unapologetic perseverance. Our future generations are counting on us. 
Living United,  
Michael Williamson
President and CEO 
United Way of Southeast Louisiana