Racial equity workshops energized NAACP leader for his new role

Thousands of people have participated in Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s racial equity workshops, called Groundwater and Phase 1, which have been presented since 2018. As part of a special report on the program, we are presenting stories of people who experienced the trainings and how it affected their lives. This is the fourth in that series.

As head of the local chapter of the nation’s most well-known civil rights and social justice organization, Joe Mallory is certainly aware of the racial history of the United States. And as a Black man, he has certainly lived it.

But even he was moved by the Racial Equity Matters program he participated in a couple of years ago. The program, sponsored by Greater Cincinnati Foundation, is an immersion into data and information that challenges assumptions about race, history, and society, and lays out difficult truths about the institutions that form the core of our communities. The details and evidence of racially based constructs in housing, education, heath care and other society pillars, all presented over the course of one day, was emotional.

“It made me angry,” Mallory says.

The bottom line for him? “Basically, the deck is stacked, and they didn't deal you a hand,” he says.

Mallory was named president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP in 2020, and previously served as vice mayor of Forest Park. He participated in the program called Groundwater, developed the Greensboro, N.C.-based Racial Equity Institute, a nonprofit that was founded to help create more equitable institutions and challenge traditional assumptions about race.

The  Groundwater program presents a data-driven, historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism. He came away energized for his new role.

“It really made me be a little more assertive when it comes to individuals and corporations talking about equity and racial equity,” he says. “I'm going to hold them accountable.”

READ MORE: 'The change starts with me': After racial justice justice training, some keep the conversation going

In the wake of George Floyd's death at police hands, businesses and other organizations are striving to demonstrate inclusion and equity in their staffs, communities, and operations. Mallory says partnerships with the NAACP need to be substantive.

“We talk about partnerships in a real and meaningful way,” he says. “We build relationships as true partnerships, not just somebody who's checking a box and being performative.”

He sees his work at NAACP partly as holding organizations accountable for their promises. “If they say that they want equity, I'm going to make sure that they see it through and they keep their word,” he says. “I want to have true partnerships.”

He has a message for corporations and businesses that say they support diversity and inclusion and the work of his organization. “If you say you support our work, it has to be more than rhetoric, it has to be action.”

To learn more about Racial Equity Matters, please visit www.gcfdn.org/rem

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.