Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) at CFR

“Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.” -Jesse Jackson

“As someone who is often a minority in any given space, it’s important that I get to work for an organization that is committed to helping all of its employees feel like we belong. CFR allows me to speak up freely on behalf of myself and our clients without ever looking over my shoulder.” Sandeep Kandhari, Litigation Supervisor – CFR Youth Defense Practice

 

For over two decades, the Center for Family Representation (CFR) has provided legal and social work services to vulnerable New York City families at risk of separation through foster care or youth incarceration in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. CFR’s offices are situated on Munsee Lenape, Wappinger, Matinecock, Rockaway, Maspeth and Canarsee land.

Living by our belief that every family matters, we have fought to tackle the racist and oppressive systems of family policing – which primarily targets Black and Brown communities – with teams of attorneys, social workers and staff who themselves were impacted by these systems. Just as important, we’ve committed to internal work around Anti-Racism and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB). 

Beginning with our work with a DEI consultant in 2019, we created spaces for Black (B) and People of Color (POC) staff to connect and challenge areas within our organization and the larger system that have been affected by white supremacy and racial inequality. From this 2019 B & POC Affinity Group, CFR committed its energies to establishing DEI purpose, goals and objectives, which have developed into our Guiding Stars and Four Pillars.

Guiding Stars

Hold ourselves and CFR accountable to linking all DEIB priorities, goals and activities to the needs of clients.

Be transparent: develop regular communication routines on anti-racist work and activity at CFR. These routines should be for all of CFR, and where appropriate for external stakeholders and supporters.

Four Pillars

Building Bridges – Create collaborative and interconnected experiences for stakeholders around anti-racist and inclusion work 

Education – Provide relevant and intentional training and resources focused on anti-racist and inclusion work 

Staff Engagement – Ensure ownership and engagement with staff stakeholders of anti-racist and inclusion work 

Policy – Institutionalize practices, policies and systems with an intentional focus on anti-racist and inclusion work

Our Values in Action

CFR’s DEIB workgroup, composed of senior, supervisory and director-level staff, meets bi-monthly to address the need for training, HR and policy routines focused on DEIB. CFR’s COO (who directs HR) co-facilitates this group with four staff who each attended an intensive, six-week training on facilitation of multi-racial DEIB conversations.

Since 2021, members of this group have co-chaired four sub-committees open to all CFR staff:

  1. The DEIB Statements and Definitions Group, which is currently working on proposed definitions of concepts like “white space” and “micro-aggression” that will eventually be used in all communications and policies
  2. The DEIB Training Group, which identifies needed training and explores options to provide it for all staff
  3. The Presentations and Celebrations Group, which plans presentations and celebrations with both outside speakers and staff presenters to honor race, ethnicity and heritage
  4. The “This is Not Okay” Group, which is designed to develop changes we can make in our practice to combat racial harm experienced by clients and staff and caused by external stakeholders, like caseworkers, prosecutors and judges

Here’s a selection of DEIB activities offered at CFR:

  • Weekly drop-in DEIB Conversations Zoom space for staff members to discuss issues ranging from current events to internal dynamics at CFR. 
  • Bi-monthly discussion groups for B and POC senior staff, supervisors and directors to provide respite and opportunities to build resiliency, as well as to enable CFR leaders to discuss needed changes at CFR. 
  • Anti-Racist Work at CFR training for new staff 
  • Black History Month luncheons, happy hours and presentations
  • Juneteenth town halls
  • Hispanic American Month presentations
  • Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month presentations
  • LGBTQIA+ allyship workshops
  • Pride Month happy hour
  • Holocaust Remembrance presentations
  • Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr presentations

Our Statements

While CFR’s dedicated policy staff fight for system change, we also issue public statements to educate our supporters and to demonstrate to staff and policy makers that we stand in support of all those who are demonized and “othered” in the city, state and country.

CFR stands in support of the Black community and against the racism and brutality that rob far too many Black people of their lives.

Our Asian American clients and staff members, Asian American essential workers and Asian American communities deserve to live without fear of racially-motivated discrimination and violence. 

All of our statements may be found on the CFR Statements page here.

Staff and Leadership Composition

Our DEIB successes are also reflected in our staff and leadership demographic  data. CFR has worked hard to increase and enhance the racial and ethnic makeup of our staff from 2021 to 2022:

Staff Testimonials

“As someone who lives in the intersection of multiple identities, CFR’s intentional commitment, daily investment and hard work towards being an Anti-Racist organization, creates spaces where I am able to bring my whole, authentic self to work each day. CFR is bold and unafraid to pause, reflect, learn and unlearn so it can show up and come alongside our clients, colleagues and partners as we give our all to keep our families together.” – Alicia Williams, Chief Operating Officer

 

“As someone who is often a minority in any given space, it’s important that I get to work for an organization that is committed to helping all of its employees feel like we belong. CFR allows me to speak up freely on behalf of myself and our clients without ever looking over my shoulder. Our leadership is deeply committed to combating systemic racism both internally and externally, and I’m proud to be a member of our DEIB committee as we work to become an anti-racist organization.” – Sandeep Kandhari, Litigation Supervisor – Youth Defense Practice

 

“I have been working at CFR for almost a decade. I am many things that could be excluded from any space. I have seen CFR be intentional in creating a workplace that promotes belonging for our clients and our staff in all spaces. Every day, our staff at all levels trains and works hard to represent clients going through incredibly traumatic experiences in a system founded on racist beliefs. We remain committed to preserving the most natural and strong of all bonds: the bond between a parent and their child. We continue to promote learning of people’s rights and the injustices of the system through a lens that acknowledges the constant surveilling, policing and punishing of Black and Brown people living in poverty.” – Ysmerlyn Murshed, Social Work Supervisor

 

“The work that CFR is doing on the path to becoming an anti-racist, social justice organization, and lending my voice to the work has been inspiring. As a social worker of color I believe that embodying Anti-Racism work is crucial to the service we provide to the children and families we work with, who are predominantly Black and Brown. It helps us as practitioners develop a more holistic understanding of ourselves and the lives we engage with.” – Curtis Dick, Social Work Supervisor – Youth Defense Practice

 

“It is of utmost importance to me that CFR is committed to exemplifying, encouraging, and embedding inclusion into the organization. It is refreshing to know that our mission is to create a safe space for employees and clients alike. Having awareness, accountability and inclusivity as part of our approach is key in both reunifying our clients’ families and maintaining a healthy workspace for employees. A space where we all feel seen, accepted and respected cultivates success.” – Rosalynn Diaz, Family Advocate

Here at CFR, we are fully and boldly committed to our Anti-Racist and DEIB work. We will continue to hold ourselves accountable to creating external and internal spaces that challenge white supremacy and foster a culture of belonging.