The events of the past year—a global health crisis, mass protests against police brutality, a surge in hate crimes—laid bare the vast inequities that have persisted in the U.S. for centuries. Drawing on the expertise of leaders across the country, TIME set out to compile a list of actionable steps that the U.S. could take to usher in an era of true social, political and economic equity.
The root causes of inequities are complex and intertwined; identifying and addressing them involves the near impossible task of chipping away at the sedimentary layers of history and systemic injustice. One certainty: dismantling them will require work on the part of everyone, from political representatives with the power to change policy to business leaders whose decisions inform capitalist society, to citizens, because our behavior shapes our communities.
For recommendations, we consulted with 59 scholars, activists and innovators across a range of fields, seeking out the strongest and most creative actions to align reality in the United States with its founding principles at last. Some of the ideas existed as demands for decades. Some challenge accepted thinking. Activist Ady Barkan and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine argue for expanding health care protections to the vulnerable. Leadership expert Dame Vivian Hunt and author Minda Harts call on businesses to diversify their ranks and create workplaces that are supportive for all. Me Too founder Tarana Burke and researcher Brené Brown underscore the importance of instilling empathy in the next generation. The goal is an America that is stronger and safer.
Here are 40 ways to begin the work. (Click each item to read more.) —Mahita Gajanan
Voting in federal elections is important. Voting in local elections is arguably more important, particularly when it comes to creating equity. “You can’t have equity if you don’t have large participation in the voting process,” says Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.
Voting at the local level can quickly deliver visible changes to communities, and in most states the party that controls the legislature draws Congressional maps, carving out districts that make it easier for their own party to win the U.S. House. Yet turnout is higher in national elections than in the local ones that shape them.
Americans have a “responsibility” to vote, says Albright, but laws that limit access mean willingness isn’t the only factor when it comes to casting a vote and having it counted. “When you have policies that open up access and send a message that you want people to vote, a funny thing happens,” he says. “More people vote.” —Sanya Mansoor
The violence caused by racism can work fast, like a bullet, or its work can be of the slow-murdering kind. Over the past year, both the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have proclaimed structural racism a public-health crisis—one that impacts many children in the very institutions where they spend much of their time: schools.
Segregated, unequal and underfunded schools, and the education received in them, constitute an underacknowledged form of structural or institutional racism that, over time, harms as surely as physical violence. The impacts are educational, but also psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical. We see it in the mental turmoil, self-doubt and insecurity caused by unequal educational systems showing children in our society that they are simply less important than others.
In the preamble to its constitution, the World Health Organization says that health is a state of “complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is not the state of health for students who attend segregated schools. Simply put: racial segregation is unhealthy. We can do better. —Noliwe Rooks, scholar of race and gender at Cornell University
The past year was not a good one, particularly for people experiencing homelessness. For one, they faced a uniquely severe level of risk of contracting COVID-19, given the prevalence of risk factors in homeless populations. And if that wasn’t enough, federal data show that unsheltered homelessness among individuals grew by 7% at one point in 2020, with some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities leading the increase.
Also, most minority groups continued to be overrepresented in the homeless population, because of historical and structural racism; Indigenous and Black people experience some of the highest rates every year. How can homelessness systems ensure vulnerable people get housed at this critical juncture and improve equitable outcomes? As a starting point, the field now has more tools to house people experiencing homelessness, such as the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act. Communities should take full advantage of current resources like vouchers and expanded services to improve housing opportunities. But while this will impact homelessness broadly, without intentional efforts, it may not impact it equitably.
Racial equity must be part of any strategic planning—data analysis can help determine where disparities might exist and what might be done about them. The homelessness field will not be able to solve all of the nation’s racial problems, but it can make an impact. The ultimate goal is to end homelessness—advocates should keep fighting for resources and take advantage of all the tools currently available to house the most vulnerable in an equitable way. —Chan Crawford, director, individual homeless adults for the National Alliance to End Homelessness
Enact universal health care
The U.S. is the richest country in history—yet tens of millions of people are without the health care they need. Medicare for All would give everyone health care for free at the point of service—including for reproductive care. President Biden has proposed an enormous investment in care for elders and people with disabilities, while Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing to lower drug prices, and to strengthen and expand Medicare. If they can pass these laws, they will move us meaningfully closer to achieving health care justice in America. —Ady Barkan, activist
Establish a pathway to citizenship
I’ve lived for two years without my family. In 2019, I was featured in a documentary critical of the U.S. immigrant-detention system. After it came out, I was deported to Argentina after living in the U.S. for almost 20 years. A pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would not only allow us to obtain better jobs so we aren’t taken advantage of or abused—it would also allow us to be heard. The day undocumented people can express themselves without fear, the country will be a more equal place. —Claudio Rojas, activist
Empower homegrown peacemakers
To solve the gun-violence epidemic that impacts our communities of color, we need to identify, train and fund homegrown peacemakers to change things from within.
One example can be found in Los Angeles, where the Gang Reduction and Youth Development office was established in 2007 in response to the “A Call to Action” report by civil rights attorney Connie Rice. Part of the office’s strategy was to identify community members in the most violent areas of the city who had the lived experience and could be trained and deployed as community-violence-intervention workers.
The training program, conducted by the Urban Peace Institute, is known as the Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy. It consists of 144 hours of training that includes courses on subjects such as conflict mediation, proactive peace building, violence interruption, crisis response, trauma-informed care and interpersonal violence. The strategy led to record-low homicides in Los Angeles.
—Paul Carrillo, Community Violence Initiative director for Giffords Law Center
Pay workers fair wages
Maribel Cornejo, a 20-year veteran at McDonalds, took matters into her own hands last year, joining national fast-food workers’ strikes at the Houston-area franchise where she works and meeting with other workers to advocate for better pay and working conditions. “We’re risking our lives,” says Cornejo, 42, speaking through a translator on the risks of showing up to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home health aids, cleaning staff and service workers like Cornejo have faced some of the highest health risks working during the coronavirus crisis, but you wouldn’t know it by their paychecks.
Despite years of mobilization, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade, a salary floor that advocates say hardly resembles a decent standard of living. Cripplingly low wages disproportionately affect women and people of color—more than half of Black workers and nearly 60% of Latinx workers earn less than $15 per hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. With a few powerful industry groups opposed, advocates say the onus is on Congress to raise a salary floor that, had it tracked with inflation and productivity growth since the 1960s, would currently stand at more than $20 per hour. Many economists argue that lifting the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour would benefit workers and the U.S. economy. “It's a crucial racial justice issue,” says Paul Sonn, state policy program director for NELP. —Alejandro de la Garza
Invest in eliminating environmental hazards and protecting the most vulnerable
Across the U.S., more than 1 million people lack access to piped water in their homes, while millions more live in homes contaminated with lead that can cause developmental defects in children. More than 1,300 Superfund sites—locations that have been polluted by industrial activity and pose a risk to environmental health—sit acknowledged but unaddressed, threatening local communities.
These are just a few of the myriad environmental hazards that disproportionately burden communities of color. “What outrages me, frankly, is how comfortable this country has become with the fact that we have so many children drinking lead water, that we still have Superfund sites,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, told TIME last year. Rooting out the systemic forces that have led to this disparity will be complicated, but environmental-justice activists say there’s a good place to start: the government should commit to spending the money to fix these problems.
The Biden Administration has committed to directing 40% of the benefits of its infrastructure package to these underserved communities, pledging to eliminate lead pipes and to invest in cleaning up polluted areas. But the activists on the front line worry that won’t be enough. “We have a lot to do to just get ourselves to the point where we are addressing past harm—and there’s no way that just 40% is going to get us there,” says Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “We have to be so much more ambitious.” —Justin Worland
Reform the Thrifty Food Plan
Adequate access to food is economic justice. Too many people are forced to stretch their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits because they don’t cover the full cost of food. The program is determined by the federal government’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), a 46-year-old plan, last updated in 2006, that doesn’t reflect the current economy. All these factors disproportionately impact people of color. It’s time to re-evaluate the TFP to increase SNAP benefits as a critical step forward toward equity. —Parker L. Gilkesson, policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy
End family detention
The U.S. has three detention centers specifically for immigrant families, where children are held as they wait for courts to decide whether they and their parents will be allowed to stay in the U.S.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children should never be placed in detention because of the physical and psychological toll it takes, even for a short time. And yet the last several Administrations have detained immigrant parents and their children for months at a time.
As long as the U.S. detains families, it can never live up to its ideal of being a land of opportunity, says Bridget Cambria, executive director of Aldea—the People’s Justice Center, which represents detained families. Family detention is “a travesty of human rights,” Cambria says. “The government doesn’t have to detain anyone. It’s a choice.” —Jasmine Aguilera
Cede decision-making power in Hollywood
We have either been stereotyped or missing from the narrative throughout Hollywood’s history. If someone who has never interacted with a person like me doesn’t see humanized representations of us on TV, then of course we’re going to end up in cages. Hollywood measures diversity in front of the camera. But when you look at the people making decisions, it gets more white, cis and male. Hiring BIPOC executives is just the first step. Those with power must cede it. We need a breakage of bones to reset. —Tanya Saracho, TV creator
Close the digital divide
For decades, there has been a widening chasm between those with ready access to the Internet and computers and those without—a gap that was exacerbated when COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown. Millions of Americans already struggling because they lack access to broadband services—including large swaths of the elderly, people living with disabilities, low-income families and those in rural areas—were marooned.
“It is imperative that we think about digital access as an insecurity like we look at food and housing,” says Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Center for Technology Innovation.
To close the “digital divide,” experts say we need to address the accessibility, affordability, and adoption of information and communications technology. Despite our increasingly digital existence, dead zones remain across the country where no major Internet providers are available. If there is service, it is often unreliable or too expensive.
The pandemic, which abruptly thrust our lives online, prompted public and private sectors to address digital inequities. The FCC launched efforts to map gaps in coverage and created a program to subsidize the costs of Internet services and devices. Telecom giants offered lower-cost broadband options to consumers with an economic need. And the Biden Administration proposed spending $100 billion to invest in “future-proof” broadband networks, while Republicans pitched $65 billion.
Turner Lee argues these should be permanent measures. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 16% of U.S. adults are not digitally literate because of lack of access and language barriers. To have a “fully connected society,” Amina Fazlullah, director of equity policy at Common Sense Media, says policymakers and telecom providers must equip and empower communities to integrate the Internet into their routines. —Paulina Cachero
Reform taxation to narrow the wealth gap
In 1916, only 1% of Americans filed a tax return. Among those one-percenters was Frederick Brewster, a wealthy financier who inherited a considerable fortune that was for decades behind only John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s in size. That year, Brewster sold property at a gain and argued that since he was only an occasional seller, he shouldn’t be forced to pay taxes on the gain. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (now the Internal Revenue Service) disagreed and said the gain should be taxed. Brewster used his considerable wealth to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court—and lost in 1921. But he and his fellow one-percenters—an elite group defined by wealth in a society with high income inequality—snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat when, in that very same year, Congress enacted a lower tax rate for property sales like his.
Those are the roots of the low preferential rate for capital gains, or income from capital assets like stocks. Income from stock is taxed today at a maximum rate of 20%, compared with income from wages, which may be taxed at up to 37%. In 2018, the top 1% of taxpayers by income received 75% of the tax benefits from stock ownership. The low tax rate applies when stock is owned directly (as opposed to through a retirement account), and in 2019, only 15% of families owned stock that way.
What makes this worse is how stock ownership in America is racialized. Research shows white Americans are more likely to own stock than Black or Hispanic Americans, even after controlling for income. White middle-class families are more than twice as likely as Black middle-class families to own stock. Lower-income white families are more likely to own stock than higher-income Black Americans. One estimate places stock ownership as contributing 23% toward the racial wealth gap for Black and Hispanic households. Not even wealthy Black Americans can escape the disparity. Wealthy Black Americans are less likely to own stock than their white peers. For the top 5% of wealthy Black Americans, just under 30% owned stock directly, compared with 41% of their white peers.
The preferential treatment Frederick Brewster helped create in 1921 is long overdue for reform. Income from stock must be taxed the same way as income from wages. Surely rich white Americans who say Black lives matter would agree. —Dorothy A. Brown, author of The Whiteness of Wealth
Preserve and expand early voting
Trying to vote on one Tuesday in November clearly doesn’t work for everyone. To get more people to the polls, we need to create more opportunities for early voting and voting by mail. Americans voted in record numbers in the 2020 elections, and nearly 70% cast their votes by mail or before Election Day. Voting-rights experts credit the unprecedented turnout to states’ expansion of early voting. But, they say, Congress ultimately has the responsibility to set minimum standards to preserve and expand the right to vote. —Sanya Mansoor
Provide appropriate mental-health care
Black Americans cannot be given appropriate mental-health care until the field of psychiatry reckons with its long history of racism. From Benjamin Rush, the “father” of psychiatry, who coined the term negritude (as in, the “disorder” of being Black), to the 1970s marketing of the antipsychotic drug Haldol as a treatment for so-called protest psychosis (a diagnosis created to describe Black men fighting for basic human rights), mental-health care in the U.S. has long dehumanized Black patients.
Today, Black and white children evincing the same symptoms are likely to be diagnosed with disruptive disorders and ADHD, respectively, and Black patients of all ages are more likely to be seen as psychotic than depressed. To provide adequate care to Black patients, and to all patients of color, providers must learn about the mental-health effects of racism and do the work to counteract their own racism. —Dr. Amanda Calhoun, psychiatric resident at Yale University
Diversify the workforce, and set up all employees for success
When I was younger, my parents used to take my two brothers and me to an amusement park every summer. As the oldest of three, I would always have to sit on “the hump”—the middle seat. After three hours of driving, my parents would always ask, “Wasn’t that a great ride?” It was then that I realized that two things can be true at the same time: we can ride in the same car and still experience that ride very differently. In the front, my parents had space to move and stretch out their legs, while my brothers and I were constantly trying, and failing, to get comfortable.
Thinking about those rides reminds me of the workplace. Many of us may work for the same company or organization but experience that workplace very differently. While one employee may never suffer from discrimination, another may endure microaggressions several times a day. Those in the dominant group might find that they have access, agency and sponsorship, never understanding what it’s like for people in the minority, who may feel singled out as the “only” ones or notice that they are treated differently than their co-workers. To make an organization work for everyone, all employees have to take a hard look at where they sit in the hierarchy, how they benefit and how they can make the environment comfortable and equitable for their co-workers.
The first step is hiring more thoughtfully—which means more employees from underrepresented backgrounds at all levels of the company. Studies show companies with diverse and inclusive cultures outperform organizations that do not invest in diversity. The next is assessing your privilege. If you have power, how could you leverage it to help someone who might sit in a different position? If you are a manager, what would you learn if, instead of focusing on your “go-to” people (often the ones who remind us of ourselves), you asked everyone on your team, “What do you need from me to do the best work of your career while you’re here?”
Equity takes intentionality. It also takes courage. Giving employees a psychologically safe space to articulate how they might be experiencing the workplace, without fear of blowback or dismissal, requires willingness to have difficult conversations and active listening. This is how you build stronger workplace relationships.
Creating an equitable workplace shouldn’t be the job of the chief diversity officer, but truly of all employees, because success is not a solo sport. It’s no longer acceptable to disregard experiences or concerns if they don’t align with ours. Each of our job descriptions should entail authentically engaging, listening and enhancing the workplace for everyone, regardless of race, gender or identity. —Minda Harts, founder and CEO of the Memo
Make college debt-free
Colleges are engines of upward mobility, but the path to a degree is blocked for too many. Black, Latino and Native American adults are less likely to hold a college degree today than white adults were in 1990. Low-income students are less likely to finish college. Among the biggest hurdles? Colleges’ rising costs and the student debt crisis. One solution: double the Pell Grant for low-income students and create a new partnership between states and the federal government to pay for higher education. It’s time to make college debt-free. —Wil Del Pilar, vice president for the Education Trust
Keep police focused on crime
Police mostly respond to non-criminal incidents, and statistics show that the majority of officers spend little of their on-duty time handling violent crimes. But most police officers are not properly trained to deal with situations that don’t call for some form of force, and this mismatch of skills and training has an outsize impact on low-income, minority communities.
Advocates in favor of removing non-criminal responsibilities from police, a central call to action within the “defund” -movement, argue that it would limit encounters with armed officers and diminish hostile interactions. They recommend that mental-health and drug-use calls be handled by trained social workers and health care professionals.
While critics warn against removing police officers from situations that could turn violent, advocates counter that officers could be present on calls where there is a potential for violence, but they should not be the first responders. —Josiah Bates
Invest in low-cost sports programs at the community level
For kids, the benefits of physical activity are clear: playing sports can lead to better educational, social and health outcomes. But for too many families, the price of swinging a bat, or shooting a ball, is far too steep. Youth sports in America has evolved into a professionalized, pay-to-play $19 billion industry, reliant on travel competitions for 7-year-olds that can stretch the wallet. According to 2020 data compiled for the Aspen Institute, before the pandemic, the average family spent $927 annually on youth sports; parents have reported expenses up to $23,000 per year on soccer and $20,000 on basketball. Kids from low-income households are more likely to skip expensive sports and suffer from inactivity. COVID-19, which has disproportionately hurt poor families, will likely leave these children further behind as the youth sports economy restarts.
“We’re seeing an even greater polarization of the haves and the have-nots,” says Travis Dorsch, director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University. Investing in low-cost, community-based opportunities for young Americans can help reduce inequality and cut long-term health care costs.
Policymakers can innovate: New York State, for example, will set aside $5 million in annual revenue from mobile sports gambling activities to fund youth sports in underserved areas. And business stakeholders, like professional leagues and sporting-goods manufacturers, have incentive to increase youth sports access: today’s kids are tomorrow’s fans and customers. —Sean Gregory
Prohibit employers from silencing accusers
Four years after TIME dubbed the women who jump-started the #MeToo movement the Silence Breakers, the favored legal tools used to keep victims quiet remain in place at many companies across the U.S. Companies wield mandatory arbitration clauses and nondisclosure agreements like a sword and shield to protect employees who engage in misconduct. Mandatory arbitration agreements push disputes between employees and employers out of open court, so legal matters are decided not by a judge but by an arbitrator, and studies show workers win less often in arbitration than in court. Victims can’t openly testify, and journalists can’t as easily report the stories to the public.
Nondisclosure agreements threaten legal action against survivors who might speak up, allowing perpetrators of harm to cover up claims against them. Violations will remain in the shadows as long as companies, or government, allow them to. Exposing abuses of power helps end them. —Eliana Dockterman
Commit to raising equity-conscious children
One of the most difficult things about studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy is trying to live up to the findings—and the single greatest challenge comes from what I’ve learned about parenting. We can read all the books and go to all the classes, but in the end, it comes down to one question: Are we being the adults we want our children to grow up to be?
Who we are, how we show up, our behaviors—these are much better predictors of who our children will be and what they’ll believe about themselves and the world. The foundation of raising equity-conscious children is modeling equity-conscious behaviors. Do our children see us challenging ideas, even when it’s unpopular to do so? Are we modeling the importance of being learners over knowers? Do we talk openly about our struggles to have difficult conversations—and our commitment to doing it anyway? Do we point out inequity in the world and in our own lives?
Equity consciousness requires deep reflection and learning. Teaching ideals is never as powerful as modeling the vulnerability it takes to achieve those ideals. Are we inviting our children to be part of our own work? Even the uncomfortable parts. Especially the uncomfortable parts. —Brené Brown, researcher and author of Dare to Lead
Invest in public-interest technology
If we don’t approach technology with a public-interest perspective, we will further hurt marginalized communities. We have to train people for careers in digital fields so they bring an informed perspective, enact policy to ensure technology serves people historically subject to discrimination and require accountability from companies in pursuit of public-interest goals. Technology should seek to reduce and eradicate discrimination, not perpetuate it. —Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president
Embrace a holistic approach to reading
Culture teaches us how to perceive the world. So much of who we are as adults comes from what we’re exposed to as kids. But for a long time, one group has decided for us all which stories—histories and fiction alike—are worthwhile. We need to offer depth and nuance in representation in stories, and ensure that children read across all divides. Equity is impossible to achieve if we can’t perceive one another’s experiences as real. Ideally, the world of books starts to reflect our lives. —Lisa Lucas, publisher
Create an independent body to review police killings
When controversial police shootings occur, the department responsible for the shooting is often tasked with investigating it. And the people in the local district attorney’s office—who decide whether to prosecute—also regularly work with the police, which critics argue leaves too much room for bias.
The solution proposed by activists: appoint independent bodies to investigate and decide whether to prosecute police shootings. These groups, which experts argue would ideally be formed at the federal level and housed in regional districts across the country, would be solely responsible for investigating civilian deaths that involve police officers in their respective regions—with federal authority and resources. Such a system could allow for more even-handed examinations of officer-involved shootings.
During her 2019 campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris proposed what might be a complementary body, “a National Police Systems Review Board, which would collect data and review police shootings ... and work to issue recommendations and implement safety standards based on evidence revealed in these reviews.” Of course, independent bodies would not fully address the myriad issues raised by police shootings. But at the very least, victims’ families could know that the deaths of their loved ones were investigated by unbiased officials. —Josiah Bates
Offer paid, equally shared family leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act only offers unpaid family leave, which means the partner earning less is more likely to take it. Because of the persistent gender wage gap, that’s usually a woman. Providing paid family leave is a step, but even in states that offer it, men are often reluctant to take time off because of gendered stereotypes around work and parenting. In order to encourage shared caregiving, some advanced democracies like Iceland and Sweden allocate paid family leave equally to both parents—and it can’t be transferred. The policy is structured so that it’s in the best interest of families for parents to participate in equal caregiving. —Melissa Murray, NYU law professor
As a Black disabled woman, no U.S. law effectively protects me from ableism, racism and misogynoir. The federal government needs to strengthen the Americans With Disabilities Act; the fact that we need a law to combat discrimination against disabled people makes clear where people stand. But the real catalyst for change lies in individuals’ confronting their ableist notions. Ensuring equity doesn’t mean you should try to save us. Help instead by eradicating the injustices that impact us. —Vilissa Thompson, founder of Ramp Your Voice!
Create universal pre-K
High-quality preschools give families options. They set kids up for success and boost every sector of the economy. Yet day-care and preschool costs are the greatest expense facing parents of young children in the U.S. today. Being unable to send children to preschool forces women out of the workforce and has a negative impact on Black, brown and low-income children who have less access to high-quality programs.
What’s more, about 95% of childcare workers are women, and close to half are women of color—most of them are underpaid and underprotected. In Portland, Ore., the Universal Preschool Now! Coalition is cheering on the Biden Administration’s call for a tax on the wealthy to extend the opportunity of childcare and preschool to all. Last November, our coalition of parents, childcare providers and preschool workers helped pass a local version of Biden’s plan in Multnomah County. We now know from experience that providing universal, quality care is a part of the fight for social, racial and economic justice. We must ensure the workforce is respected and well compensated. We must create truly universal programs, because all kids benefit from mixed-income classrooms. If we want to make sure that families with the means pay, Biden has it right: tax them.
Finally, we feel strongly that this is about care, not coercion: expulsions have no place in pre-K. And universal does not mean mandatory. Universal means that no parent has to choose between working to earn money for housing and food, and paying for childcare and education. Universal means every young child gets the opportunity to thrive. —Lydia Kiesling, author
Enhance representation in C-suites and boardrooms
Beyond the moral imperative for corporations to become more equitable, diversity among companies’ highest ranks can yield measurable rewards. Research shows that more diverse organizations perform better financially—and the single biggest variable inside a company is leadership appointments. Companies with diverse executive teams are more likely to be profitable; 25% more likely for gender diversity and 36% more likely for ethnic diversity. Diverse executive teams are particularly important, as they are the primary drivers of company strategy and organizational transformation. They can effect change by hiring a critical mass of underrepresented people throughout all levels of companies and committing to inclusive operating practices. Business leaders should not be discouraged or afraid to take on these complex issues and should be candid about their experiences pushing for change because that shows humanity, realism and pragmatism. No company has made this journey without making some mistakes. Despite corporate statements about inclusion, many companies have still not made material progress. Corporate leaders must sharply interrogate hiring practices and company policies for equity, diversity and inclusion. They must be bold. —Dame Vivian Hunt, senior partner, McKinsey & Co.
Change public school funding
School funding depends heavily on property taxes. School districts serving wealthier, white students tend to be well resourced, while those serving low-income students and students of color receive far less funding. “Those funding gaps translate to fewer high-quality opportunities every day,” says Ary Amerikaner of the nonprofit the Education Trust. To remedy this, experts say the federal government should boost funding to schools serving low-income children, and states should target aid to students with the most needs and districts with lower property wealth. —Katie Reilly
Ensure all people have access to gender-affirming health care
As I settle in as Assistant Secretary for Health, I am humbled to be the first openly transgender individual to serve in a Senate-confirmed position. I stand on the shoulders of those who came before—people we know from the history books and those we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows. We’ve come a long way, but still have a long road ahead. A 2019 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that most Americans do not know that LGBTQ people lack federal protections. Raising awareness is an important step, but we also need to turn awareness into action by working together across agencies and organizations. Also, the federal government must continue to lead by example and showcase the importance of full federal LGBTQ equality.
We’re making strides and have started to revive and expand Department of Health and Human Services work on LGBTQ policy changes across offices and programs. I want everyone, trans youth in particular, to know there is a place for you in our government and in America. As President Biden said during his first joint address to Congress, “To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people. You’re so brave. I want you to know your President has your back.” —Dr. Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health
Improve diversity in clinical research trials
The COVID-19 vaccines have been remarkable so far—both in how quickly they were developed and for their safety and efficacy. And they may leave another legacy lasting well beyond the pandemic. Because the disease hit Black and Hispanic communities hardest, scientists in the U.S. focused intentionally on ensuring people of color were represented in the studies of the vaccines. Addressing equity in this way should extend beyond the pandemic-related research to any studies of new therapies going forward, says Dr. Clyde Yancy, vice dean for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
And that’s only one critical aspect of broadening diversity and equity in clinical trials going forward. Lack of trust in the medical establishment remains a major hurdle in many communities. Decades of exploitation and abuse of people of color in medical research, from the Tuskegee experiment, in which hundreds of Black men were recruited in a syphilis study under false pretenses throughout the mid-1900s, to Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were used through the latter half of the 20th century by scientists without her permission, have fostered a deep and justifiable skepticism of doctors, researchers and the health care enterprise. Here again, the COVID-19 vaccine studies may serve as a valuable model: to ensure people of color participated in the trials, respected scientists and religious and cultural leaders helped to educate communities about the trials, and facilitate discussions about the risks and benefits involved. “We need to reframe the conversation about research so people don’t approximate research with someone doing experiments on other people but instead recognize it’s how we learn,” says Yancy. “Then we can definitively answer the question, ‘Was someone who looks like me and has life experiences like me in the trial?’ We can absolutely say, ‘Yes, someone like you in the trial responded at least as well if not better than others in the study.’”
The vaccine studies are also showing how to address some of the practical reasons people are reluctant to participate in research, including challenges getting to the trial site and having to miss work. “Why can’t we make trials more local; why do we insist that patients come to a major medical center?” says Yancy. “These simple things in how you execute a trial can make a big difference in recruiting more diverse populations. This model can be replicated time and time again; it’s a wonderful lesson learned of extrapolating from the vaccine trials to other medical and device investigations in the future.” —Alice Park
Abolish the Electoral College
The core case for the direct national election of America’s President is simple: equality. Each American voter should count equally: Black or white, Democrat or Republican, urbanite or country dweller.
Direct election was a political nonstarter at the founding of our country. Such a system would have given the South no credit for its slave population. (Slaves don’t vote.) The founders thus hatched a complex system allowing slave states to count their bondsmen, albeit at a discount. Each slave would count for three-fifths of a free person in apportioning both the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Virginia, with its large slave population, was the big winner: eight of the first nine presidential elections crowned a slaveholding Virginian. Northerners complained, but to no avail, even after the three-fifths clause notoriously advantaged Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson over New England’s John Adams in the 1800 presidential contest.
The best argument for keeping the current system is inertia. It’s the devil we know, and any changes could trigger unanticipated consequences. Defenders of the status quo also say the system reflects American federalism, but direct election could harness a superior version. In direct election, the more who show up to vote in state X, the more clout X has in the national count. States would be incentivized to encourage voter turnout. They would become laboratories of democracy—federalism at its best—subject to congressional supervision to keep it fair. —Akhil Reed Amar, author of The Words That Made Us
Protect the right to protest
We are living in a time when people are trying to call out the contradictions of America—in policing, in education, in health care—on their own terms. But in so many instances, the Black community and other oppressed groups are told: “Here’s your spokesperson. This is how you protest, and here’s how you address the issue.”
We’ve witnessed, to some extent, how far the system will go in order to stop people from fighting for self-determination. We are aware of how law-enforcement agents use surveillance, arrests and technology to stop communications. When we leave protests, we see boots being put on the wheels of our cars. And we’ve seen this for years: how entities like the Counterintelligence Program engaged in intimidation; deception; and, in the case of my father Chairman Fred Hampton and others, assassination.
As Minister Huey P. Newton wrote: “Laws should be made to serve the people. People should not be made to serve the laws.” And yet today bills in 34 states would restrict demonstrations or protect drivers who hit protesters. Whether Democrat, Republican or the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program, people should be able to say whatever reflects their communities’ realities, and articulate their needs without fear of repercussions. —Fred Hampton Jr., activist and chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs
Teach sex and consent education in schools
We must mandate comprehensive sex education in schools that is culturally competent and includes instruction on consent. The Consent Awareness Network and other organizations are leading an effort to pass laws that define consent as a “freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement.” I would also add revocable. That definition is important because a lot of sexual violence happens in so-called gray areas because of varying understandings of consent. But unless we teach this in schools, we won’t change the culture. We teach children how to say please and thank you, and to not run with scissors; we can teach them about consent and boundaries. Sex education should also be expansive and inclusive of all identities. What if we started now? Start programs in kindergarten and layer on that education until graduation. After 13 years, you will have a group that has learned about things like respect, sexuality and healthy relationships. The Me Too movement is about making sure we get to a place where a new generation doesn’t have to say “me too.” We can’t get there without these efforts. —Tarana Burke, founder of Me Too
Protect workers from anti-union intimidation
What American would not like to belong to a club whose members receive 11% higher pay, and are more likely to receive employer-sponsored health care and paid sick days? If that club is a union, the answer is complicated. While 65% of Americans support the existence of unions, just 11% of workers are members. Forming labor unions is difficult, made clear in a recent union drive by workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Ala. Though more than half indicated they wanted to unionize last year, less than a third voted to do so in the April election. Some were likely swayed by Amazon’s efforts, which included mandatory anti-union informational sessions—something Democrats in Congress are attempting to outlaw. The RWDSU, the union trying to organize in Bessemer, has appealed the election results, alleging Amazon illegally threatened unionizers with layoffs. (Amazon says RWDSU is “misrepresenting the facts.”) “Our system is broken,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said during the vote count. “Amazon took full advantage of that.” —Abby Vesoulis
Foster relationships between police and communities
When it comes to equity, we can’t ignore how a community is treated by its police officers. Law enforcement needs to work to transform their often contentious relationships with disenfranchised communities, which can lead to a cycle of mistrust and violence. Dialogue is crucial, and police departments, which wield the power, must reach out to community activists in an effort to start that conversation. —Josiah Bates
Abolish cash bail
At 16, Kalief Browder found himself caught up in America’s cash bail system. The Black teen spent three years behind bars on Rikers Island without trial because his family couldn’t initially raise his $3,000 bail following a robbery charge that he denied and which was ultimately dropped. Two years after his release, Browder died by suicide.
His story is tragic but not unique. Nearly half a million people in the U.S.—43% of them Black—are currently detained before trial. The bail system, which often requires defendants or their families to stump up large sums of cash in a short window, is reminiscent of 19th century debtors’ prisons, in which those who were unable to pay court-ordered judgments would be locked up until they’d worked off their debts or secured funds to pay the balance.
For those without the means to pay, cash bail can trigger a set of life-changing events as part of the “spiral effect.” The first level is loss of employment, followed by the risk of losing housing and vehicles. These circumstances can sometimes contribute to losing child custody. There are several steps that could help end the spiral: Community investment to meet individuals’ basic needs. Policing reforms to stop arrests for low-level offenses and crimes resulting from poverty. Use of citations for such crimes. Improving access to mental-health and/or substance-abuse treatment programs. Use of court reminders and better communication with defendants about their cases. Combined with these measures, ending cash bail is one way to dismantle inequities faced by people who enter the U.S. criminal-justice system. —Keturah J. Herron, ACLU of Kentucky
If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.
Ensure access to high-quality arts education
Kaden Robinson, 17, credits a Boys & Girls Clubs program with helping him learn to express himself: “I cannot imagine being the person I am without art.” He’s not alone; studies show engagement with the arts can help young people deepen empathy and picture what’s possible. Yet spending on arts education has declined, and students of color in particular miss out on opportunities. Ensuring all children have a high-quality arts education will help expand their sense of self—and possibility—in the world. —Bahia Ramos, the Wallace Foundation
Implement universal housing vouchers
Millions of American families faced a housing emergency even before the COVID-19 crisis, with over 11 million households spending more than 50% of their income on rent, and nearly 8 million spending over 50% of their income on their mortgage, according to the Urban Institute. Those lower-income families have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Much of our social safety net to support families with stable housing at the federal level involves the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called Section 8, in which families have part of their rent subsidized by a federal voucher paid directly to the landlord. Discrimination makes it harder for racial minorities, families with children, the LGBTQIA community and people with disabilities to find housing, with landlords either refusing to accept the vouchers or offering limited housing choices to families with vouchers. Millions of Americans who are eligible don’t receive the benefit because its funding is far outpaced by need.
The answer is a universal housing voucher program, as proposed by President Joe Biden during the 2020 campaign, which would fully fund the program to meet the full eligible population. When low-income families receive housing vouchers, data shows that they are less likely to experience food insecurity, be separated from their children and experience domestic violence. These outcomes are too important for the benefit to remain limited to a narrow subset of the eligible population. A home is more than a building block for children and families to grow and advance their dreams. It’s a basic human right. —Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood
Allyship makes me think of linking up with your favorite cousins at Grandma’s house. When a fight erupts over toys, at least three kids run to rat to Grandma, who then shares lessons on diplomacy. Everyone is prepared to push through the evening because, above all, everyone wants to see the cousins have a good time and enjoy themselves. It’s about facing what happens without failing to learn.
This doesn’t mean inequities don’t exist among the cousins. One may live with Grandma because of a nonfunctioning parent, a pain point, but in this house, they have the privilege because it’s their room and their toys. They can dictate the rules—rules negotiated with Grandma for their benefit. We all have things that set us back; we all have some measure of power.
The greatest allies make me think of the best cousins—the ones who share, offer snacks, and go grab the shy cousin who is sitting alone and convince them to play. Allies correct the misbehaving cousin while at the same time offering them a road to redemption.
This is work everyone can do, and everyone should. It’s because of the best cousin’s care that 20 years later, the whole family is still sitting together at reunions and weddings—not because they all have the perfect relationships, but because they know how to work together. Their intent is continually showcased in their actions.
—Kimberly Jones, author of How We Can Win