While watching Super Bowl LV on Sunday, I saw a dramatic ad featuring black and white photos of Black Lives Matter protesters with a message about “break[ing] through barriers to reframe the future toward equity and unity.” After the commercial was over, my partner turned to me and said, “Okay, but what are they doing for Black people?”

I’ve found myself asking that same question over and over this past year. The phrase “racial equity” has shown up in all corners of conversation and sectors of work since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. We saw organizations representing all sectors share their commitment to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and scramble for the right words to address the time. In statements from corporations to colleges, “racial equity” quickly became a buzzword—a word or phrase that is popular, but which is not clearly defined. People were saying “racial equity” everywhere, yes, but what does equity actually look like to them, and what are they doing to create it?

We—and our audiences—see right through messages of support that lack real action. But messages about racial equity don’t have to be this way. They have a power to both reflect reality and advance real change.

Recognizing this, Lumina Foundation came to us with a challenge several years ago: How do we communicate about racial equity in an authentic way that leads to meaningful change? Through a literature review, in-depth interviews with grantees, business leaders and philanthropists, and a national survey of more than 3,000 people, we confirmed that although people might be familiar with the word equity, many struggled to describe what it meant or what exactly it looked like in practice. Lumina aimed to help communicators talk about racial equity in a way that moves beyond buzzwords and abstract definitions to provide a meaningful and actionable definition.

The Racial Equity Framework we developed with Lumina is a roadmap that guides people to understand how they uniquely see and contribute to a more racially equitable world. The Framework takes the abstract phrase “racial equity” and breaks it down into four key ideas, which tell a story about what racial equity looks like in practice:

  • Everyone has a right to real opportunity. 
  • But, opportunity isn’t equal.
  • Our systems of education and training after high school unfairly hold some people back. 
  • Real actions with real outcomes make opportunity real for all.

This framing gets us beyond jargon to provide a structure that challenges us, as individuals and organizations, to define and specify the world we want to create, the barriers getting in the way, and the actions we’re taking to make real change. It focuses our job as communicators for impact, not self-promotion, and forces us to define what we’re committed to do. We can determine the role of our programs and our voice in shaping change by asking ourselves and our organizations: 

  • What does a racially equitable world look like? 
  • What policies, practices, and beliefs do we need to change? 
  • Who is most adversely affected? 
  • What are the real actions we are committed to taking—ourselves and as an organization—to make opportunity real for all?

Wrestling with these questions helps us move past a desire to say the right thing, to making a commitment to untangling what racial equity looks like in practice, and then devoting ourselves to the work needed to create racially equitable outcomes.

Building on its racial equity communications work, Lumina internalized racial equity by embedding it in everything it does. From staff storytelling to its Stronger Nation data, Lumina shares its vision for a post-high school education system that serves today’s students, and elevates the policies, practices, and beliefs that keep Black, Native American, and Hispanic students from earning degrees or credentials. Lumina structures its work around its vision for the world, and what it has the power to change—recognizing that only real actions to address racial equity can create real outcomes.

Racial equity communications are only as impactful as the actions behind them. A clear and tangible definition of racial equity will make you accountable to that vision—both with the words that you say and the actions that you take.

Reina DuFore is an Associate with Hattaway Communications. Combining her experience in brand strategy and storytelling, she loves helping clients develop cutting-edge communications strategies that mobilize audiences, yet are authentic to who they are and who they want to be. In her spare time, she's the co-founder of LUMXN Magazine—a womxn of color centered publication that features interviews, poetry, art, and photography.