Moving Toward Equity
Nonet Sykes, M.P.A. ’94
Children and families of color have a passionate advocate in Nonet Sykes, M.P.A. ’94, director of race equity and inclusion for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropy aimed at improving the lives of at-risk children.
Sykes works with colleagues, grant recipients and partners nationwide to create practices and policies that promote equity. And she works with facts—not emotion—to gather and analyze data that reveal how children of different races and ethnicities are faring in key indices, such as birth weight and grade-level reading and math proficiency.
Her goal? Ensuring that every child has an equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of race, ethnicity, class or culture.
“There are people who think you shouldn’t see or talk about race,” she says. “But if you don’t see someone’s race or understand the impact one’s race and ethnicity has on them, then you can’t really embrace that person or show them any empathy.”
“What we’ve found is that even when you control for economic status, race is always the leading barrier.”
To help foundation staff and grant recipients better understand and create equitable opportunities for the people and communities they serve, Sykes developed a race equity and inclusion action guide and training curriculum. With foundation colleagues, she helped develop the Race for Results Index, which uses national and state data to measure the impact of children’s race or ethnicity on their success into adulthood.
The index includes 12 markers that demonstrate whether children are on the path to success, Sykes says. “What we’ve found is that even when you control for economic status, race is always the leading barrier,” she says. “Children of color make up the majority of America’s poor. They still fare the worst.”
Those findings, Sykes says, suggest that it’s not just individual acts of bias but also institutional and systemic structures that perpetuate inequity. To tackle those barriers, she would like to see policymakers and practitioners direct funds and programs to those who need them most. Sykes also encourages using the foundation’s Racial Equity Impact Analysis to examine existing and future policies in areas ranging from education to the criminal justice system to determine and avoid negative, unintended consequences for children and families of color.
She acknowledges that change will take time but looks toward the future with hope.
“I want to do my part to make this place better for my children,” she says. “I want them to be successful, knowing that the country they live in supports them and doesn’t take opportunities away.”