In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we want to take a moment to reflect on how Dr. King’s legacy informs our responsibility as public servants to serve all people, and the importance of equity in city services.
When Seattle launched our Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) in 2005, we were the first city in the country to launch a program designed to tackle two of the key injustices Dr. King fought against: institutional and structural racism. Since then, this effort has been integrated into every aspect and agency of our government, including SDOT.
SDOT’s RSJ Change Team established RSJ Goals and Outcomes for our department: “Through our work, SDOT will end institutional racism and biases, and will create an equitable transportation system and workforce.” To advance that mission, we developed specific goals, strategies, and measures for areas including Safety, Workforce and Contracting Equity, Distribution of Services, Affordability, and Community Engagement.
As part of this effort, SDOT staff use Racial Equity Toolkits to analyze how a particular project or policy could impact traditionally underserved communities. This helps us to continually improve services to the public because it incorporates proactive, critical thought on where to place capital assets (like sidewalks and bike lanes), how to prioritize maintenance, and who to talk to in the community.
SDOT’s RSJ Change Team helps guide staff in using the Toolkit, and is constantly refining and updating it to reflect our community’s changing needs. The Change Team also provides youth of color and from low income areas the chance to see SDOT’s role in our City, and potential career paths, through field trips, guest speakers, and internships. In 2016, local youth got to see how the Traffic Operations Center works, what the Urban Forestry crew does, and how and why decisions are made.
To solidify our commitment to equity, SDOT established the Office of Equity and Economic Inclusion (OEEI) in 2016. As a partner to the RSJ Change Team, the OEEI focuses on building capacity for minority and woman-owned businesses, as well as ensuring access to opportunity and fair treatment for all engaged in and affected by SDOT’s work.
Finally, the RSJ Training Program plays an important role in advancing racial equity in our work at SDOT. All SDOT employees are required to take at least 2 hours of RSJ training per year, on topics such as implicit bias, mass incarceration, the history of redlining, and inclusive community outreach. Training in these areas builds our capacity to dismantle institutional structures of racism within government and in our community.