This article is the third in our four-part series, “Equity in Action: How Awardee Leadership is Shaping Racial Justice at The BUILD Health Challenge.” Through partnership with alumni from The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) over the last year, we sought to address questions about racial justice in the context of strategic planning and decision-making at BUILD and learn how to support BUILD awardees in their racial justice work. This four-part series will cover 1) the awardee engagement process, 2) community-level learnings , 3) awardee recommendations for BUILD (here), and 4) BUILD’s commitments going forward.   

As BUILD’s alumni discussed how they were working toward racial equity in their communities, they also shared ways that BUILD could implement strategic shifts and offerings that would support their efforts. Through synthesis of these conversations and follow-up one-on-one conversations, the alumni Advisory Group identified 10 recommendations for BUILD to advance racial justice as an initiative and strengthen the support BUILD provides to local communities.

The following recommendations fall into three broad categories for our next steps: strengthening BUILD’s racial justice work; exploring BUILD’s role in field-building and thought leadership around racial justice; and fostering supportive interactions and pathways to advance racial justice with awardee partners.

Strengthening BUILD’s Racial Justice Commitment  
Center racial justice explicitly and thoroughly. 

Support awarded collaboratives in clearly articulating their focus on racial justice and ensure it permeates all aspects of BUILD initiatives. Allow time and space for discussions on the historical context of racism and its impact on today’s health inequities, both within individual collaborative and across peer communities. This could include making explicit space for collaborative partners to explore what racial justice means in the context of their work, as well as providing the appropriate technical assistance and support for communities to have these conversations. Document the status of BUILD awardees on their racial equity journey, including how they understand their local context, how racism and its legacies have impacted their current work, what deliberate actions they are taking to combat this, and their impact.  

“Recognizing that because of where we are, because we are Americans and we are in the United States, that race plays a part in everything. It’s everywhere, in all of our systems and institutions. And we could try to ignore it and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But it’s designed the way that it is intentionally, to oppress. We need to always keep that at the forefront.”
Monique Elwood Brown 

Diversify representation across BUILD leadership. 

Promote diversity in BUILD leadership and engage diverse speakers across BUILD’s speaking opportunities. Prioritize uplifting Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) with diverse professional backgrounds. Shift from academia toward community organizers and BIPOC leadership from nontraditional pathways. Centering voices with lived experience will help BUILD awardees in connecting with community members and other stakeholders by reflecting the practices they are working toward in their own communities.  

Field-Building and Thought Leadership  
Share BUILD’s racial equity journey as an example of what is possible. 

Document and share BUILD’s racial equity journey to inspire and demonstrate not only that change is possible, but the details of how it is being done, how it continues to evolve, and what difference it is making for BUILD, awardees, and awardee communities. Encourage open discussions among awardees, fostering opportunities to exchange experiences and offer advice. Recognize that organizations and philanthropy can learn from BUILD’s journey of moving from a narrower health focus to an explicit racial justice focus — and how that journey continues.  

Use resources authored and supported by communities of color.

Be intentional about the resources shared, ensuring they are created by communities of color and embrace the principles of racial equity.  

“I think it’s brave of BUILD to even have these kinds of spaces, because they aren’t existing: there’s no space for us to really talk about [racial justice] with this kind of a diverse group… This is what it looks like in the real world. How come this is not what it looks like in my boardroom, in your boardroom, in this space and that space? And how are we not having these kinds of systems-work conversations? I’m proud of the kind of collaboration that happens here. What I want to know is, and maybe somebody could tell me, how do we duplicate this?”
Natasha Butler 

Interactions and Supportive Pathways for Awardees  
Foster a collaborative and learning environment among awardees.

Continue nurturing a culture of collaboration and learning, encouraging awardees to work together and share experiences. Because of how BUILD has continued to engage awardees and maintain open lines of communication, a culture of honest dialogue has emerged — maintain this as a priority. Emphasize inclusive, multicultural, and multilingual spaces to ensure diverse voices are heard and valued.  

Amplify community voices and center those most affected by unjust systems.

Continue to prioritize centering community voices and uplift those most impacted by inequities to lead the change in their communities through the activities, resources, and communications that BUILD provides awardees.  

“We want to push beyond community engagement to community integration, making the community an active partner. Not just in the implementation of whatever you’re trying to do, but with the development. From the beginning to end, having the community as a partner.”
Manuel J Castañeda 

Support strategic communications for awardees. 

Acknowledge and meet awardees’ need for additional support, skills, and resources related to racial justice. Equip communities with the skills and resources to bolster their strategic communications so they can emphasize the importance of achieving racial justice and how their work advances this goal to community members, stakeholders, and funders.   

Emphasize the systems-level focus of racial equity work. 

Support communities’ understanding of systems-level thinking and action. Encourage them to address root causes of inequities and advocate for systemic change. When needed, support awardees to maintain a clear systems framing that connects to ongoing social needs work they may be engaged in. Continue to help awardees move away from addressing social needs unconnected to a broader systems-level frame and understanding to deepen, evolve, and sustain their work.  


Embrace the pace and length of racial justice work. 

Acknowledge that creating change is incremental and that progress and impact may take time beyond awardees’ three-year experience with BUILD. Recognize and allow for the time it takes to create and maintain relationships, institutional collaboration, and other systemic shifts. Encourage collaboratives to clarify their vision of a racially just community and the long-term commitment required. Create opportunities for BUILD awardees to envision the future beyond BUILD and plan for sustainability, considering the long-term goals and impact of their relationship building, collaborations, and initiatives. 
Intentionally connect BUILD awardees for support and collaboration. 

Foster intentional connections among awardees, encouraging them to build relationships with each other, discuss their work, and explore potential partnerships for advancing racial justice. Intentionally make connections as BUILD identifies linkages across local communities and initiatives, including shared learning from challenges and triumphs. Expand opportunities for current BUILD awardees to meet with alumni and to connect and engage with them to advance their racial justice work. Create opportunities for BUILD alumni to stay engaged with each other and with BUILD.  

Now What? 

These recommendations contain powerful insight into how BUILD can be a vehicle for change at the local and national levels. They are grounded in the expertise of the community partners who have longstanding experience with both BUILD and with racial justice initiatives. These recommendations also reflect best practices in the fields of community health, grantmaking, and cross-sector collaboratives. Some recommendations are specific and immediate, and others long-term and aspirational. Above all, they are full of opportunities for BUILD to be a better partner, leader, and advocate for racial justice.  

Up next, we’ll share the ways that BUILD is putting these recommendations into practice — both today and in the future.