For 29 years, The Unusual Suspects (US) has partnered with communities across Los Angeles to provide youth, families, and communities with the opportunity to celebrate their unique voices and talents through theater.
In the fall of 2021, our Teaching Artists brought it to the organization’s attention that there is more work to be done to nurture and serve the well-being of our students, families, Teaching Artists, and Staff. US is taking the actions necessary to look inward at our own operations, communications, and decision-making. The need to elevate and honor voices in communities of color and to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our operations has become one of our main priorities.
Our Board, Staff, and Teaching Artists are working with a shared commitment to create action steps —to center our communities in all aspects of our work and better integrate anti-racist, anti-colonial, and abolitionist practices across all departments —that we believe will lead to an exciting and comprehensive organizational transformation and the ability to more holistically serve our communities.
Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, The Unusual Suspects is committed to elevating and honoring voices in communities of color and incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all aspects of our operations. US has a comprehensive action plan —all to center our communities in all aspects of our work and to integrate anti-racist, anti-colonial, and abolitionist practices across all departments —that we believe will lead to an exciting and comprehensive organizational transformation and the ability to more holistically serve our communities.
Our mission remains to effectively promote positive, healthy youth development that enables our young people to grow and flourish throughout life. This focus on the future will enhance that work, allowing US to elevate our participants’ authentic, unfiltered voices, while ensuring that our organization grows healthy and more vibrant in step with our communities.
An anti-racist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing antiracist ideas. This includes the expression of ideas that racial groups are equals and do not need developing, and supporting policies that reduce racial inequity (https://www.racialequitytools.org/glossary)
Defined as the active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence and power that originate from a colonized nation’s own indigenous culture. This process occurs politically and also applies to personal and societal psychic, cultural, political, agricultural, and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression. (https://www.racialequitytools.org/glossary)
We acknowledge the harms of the nonprofit industrial complex, and in particular, the inherent roots of white supremacy, wealth inequality, and institutional racism at the core of the fundraising and philanthropy industry. Our work has upheld this inequitable and unjust system to raise funds. We commit to taking the concrete action steps below to make radical change in our organization’s Development & Communications strategy. As an organization based on teaching storytelling, we must do better in our work to center our participants and mission.
Some action steps the Development & Communications Team are implementing are below
Building strong relationships with our donors, while not centering them in our messaging and communications.
Overhauling our public facing storytelling, including a revamp of our website, based on the creation of an anti-racist, anti-colonial, and abolitionist language style guide that will be used for all social media posts, grant applications, website text, and other outward facing communications about our work. This decolonization of language will move The Unusual Suspects away from a scarcity mindset and towards highlighting the vibrant, diverse, and talented communities we serve.
Revising our social media policy in conjunction with the board to be outward-facing on issues that directly affect our participants and their families.
Revisiting our funder cultivation and prospecting strategies, while researching the institutions, corporations, and foundations we receive funding from to ensure we cultivate funders that align with our values and mission.
Making profiles and narratives written about our participants a voluntary and collaborative process. This includes not picking which participants have the most “worthy” stories to be shared, which are often chosen due to personal trauma, but rather putting out a voluntary call for stories to all participants. This change would ensure that participants are partners in the creation and review of the narrative, and have final approval of what is being shared about themselves, their community, and their own experiences and on what platforms. Participants will always have the option of deciding not to publicly share at any time.
Revamp our fundraising strategy and revisit the roles of participants and Teaching Artists in fundraising efforts using the framework developed by the Community Centric Fundraising Movement, an organization run by BIPOC fundraisers, to ground our work in social justice and prioritize the communities we serve.
We commit to beginning this work immediately and prioritizing these action steps. We will be fully transparent providing updates in the upcoming months about what the team is working on and progress to date.
This work must be done to ensure that we are truly living up to our mission, and we do not take it lightly.
We refuse to uphold the status quo.
We value our TAs labor in and out of the classroom. We value our TAs artistic endeavors and understand that we hire TAs who are artistic professionals and commit to working flexibly so they can continue to engage with their artistry, while introducing their art to students through The Unusual Suspects. We are transitioning immediately from a deficient mindset to empowering abundant language with our funders and donors, as well as the communities we serve.
Some action steps the Programs Team is implementing are below:
- Exploring flat and other alternative organizational models. Interviewing organizations that have adopted a flat model and other models.
- Examining and researching the efficacy of part-time staffing models for Teaching Artists.
- Defining measurable actions that can be implemented to improve the current TA staffing model.
- Forming a curriculum development think tank of paid positions, and utilizing the Social Justice Standards, Equity Standards, and any other resources available that are anti-colonial, anti-racist, and abolistionist to create a revised curriculum that will be implemented both as we go forward with programming and while we talk about our work moving forward.
- Identifying and contracting with outside curriculum development designers to be a part of, and contribute to, the think tank.
- Generating a weekly communication and sending it each week to TAs, staff, Board Of Directors members, and Advisory Committee members, together with Programs and Development & Communications staff members.
- Quarterly meetings with staff, TAs, and The Board to ensure our mission, vision, and strategic plan are in alignment.
- Communicating, with documents, our official pay scale for TAs with defined parameters of advancement.
- Identify and pay the Create A Thon TAs who generated content for advertising.
- Committing to continuing the hiring of Latinx, African American, SWANA, Peoples of the Global Majority and bilingual local artists.