Sharing All Stories - A Reflection on DE&I by Erin Joyner

Like a lot of people across the country, the events that occurred this past summer affected me deeply. Seeing the protests that ensued throughout my community, our country, and the entire world unearthed something in me that I always knew was there but until then was unable to define. The events leading up to the protests were not new, at least in my world and from my vantage point, but something felt different about this time, this movement. It was as if this movement had taken on a life of its own. It had become its own living, breathing body, and had given life to other movements, ideas and renaissances. It opened new eyes and brought light to darkness and ugliness. It was transformative.

Growing up a brown girl in mostly white spaces it was normal for me to move throughout the world with an uneasiness. The feeling of having a weight on my shoulders, a brick in my stomach; that discomfort under my skin was so normal, I did not even realize I was carrying it. Sometimes, I carried it as a burden, other times as my battle scars; scars that were a badge of honor. It was my penance for being allowed to belong and to have a seat at the table. The subsequent conversations that happened this summer in my personal and professional life forced me to be introspective in a way I had never been before. It forced to me reflect on my own past experiences. I started to examine the way I moved in the world and how my identity as a cis woman of color, a black cis woman has shaped my approach to my personal and professional relationships, along with my work.

When I talk to community partners about Volunteers of America and the work we do, I always speak about our approach; how we treat the whole person; mind, body, and spirit. I had to question if we really do that because the whole person includes their identity. It includes inequities they have faced because of their sexual identity. It includes trauma they endured because of their race and biases that have left them feeling isolated.

In my role, I have the opportunity to tell stories to the world about the men and women who come to us for help. I want to use what I learn through DEI to give honor to their stories, their full stories. I want to honor the diversity of their experiences and identities, acknowledging their unique experiences and identities shape who, why and where they are. I know this is so important because for the longest time I did not honor those parts of myself. I resented being defined, even a little bit, by those parts of me. I did not allow healing from the traumas of being a brown girl in this world. I did not treat myself as a whole person.

My hope is through this DEI development process, it will show how important this work is for an organization, how it not only helps those who work for Volunteers of America, but also the people we serve. 

I want to be able to tell the story of Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana, the story of an organization that sees, celebrates, heals, and honors every individual to the fullest extent.
Erin Joyner, DE&I Ambassador

Read more Reflections from our
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee