2017 Semifinalist
City of Seattle, WA
January 1, 2017

When the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) began in 2004, no U.S. city had ever undertaken an anti-racism initiative. For many years, communities of color had repeatedly called on the City of Seattle to address institutional racism in its internal operations and community engagement. In 2004, then-Mayor Greg Nickels introduced RSJI as an internal program of Seattle City government. The goal was to “get our own house in order” – to end institutional racism in the City’s programs, services, policies and procedures. The Mayor’s Office asked the City’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to lead the effort on behalf of all City departments. OCR envisioned RSJI as an internal community organizing campaign, and asked departments to establish annual RSJI work plans and RSJI employee change teams to drive the work. They also developed a set of Central Concerns for all departments to focus on, created an 8-hour RSJI training that all 10,000 City employees were required to attend, and developed a Racial Equity Tool for departments to utilize as part of any budget actions, program planning and community engagement. Over time, City of Seattle employees adopted the language of racial equity and departments began to apply equity tools to their programs and services. In 2009, RSJI created the RSJ Community Roundtable to build a working partnership between the City and a wide range of community organizations. RSJI’s 2012-14 Three-Year Plan formally expanded the Initiative to focus on ending racial inequity in the community. The current 2015-2017 Three Year Plan envisions a broad racial justice movement that includes grassroots community, organizations, philanthropy, and active partnerships with other governments and institutions. Today, RSJI is changing the way departments conduct the City’s business, and building authentic relationships with communities of color. All City departments are required to document annual use of the Racial Equity Toolkit; in addition, the City has publicized its use of a racial equity analysis for several high-profile initiatives. For example, Seattle City Council has directed OCR to develop an action plan for the City to work toward zero criminal detention of youth in Seattle, as well as coordinate citywide efforts to remove barriers for formerly-incarcerated people, including making it easier to find jobs and housing.