Join our mailing list to receive updates on our latest news, funding opportunities and more.
Start a conversation with us about your work!

Our Commitment to Equity

Single white dogwood flower with green leaves poking out form behind,

June 22, 2020

To the people and communities of WNC,

On behalf of Dogwood Health Trust, we want to acknowledge the hurt, anguish and anger from the unjust death of George Floyd and many others, and the systemic and endemic racism and disparities that their deaths represent. While we are early on in our development as an organization, we remain absolutely committed to our purpose to dramatically improve the health and wellness of ALL people in WNC. Our guiding values include an explicit commitment to equity – which includes racial equity.

As we continue to shape the way we’ll demonstrate this commitment through our work, we are intentionally considering key questions: “How will Dogwood Health Trust address the impacts of systemic racism and inequity? How do we engage each other as board and staff? How do we engage with the community? How does Dogwood meaningfully partner with communities to transform systemic racial disparities into health equity for all?”

Our board and staff have had numerous conversations to think through how do we best tap into the wisdom of our partners and those in our communities in answering these key questions. 

The Why: From our hearts

Our board and staff have held space together, multiple times over the past few weeks, to thoughtfully engage in what can often be uncomfortable conversations. Our board and staff of color shared with vulnerability how this has deeply impacted them and their families, and the many lived experiences in which they are “made to feel ‘the other’ and devalued.” Stories like these are hard to share and hard to hear, and we deeply appreciate the willingness of our team members to offer them as fuel for ongoing conversations. We also know that conversation is only one part of the work that we need to do.

Jackie Simms from our board said: “Dogwood acknowledges the complexity, pervasiveness and sometimes elusive nature of race-based discrimination in our U.S. culture. No one escapes it; it’s in the air we breathe. Recognizing that change, systemic or otherwise, begins within; Dogwood needs to commit to and model for our WNC communities the kind of in-depth race and poverty work that our society needs to truly live the lofty ideas enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers.”

Another board member, Martha Tyner, wrote: “Our organization must be thoughtful, intentional, and we must do all we can to promote that we believe that not only diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of our DNA, but that dignity matters. Every person has equal worth and merit. I think Dogwood needs to be at the forefront in WNC addressing this issue through our words and deeds, and we must live compassionately into our values of seeking to understand what we do not, and demonstrating we have the courage to step up and speak up to transform and be the model of change for that dignity of every soul we serve. We should surround our impact strategies with not only action, but with the deep arcs of diversity, equity, inclusion and dignity our communities deserve through the resources we have.” 

What will Dogwood do and how will we do it?

Given the complexity of the issues, we know that we don’t at this moment have any perfect answers.  We hope to tap deeply into the collective wisdom of those in our communities.  However, here are key themes that have emerged in the past few weeks that we are exploring and will continue to pursue:

  • Commit to meaningful action: As an example of the spirit of a theme that was repeated so many times by board and staff, our board chair Janice Brumit said: “We want everyone to know we are not turning a blind eye; these values are part of our DNA. The events surrounding the injustice of George Floyd’s death require not just lip service but meaningful actions by Dogwood Health Trust. Yes, a statement is important, but more critical is that we need to walk the walk.”
  • Learn from the community: We will gather input from faith-based institutions, nonprofit organizations, community advocates and racial equity organizations. As one of our board members said: “Our principle of putting people and communities first requires us to do this kind of honoring of our people in small communities, doing community development with life-long, multigenerational inhabitants of these mountains. We need to walk in their shoes and not decide what kind of footwear they need.” Within this commitment is our intention to look beyond the usual suspects. For example, one of our committee members advises, “In terms of engagement, typically we’ve thought about learning wisdom from elders, but we should turn that on its head somewhat and engage with younger generation in dialogue. We can learn a lot from their passion and thoughts. It would be instructive.”
  • Move the needle on key drivers of health and improve racial and other disparities: Dogwood will partner with the community to launch major initiatives in 2021. With each major strategy, we commit to tackling racial and other systemic disparities that affect people’s health, such as education, affordable and dignified housing, employment, and access to care and wellness. Dogwood will develop bold goals, with explicit and measurable racial and other health equity metrics. As staff Impact Officer Scottie Parks says: “We need to go upstream in terms of equity. We talk about Philanthropy 3.0, we need Equity 3.0. Yes, work on the symptoms, but we need to get to the root issues and move the needle with our partners on those root issues.” Look to Dogwood for initiatives that will include specific racial equity impact goals including:
    • Education: Partner to measurably improve racial and other disparities in educational attainment in early childhood learning, K-12 schools, and post-secondary education.
    • Housing: Build a significant number of affordable and workforce housing units with equity goals to assure access for lower-income residents, rural communities, and communities of color.
    • Jobs: Retain and catalyze new, meaningful jobs that support families and ensure they are filled equitably.
    • Health & Wellness: Increase access to quality health care, especially for those who have been marginalized in the past.
  • Engage with law enforcement and the justice system. Three of our African American board and staff have immediate family who hold (or have held) groundbreaking leadership roles in law enforcement in WNC. Their families are, in their words, “hurting from both sides.” Dogwood commits to exploring potential investments in areas such as in i.) advancing community policing, diversifying law enforcement or other best practices that promote healing with minority communities, and ii.) engaging with legal justice and racial justice organizations to invest in best practices for the justice system and community change.
  • Change from within: Intentional change begins with our own practices. Board member George Renfro asks: “Who are our suppliers and vendors for key initiatives and the day to day; are they diverse? Who are our partners? Who are we hiring? This needs to permeate further down in our DNA. We need to stand back and look at everything, what we do and how we do it.” We need to continue to hire staff and vendors who represent the diversity of the region, and work with partners who do so as well.
  • Pursue truth and reconciliation internally and with the community: We are well aware that the social and economic systems that provided for the creation of foundations like Dogwood Health Trust could also reinforce ongoing inequities. Therefore, our work should be less about “giving back,” but about restoration and justice. Another board member noted: “How do we pursue a truth and reconciliation process to heal the wounds built into the fabric of our country and these mountains? This approach engages all of the Dogwood values – especially the principle related to strategic work to achieve systemic change. All change begins internally if we are to partner externally.”
  • Support those who want to gather and learn: We will support small or large convenings with speakers and discussions, so that we can continue to learn together as a region, and keep the dialogue and momentum for change going.
  • Engage in equity training internally and with our partners: Dogwood commits to meaningful equity training internally for board and staff. As one board member noted, we will focus on “not just race, but poverty, LGBTQ, immigrants, etc. to better understand each other and our lived experiences.” In addition, Dogwood commits to investing within the community to further racial equity work and equity training, to build understanding throughout our partners and institutions.
  • Focus on racial equity in our COVID-19 follow-up: While our work to address COVID-19 continues to unfold, we know that racial equity will be a priority. For example, as we pursue options for creating new production of testing capacity and PPE in WNC, Dogwood could secure commitments from partners on the diversity of staff hired for new jobs.
  • Continue to hold ourselves accountable: Below, you will find our self-assessment of whether we have been meaningfully living into our values and commitment to DEI, or just putting fancy words on a piece of paper. We invite you to challenge us to do even more.

The fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Montreat in 1965 is a reminder that the work of equity and justice is not new to the region, and that we have early footings on which to build. It’s humbling to reflect upon the words from his legendary speech in Washington, DC: “… we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice ….”  Fifty-five years later in that long arc, we renew our commitment to having the dream become a reality.

With appreciation,

Janice Brumit, Chair              Susan Mims, Interim CEO
John F.A.V Cecil, Vice Chair
George Renfro, Secretary/Treasurer
John Ball, MD, JD, Board Member
Vivian Bolaños, Board Member
Casey Cooper, Board Member
Jackie Godlock, Board Member
Dawna Goode-Ledbetter, Board Member
Sam Lupas, Board Member
Jackie Simms, Board Member
Sarah Thompson, Board Member
Donna Tipton Rogers, EdD, Board Member
Martha Tyner, Board Member



What have we done so far to advance racial and health equity? This is a key question that every organization, individual and system needs to ask themselves. We at Dogwood need to hold ourselves accountable to our commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and plan to share our progress regularly. Here’s what we’ve done in our initiatives:

  • COVID-19 Response Fund: Committed $10 million in grants in 2020.
    • Distributed ~23,000 re-usable masks and 10,000 disposable masks to communities of color in WNC, in partnership with African American networks, faith-based organizations and Latinx organizations.
    • Were among the first to request demographic data to assess disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially African Americans.
    • Collaborated with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, including providing data, testing supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    • Launched “Stay at Home” and “Wear a Mask” media campaigns, including in Spanish media and African American networks, and utilized African American- and Latinx-owned firms.
    • Distributed thousands of test kits to public health organizations in rural communities to increase contact tracing and reducing transmission.
    • Acquired internet hotspots for school buses, teachers and students, with a focus on rural school districts.
    • Partnered with grassroots group in WNC to create citizen masks with a significant percentage of sewers and staff who are people of color.
    • Sourced and deployed COVID-19 testing specifically for African American and Latinx communities.
  • Impact investing: Launched $20 million initiative in impact investing.
    • Catalyzed $11 million in Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and other emergency funds specifically to ensure access to rural, minority-owned and women-owned businesses and nonprofits. Exceeded our goals with 72% of funding going to rural, 57% to women-owned/led and 26% to minority-owned or -led organizations.
    • Made an impact investment in Sanesco Health, a diversely-led organization, to expand COVID-19 and other testing within the WNC region.
    • Housing and related investments: Creating explicit goals around equity for rural places and low-income areas, as well as potential investment in historically African American neighborhoods.
    • We partnered with for-profit businesses to create PPE (re-usable masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, gowns, etc.) in the region.
    • Where we need to do better: work with our partners to make DEI commitments for new staff hires and throughout their organizations.
  • Immediate Opportunities and Needs grants: Awarded $3.7 million in funding to 259 nonprofits and agencies. Thirty-four percent of funds were granted to diverse-led organizations and grants advancing equity or reducing disparities, exceeding our original target of 30%. Of the 34%, specifically 15% went to diverse-led organizations. Seventy percent (70%) went to rural organizations.
  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD)/Addiction: Committed $25 million over 5 years; $2 million awarded to date. Our board and staff have had the explicit discussion that when it was a different chemistry several decades ago (e.g., crack, heroin) impacting primarily people of color, it was the “war on drugs.” Now that opioids affect people of all races and ethnicities, it is instead “a tragic epidemic.” In October 2019, the Board approved goals of reducing opioid deaths overall by 40%, reducing SUD in minority populations by 30% relative to the general population and reducing teen substance use by 30% with a focus on disparities.
  • Leverage Fund: Investing $1 million in 2020 to attract $8 million in new funds to WNC. To date, partners have been awarded over $5 million in federal and state public and private funding. Most of those funds are to address addiction and behavioral health. Progress in terms of equity has been mixed.
    • 14% of applications are from diverse-led organizations; 9% of total funding pursued was for diverse-led organizations.
    • 44% of funding awarded has been to diverse-led organizations (one large award for a Native American organization).
    • Less than 1% of grant writers used by the Leverage Fund are people of color.
    • Given Dogwood’s $100,000 minimum RFP level, this initiative may have inadvertently disadvantaged smaller, diverse-led organizations.

Dogwood will prioritize diverse-led partners, diverse consultants, as well as anchor partners that commit to explicit race equity and health equity goals in their proposals.

  • Healthy Opportunities Pilot (HOP) Medicaid Waiver: Invested $1 million in technical assistance and capacity-building grants to partner with regional organizations to submit application for groundbreaking pilot for WNC. The application focused on serving rural communities and low-income Medicaid patients as a key equity component. WNC was selected as a pilot region, and we created Impact Health to lead the pilot.
  • Census: Investing up to $1.5 million to raise Census participation in WNC, with a focus on the historic undercount of minority, immigrant and rural communities. Each 1% of participation increase generates nearly $16 million in federal funds to WNC for everything from Head Start to schools to health care access.
  • Housing: Investing $5 million initially to catalyze 500 units of low-income and workforce affordable housing with anticipated generation of up to $50 million in construction-related economic activity. This initiative is prioritizing rural, diverse-led or diverse-staffed suppliers, lenders and firms, and is actively looking for potential investments in historically African American neighborhoods.


  • Diversity of Staff:
    • Full-time staff: 50% of full-time staff (11 of 22) are diverse (including 36% people of color: 6 African American, 1 Asian American, 1 Latinx)
    • C-suite: Currently, 2 of 4 senior execs are racially diverse, with 3 national searches in process for a CFO, VP of Human Resources and a VP of Impact. (50-60% of candidate slates are racially diverse)
    • Interim staff: 0 of 7 temporary or interim staff are diverse
    • Interns: 2 of 3 interns are people of color
    • We will improve the racial diversity of our Impact Team, which leads programmatic work
  • Diversity of Board:
    • 38% of board members (5 of 13) are people of color (3 African American, 1 Latinx, 1 Native American)
    • 54% of board members (7 of 13) live and work in one of our rural counties
  • Diversity of suppliers/vendors:

In some areas, Dogwood is intentional about our vendors and suppliers. For example, in our senior executive searches, 2 of the 3 firms are diverse-owned or -led. We focus on diverse-owned restaurants and caterers for food for events and meetings. However, Dogwood will be much more intentional about other vendors and suppliers, such as janitorial, banking, general contractors, supplies, audit, tax, legal, etc.

These actions are just a start, and we are eager to work with our community to do even more. We’d love to hear your reactions to this work and your ideas for more. Please email us at [email protected] to share your thoughts.