Systemic racism is real. Here’s what we’re doing about it at National Peace Corps Association.

Ideas and actions — and the principles that guide us

By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez and Glenn Blumhorst
 

As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, host country nationals, family, and friends, we uphold a commitment to creating a better world, one that promotes world peace and friendship. In this spirit, National Peace Corps Association envisions a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. We Stand Against Racial Injustice and affirm our commitment to empathy and justice — around the world, and here at home.

Yet in the midst of national unrest ignited by systemic injustice, a vision of unity and vibrance is not enough. We must take more concrete steps to ensure a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture for all RPCVs and members of our community. 

Evidence of racial inequity exists in many forms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed deep systemic problems in our country. Continued violence and police brutality against the Black community has ignited protests from coast to coast — and in scores of other countries. Economic insecurity, impacting tens of millions of Americans, disproportionately impacts people of color. Black Americans are dying at higher rates due to health disparities rooted in a problematic healthcare system. And while the ongoing struggle for racial equity and social justice resonates strongly with core Peace Corps values, Volunteers of color continue to share challenges of racism, bias, and exclusivity, describing experiences during recruitment, in service, and after returning home. 

It is humbling to acknowledge shortcomings, and it is difficult to change a system — but we will not succeed if we do not try. Inherent in this effort is the need for change within NPCA itself. Our staff and Board of Directors must consistently reflect the diversity we champion. Our programming must proactively incorporate values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

 

Roadmap for the Future

To that end, the NPCA Board of Directors is charting a course for progress toward a more diverse and inclusive culture within our Board of Directors, our staff, and our Peace Corps community. We are developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Framework with cross-cutting priorities across our strategic plan, addressing the need for systemic change not only within our organization but also within Peace Corps, in our membership and Affiliate Group Network, and in our global social impact. 

As a starting point, the policy will serve to:

  • Ensure diversity and inclusion within the NPCA staff and Board.

  • Ensure training to improve the organization and the workplace, such as training to better understand unconscious bias.

  • Support efforts to help the Peace Corps be the best it can be and address racism and inequity within the institution.

  • Support efforts to empower members and affiliate groups to thrive by ensuring opportunity for diversity and inclusion at NPCA events such as Peace Corps Connect; enhancing outreach efforts to RPCVs and affiliate groups of color; and building capacity for the Affiliate Group Network to facilitate conversations about social justice and to mobilize members to take action.

  • Support efforts to amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact by proactively seeking applications for projects that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion — bolstering work with minority-owned startup enterprises and leveraging our new home at Peace Corps Place in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to engage in activities that address systemic racism.
     

 

Join Us in this Work

Our board and staff have taken the first steps to demonstrate NPCA’s proactive and deliberate leadership reflected on our new We Stand Together For Change web page. NPCA has also adapted existing tools to contact Congressional representatives, leveraging opportunities for RPCVs to advocate for racial equity and social justice legislation. We facilitated a Group Leaders Discussion: Affiliate Group Stand for Racial Justice. Our staff has formed a DEI Working Group with dedicated hours and budget. And we have more work to undertake together. 

We understand that RPCVs are ready to support this cause. We recognize the difficulty of sharing experiences with racism and bias — from decades past or just last week. And we applaud those who are able to speak out and voice their experiences. We also acknowledge the discomfort of approaching conversations about race from a point of privilege. We commend the RPCVs and affiliate groups that have facilitated events, such as the RPCV/W Town Hall for Racial Justice, to not only advance the conversation but also take action. 

We are listening, and we stand in solidarity with all who are actively driving efforts for change. On behalf of the NPCA Board and leadership, we seek your feedback, encourage your recommendations, and invite your ideas. And we welcome your shared commitment to this crucial work now — and for the long haul. 

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 Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08.

Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.