Reflecting on a Year of Promises: A Conference Assessing Organizational Antiracism Journeys

Reflecting on a Year of Promises: A Conference Assessing Organizational Antiracism Journeys


The annual Truth and Transformation Conference is convened by Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad and hosted by the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. This is the third installment of the conference, which began in 2019 and was estab- lished to focus on drivers of antiracist change in private, public, and academic institutions.

During this free virtual conference, the IARA team invited fellow advocates, organizers, scholars, students, and community members to engage in challenging and thoughtful conversations centered around the 2021 theme “Reflecting on A Year of Promises.”

This year’s event focused on examining the prior year of institutional promises and publicly stated intentions to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the United States and globally in the wake of the “George Floyd” moment in American history. This year our organizers asked; Did organizations keep their promises? What more work is there to be done to follow through on these public commitments?

The conference was organized in four parts around the question; How does historical reflection and reckoning move the public conversation and lead to policy and institutional change?

In the opening Institute of Politics Forum, Professor Muhammad was joined by a leading scholar and practitioner, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Heather McGhee, to discuss ways to understand and measure change at this moment. The opening panel situated the conference and theme in a historical and con- temporary context that served as a reminder that the history and politics of racism must be viewed in tandem as mechanisms to measure change.

Three additional panels featured leaders in academia and professional practice in discussion on transformative change beyond performative statements into actionable, institutional shifts. The first panel examined the validity of an economic argument for improving diversity and brought insights to the discussion from bankers, economists, and philanthropic directors. The second panel emphasized the importance of board membership as a conduit for enacting or inhibiting organizational change in relation to equity and inclusion. The final panel challenged the notion of risk as a measuring tool for organizational change and offered alternative perspectives on ways to identify and value humanity in the work across industries.

The conference and its proceedings serve to remind us that if we are truthful about racism in our politics and policy making, then we must accept that it has a cost for all of us.

View Report (PDF)

Last updated on 06/13/2022