Equity doesn’t happen by accident. If we do not intentionally and deliberately include and promote equity and diversity, we will unintentionally exclude. In our work as designers, it can be so easy to focus on the details of space, fonts, colors, language, and all the other decisions we make, that we forget to pick our heads up and consider the larger picture of the ripples we make. When is the last time you consciously made a professional or personal decision to promote equity in your work?

That was the question at the core of the Design for Equity Dinner & Discussion during the inaugural Nashville Design Week. Fifty guests gathered at Nisolo for a multi-course intentional meal, designed to create space for these conversations and inspire action. Based on a template from Design for Equity, the guest list, the venue, the sponsors, the speaker, were all are intentionally curated to highlight minority- and women-owned businesses, mission-driven designers, community members, and changemakers.

Over an appetizer of smoked salmon mousse on toast (courtesy of Miel), guests introduced themselves to their table members by telling the story of their name and a time when they have encountered questions of equity in their work. Whether a name is from a grandmother who had a strong influence on one’s life, or rooted in a different language, or derived from a pop culture reference, the story of our names reveals much about where we’re coming from and what we’re bringing to the table.

The second course of garden salad (courtesy of Slim & Husky’s) was paired with a presentation by Kia Jarmon of MEPR Agency. Kia spoke about her work, the importance of making space for community voices, and the value of intentionally cultivating diversity in our design community. If we are not actively engaged in promoting equitable practices and inclusive communities, we are complicit in perpetuating and creating injustices in our built environment.

As guests enjoyed pasta dishes (also courtesy of Slim & Husky’s), they were invited to share with their table members about a specific project, challenge, or question they are working on, and brainstorm ways to add a racial equity lens to that work. Recognizing that change is difficult and often takes significant, time, energy, and collaboration, guests were encouraged to talk about the tangible, small, immediate steps that could be taken in order to achieve long-term impact.

Over dessert, (an incredible layered dark chocolate/lavender and sweet potato mousse courtesy of Keshia Hay of Sip N Bite), guests were given a postcard and challenged to put those small, tangible steps on paper in the form of commitments. What will do you over the next several days, weeks, and months to commit to making a change in your personal or professional life? How will you design for equity?

The commitments ranged from having conversations with family members or talking to employers about their recruiting and hiring practices, engaging with neighbors and community organizations, supporting local minority-owned businesses, and raising awareness about inequities in their world.

Three months later, these cards were mailed back to their authors, with an invitation to reconnect with other attendees who shared similar goals, to check in on progress and support one another in doing the work. Because the reality is that equity doesn’t happen by accident – it requires thoughtful, intentional, and persistent work. It requires making space for difficult conversations, and using your voice to advocate for those who don’t have one – or are so tired from carrying that burden. It may require pulling up an extra seat to the table, or giving up yours.

So my call to you, reader, is to find one small way to do this work. Write it down. Commit to acting and making a change. Find someone who can hold you accountable. Recognize that it won’t be easy, but that it will be worth it. And once you’ve taken that step, don’t pat yourself on the back and continue with your life.

Find another small way.