Elizabeth Clay Roy

Executive Director, TakeRoot Justice

How old is your organization? Two months (+ 18 years as the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center)
What sector do you work in? Cross-sector, with a goal of advancing equity in cities
How long have you been working in this sector? Fifteen years
How long have you been with your current organization? One year

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
I’ve had wonderful experience with CRE while I was working at Phipps Neighborhoods over the past few years. They were incredible partners to support our strategic and team-building objectives and they play an important role in New York City’s nonprofit ecosystem.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
Rising economic inequality and the deepening of the racial wealth divide are persistent challenges to equity and justice. In 2018, the richest 10% held 70% of total household wealth, and the share held by the top 1% now stands at 32%. The state of hyper-capitalism shapes almost every area of public life like housing, education, health and democracy itself. The racial wealth gap persists, bringing the legacy of discriminatory policies and practices from hundreds of years into the present. The depth of this gap cannot be bridged by individual action alone, like educational attainment. In fact, college-educated Black households have 30 percent less wealth at the median than non-college-educated white households. This means we must change practices at the individual level while also making structural change if we want a more equitable future than our present.

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
The ability to work collaboratively — both within and across organizations — is essential. No one organization (or elected official, city agency or company) can solve big problems alone. My last role was co-leadership of a community-wide collective impact effort: South Bronx Rising Together. We believed that advancing student success meant thinking about a child holistically and engaging all those involved to work together to achieve shared goals: schools and parents, pediatricians and librarians, and pre-K teachers and college presidents. At TakeRoot Justice we use legal, participatory research and policy skills to support grassroots organizations and resident associations build power and achieve their goals. The major victories in tenants’ rights, workers’ rights and building support for a solidarity economy in the last few years have been the result of deep partnership.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Forty years from now, people of color will be the majority of the American population. Of course, New York City already reflects this type of diversity, but without sufficient equity and inclusion, we can’t guarantee that these demographic changes will lead to progress. If, for example, we look at the racial makeup of key roles of leadership and influence, we see that in 2016-2017, 90% of Members of Congress, 96% of Governors, 85% of major news editors, 84% of full-time college professors, and 83% of teachers were white. We need multiracial, multi-generational leadership in nonprofits and government, leading with intentionality about inclusion. And those who receive services from nonprofits must be stakeholders who can hold institutions accountable and be integrated into decision-making.

I’m an optimist. I believe that the demographic change underway presents as much opportunity to dismantle structural racism and build a foundation of equity since the Civil Rights Movement. That is not only an opportunity for us, the rising generation of people of color who will help lay the foundation for that future, it is a responsibility.

What was your breakthrough moment in becoming a leader?
I understand leadership as a practice rather than a title. I learned that from years of being a volunteer. Whether volunteering on local political campaigns, social services organizations, or community planning groups, I aimed to fill gaps or solve problems. Small nonprofits with big missions always need some gaps filled. In government or a large organization, transitions and periods of staff reorganization are moments where new ideas can grow. I’ve always followed my heart and values toward opportunities for leadership and active followership.

Find out more
TakeRoot Justice

En Español »