Andre Daley became the first black pastor at Second Reformed Church in Irvington, New Jersey, in 1991. Photo by Michael Buck
Andre Daley said he believes that when D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s employees can bring their full selves to the table at work, they will be better able to help the children and families they serve to feel safe, nurtured and valued.
That’s a big part of why Daley — who was named the nonprofit’s director of diversity, inclusion and engagement in July — is working so hard to create a system and an infrastructure around diversity, equity and inclusion work. He wants D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s to “do it well” and avoid mistakes he sees in other organizations as they ramp up DE&I efforts.
“If we have too many ‘diversity fails,’ then we get diversity fatigue, (which) is a real thing, and I want to avoid that if at all possible,” he said.
Daley said he doesn’t believe in an approach to DE&I training he refers to as “identifying the racist in the room,” in which learning about everything you and others are doing wrong creates feelings of guilt with no productive next steps. He founded a consulting business back in 2013 called the Reimagine Diversity and Inclusion Project, which helps organizations align their values with their outcomes.
D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s provides foster care, adoption and residential care services, as well as mentoring and counseling for children ages 6-17 and their families, with the goal of reunification when possible.
It is led by President and CEO Jim Paparella, whom Daley said “gets it” when it comes to DE&I work. One of Paparella’s favorite sayings is that his organization works to create equitable outcomes for “all families — no asterisks.”
“This is the first nonprofit I’ve worked with where equity is one of our six core values. The first one is client-centered service, and (DE&I) is No. 2,” Daley said.
Daley said his goal in his new role is to help staff experience equity among themselves and also learn to look at the children and families they serve with “an equity lens.”
DE&I leaders, he said, sometimes have a misguided mindset, working to reach equality instead of equity.
He said Paparella understands that equality means treating everyone the same, whereas equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. If people are starting in different places with different needs, an equality mindset perpetuates the gap between disadvantaged and privileged populations, whereas an equity mindset focuses on providing services to bring those who are underserved into a place where the conditions are right for their success.
Beyond just a DE&I training program, Daley is rolling out an initiative during the next three months called “E is for Everyone,” as part of the engagement part of his job title. The first pillar of the program, to be implemented this month, is called “B is for Belonging.”
He said he wants D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s employees to be able to bring their whole selves to work, whether they identify as LGBTQ+, are part of a racial or ethnic minority group, possess varying religious points of view, are parents or not, single or married, or have a disability — whatever the case may be.
“We’re going to be doing the kinds of things that will hopefully allow every person who’s on staff here to say, ‘I have something to contribute. I am valued, and I feel like I belong.’ I believe that when that happens, they will then have the capacity to create those kinds of experiences for the children and families that we serve,” Daley said.
“I want people to say, ‘Whoever it is that I am, I’m committed to our overall vision, mission and values. And in order to be a part of that, I need to know that I can bring all of who I am to the table.’”
In addition to fostering equity and belonging among staff, Daley said he is committed to helping D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s understand and reverse the drivers behind inequity in the foster care system.
“There’s a lot of conversation in the child welfare space about the disparities between the number of kids of color in the community and the number of kids of color who are actually in the child welfare system,” Daley said, noting there are somewhere around three times the number of nonwhite children in the foster care system as white children.
He said this begs many questions.
“Is it simply a matter of those are the people that are being impacted, or is it about the way that the system is set up that tends to do things in a way that doesn’t support those kids being reconnected with family? Is it a greater amount of kids of color being removed from their biological families? Those are some of the questions in terms of equity from the service delivery side of it,” Daley said.
“The other side of it is, who are the people who are doing the work in the child welfare system? Do they look like the kids who are disproportionately represented? … It’s not that we shouldn’t be serving these kids. It’s just asking the question, why are they disproportionately represented, and then if they are disproportionately represented, shouldn’t we be more intentional about generating more people of color who can connect with the lived experience of these kids or training the existing people who may not be people of color?”
These questions hearken back to Daley’s earlier career as a minister. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from City College of New York (1984) and a master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988).
Daley became the first black pastor at Second Reformed Church in Irvington, New Jersey, in 1991. The 200-year-old church — with primarily elderly Dutch and German congregants — was located in a neighborhood that was transitioning to predominantly African American, Caribbean and Hispanic residents.
He founded neighborhood outreach programs that operated out of the church, such as a day care, a summer day camp and a state-funded afterschool program for low-income families. Daley engaged the mostly European church members to move outside of their comfort zone and begin forming bonds with the children in the neighborhood and teaching them to read.
“It was just a beautiful thing to watch these 70-year-old, 80-year-old people, most of them white, Dutch, German, sitting down with African American kids, Hispanic kids and reading with them. Everybody was getting something out of it because these kids were developing their reading skills, and these adults were connecting with kids and getting energized by being able to change lives. It was really about, ‘What do you need at that stage of development?’” — much like what he hopes to see at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s.
Daley credits his mother, who was a nurse, with his gift of empathy to others, and he said his enterprising spirit comes from his father, who owned several businesses and was an independent contractor in the housing industry. His father built the family home in Jamaica with his own two hands.
With these examples guiding him, Daley said it’s no wonder he ended up working in a field that requires compassion and “a visionary approach.”
“It was really inspirational and motivational to know that (my father) could take a vision that wasn’t reality and bring that into reality. That was really formative and shaping for me. … And along the way, the idea of doing that in a way that I could help other people is what I got from my mom.”