“It’s not about shaming or blaming people for what happened in the past. But it’s about agreeing, from this day forward, not to continue the legacy and to make better choices today. We’re going to talk about who is burdened, who benefits, what are the unintended consequences, what data we have, what data is missing, so we can make better, more informed decisions through an equity lens.”

Toriana Pettaway, the City of Madison’s first racial equity coordinator, admits that her job exhausts her, brings her to tears, tests her patience, and tempts her to run and hide. She also believes that she’s living her God-given purpose.

“I was created to do this work, and I’m honored,” Pettaway said. “Equity is necessary and good, because when you take care of those with the least, everybody benefits.”

Pettaway partners with 64 representatives from City of Madison departments to lead the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative, examining policy making, budgeting, operations, and hiring “through an equity lens” to remove barriers for low-income families, marginalized communities and people of color. Research documented in the 2013 Wisconsin Council on Children and Families’ Race to Equity report points to these populations as most in need of advocacy.

“We’re not discounting middle- and high-income communities,but we know they navigate well on their own,” Pettaway said. “When we do equity analysis, we look for barriers that have been historically put in documents or policies that barred people from being able to compete, keeping otherwise competent folks from being able to do something.”

In her first year on the job, Pettaway and her colleagues completed 58 projects, and she’s proud of that accomplishment. But she also notes the initiative remains in its infancy stage and acknowledges that many challenges remain.

“We’re still creating a blueprint, but we’re making strides in the right direction,” she said.

Pettaway believes her past personal, professional and spiritual experiences naturally led her to and prepared her for this job. At previous positions, she’s worked in human resources, project management, research, communications, public relations and budget management in governmental, nonprofit and educational settings.

“I’m wedded to it. I cannot help but be passionate about all of these areas as I have deep, direct and personal connections to each one.”