2023 conference speaker Jeff Chang. Photos provided.

Equity has become a bit of a buzz word recently, but what does it truly mean to create a more equitable Charleston? 

At its root is the desire to ensure everyone in our community has equal opportunity to thrive. The impacts of equity can influence local issues, including those related to education, economic mobility, culture, physical and mental well-being, and even our coastal resilience. 

Coastal Community Foundation (CCF) is a Lowcountry nonprofit with a mission to unite people and invest resources so all community members have a pathway to achieve their goals. 

To move forward, CCF and Blackbaud teamed to create the annual Equity Speaker Series event, which features nationally recognized thought-leaders on diversity, equity and inclusion who bring their specific insight and ideas for consideration while examining the region’s biggest challenges. 

The speaker for the coming 2023 event is Jeff Chang, a powerhouse of a national author who has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts and music. While topics of equity and its connection to our country’s culture have been the focus of Chang’s work for three decades, some people outside of marginalized communities did not become aware of these themes until 2020. 

No longer “tilting at windmills”

A look at the 2022 Equity Speaker Series.

“The terms racial justice, equity and systemic racism were spoken about more between June and December 2020 than they had in the previous 50 years combined,” Chang said. “So it was on everybody’s lips and people really had to think about what it meant to address these kinds of issues.” 

Chang’s most recent work was published in 2016, when these terms were not in the daily vernacular. 

“I think at that time people might have thought I was tilting at windmills, but now I think people really understand what it means. What we need at this particular point is a way to be able to have folks of goodwill and good intentions to come together, to quiet down a little bit of the temper of the time, to actually have conversations about what this means for the long run.”

Chang, who was born and raised in Hawaii, says these conversations are important for anyone who is invested in the future of their community and their country. 

“In hip hop, you have a cypher,” he explained. “You have a circle of people and you step into the middle if you have something to say or perform. People will let you know if you’re moving them or not. But in American life, I don’t think we have cyphers. So I’m looking at this as an opportunity for us to build one.” 

Charleston talks the talk


Charleston is no stranger to conversations about equality and racial justice. The impacts of discrimination based on race, gender, class and sexuality have been ongoing in Charleston for its lifetime. This history stretches back to a time when one of the city’s main imports was enslaved people. Jump forward to 2015, an unarmed Black man was shot and killed while fleeing from a police officer. Two months later, nine people were murdered during a church Bible study by a man attempting to start a race war. 

Chang says he is coming to Charleston with humility and respect for the city’s history, while emphasizing the importance that equity conversations are not only accepted but encouraged. 

“I also want to be able to point folks toward the stakes of this,” he said. “We have a country that is becoming more and more diverse by the day and yet we have resegregation still occurring. So I want to draw people’s attention to what the stakes are of resegregation amidst a diversifying nation. The questions that I think I want to raise have to do with thinking about how we engage with each other and how we build community long into the future.”

Hear more from Jeff Chang during the Equity Speaker Series luncheon this fall, sponsored by Truist, SouthState Bank and MUSC. The event will be October 3 at Trinity Hall, 34 Race St., Charleston. It is a hybrid event with virtual tickets starting at $35 and in-person tickets starting at $90. 

  • Tickets are currently available here.

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