The Power of Storytelling

Part book club, part speaker series, REALTOR® Reads is an opportunity for members in small and large communities alike to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion. The program was developed by Neeley Erickson, government affairs director for Illinois REALTORS®, and other associations have since picked up on the idea.

“We were finding that many members throughout the state of Illinois didn’t believe that there was a problem in their communities with fair housing, diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Erickson. “In fact, many have now learned that there were issues that they were unaware of.” 

Local associations throughout Illinois were offered the opportunity to partner in REALTOR® Reads, and many jumped on board. The programs are in person, hybrid or virtual to accommodate many different comfort levels. And, by participating in REALTOR® Reads, associations can meet an Advocacy requirement of Core Standards: the requirement to conduct or promote a DEI activity. “To make improvements and address inequities, we must empower members to be champions of DEI,” says Erickson. “We do that by increasing comfort level, gaining knowledge and sharing stories.” 

Program sessions have included discussions on:

  • Disability Visibility: The RAMP Center for Independent Living and a children’s author from Dixon, Ill., helped offer a better understanding of disability rights, discussed how to ensure healthy and open dialogue with clients, and educated attendees on disability issues related to children. In addition to Disability Visibility by Alice Wong, the discussion focused on You Can’t Stop Sophie Now! by Sarah Fischer.
  • The State of Hispanic Homeownership Report: This publication by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals coalesces a broad cross-section of data and research from within and outside the housing industry. 
  • We Can’t Talk About That at Work: Author Mary-Frances Winters discussed how to create stronger, more inclusive organizations by structuring intentional conversations so people can safely confront biases and stereotypes. 
  • Nobody Wants to Talk About It: Race, Identity and the Difficulties in Forging Meaningful Conversations:The session was presented by Michael Fosberg, an actor, activist and author. He shared how to have meaningful conversations about race.
  • Iconic Interviews: Baltimore REALTOR® JoAnne Poole, a National Association of REALTORS® Distinguished Service Award recipient, and Chicago REALTOR® Frank Williams spoke about their encounters with discrimination. 
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein:  We read this groundbreaking examination of how federal, state and local governments in the 20th century deliberately imposed racial segregation on metropolitan areas nationwide.

Currently, 200 members statewide are enrolled in REALTOR® Reads. Local associations encourage member participation and cover the cost of books for members who register. NAR’s fair housing grants and Housing Opportunity grants are available to help offset costs for programs just like this and have been a huge benefit. We pay a match of only 10% of the total grant, which can be offset through session sponsorships. 

Through REALTOR® Reads, associations in Illinois have empowered members to feel comfortable sharing their stories. It has not only brought associations and members together, but also helped members to understand and confront their biases and learn more about DEI. Together, we are better.  

More About REALTOR® Reads

Seven local associations in Illinois are participating in REALTOR® Reads. Program partners include RAMP Center for Independent Living, National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, Dearborn Realtist Board  and the housing authorities of Bloomington, Ill., Elgin, Ill., and McHenry County, Ill. To learn more about the program, contact Neely Erickson, nerickson@illinoisrealtors.org.

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