Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL)
Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL)

Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL)

About REAL

Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL)
In the wake of the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the National League of Cities (NLC) created the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative to strengthen local leaders’ knowledge and capacity to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions and build more equitable communities. REAL offers tools and resources designed to help local elected leaders build safe places where people from all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds thrive socially, economically, academically and physically.

A nation in which every local official is equipped to effectively lead and serve an inclusive, thriving and healthy community. Inclusive, Thriving and Healthy Communities are safe places where people from all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds thrive socially, economically, academically and physically.

To strengthen local elected officials’ knowledge and capacity to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions, and build more equitable communities.


  • We value empowering visionary thinkers and leaders.
    We believe in supporting all who catalyze positive change and innovative solutions and who share their expertise with the broader organization.
  • We value innovation and bold ideas.
    We believe in the power of knowledge and collective expertise. We believe our staff deserves the resources to realize, cultivate and try bold, new ideas and to forge new partnerships. 
  • We value inclusiveness.
    We believe in an environment where all individuals and all ideas are welcomed and encouraged.
  • We value collaboration.
    We believe that our best work and solutions are a product of our combined efforts and diverse expertise. We encourage dynamic as well as new partnerships internally as well as externally.
  • We are committed to cultivating and supporting thriving and sustainable communities.
    We believe our collective energy, individual experiences and expertise are valuable resources that empower city leaders to implement strategies with sustainable impact, promote equity and to help support healthy thriving communities.

We offer a host of training opportunities and programs to empower and equip local officials with the tools needed to address racial disparities in their communities. Many trainings are conference seminars, but we also offer remote webinars and in person trainings at various cities on request.

Leadership Trainings through NLC University 
We host trainings on leadership and effective ways to reduce racial disparities in your community at NLC University seminar sessions held at both our Congressional City Conference each spring and our City Summit conference each fall.

Learn More about NLC University

Webinar Trainings
Throughout the year, REAL hosts online webinars available to elected leaders and city staff of all NLC member cities. Our webinars range from education on broad topics, like first steps to advancing racial equity in your city, to more specific topics and how to react to current events. 

Customized Leadership Trainings
We have worked with more than 30 cities and 8 state leagues to provide to more individualized trainings to cities through web conferencing or in-person visits. Contact Kim Keith for more information on scheduling in person trainings.

Work In Cities

Technical Assistance (TA)
Every community’s challenges are unique. NLC is on the ground working in cities with local leaders to find local solutions and develop custom tailored plans to assist your community in countering structural racism. Below are some specific programs to which we offer TA.

Community Conversations on Race Relations, Equity, and Justice
Following Former President Obama's meeting with faith leaders, local and state elected officials, activists, and civil rights leaders, in July of 2016 NLC and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) committed to encouraging cities to host 100 conversations on race relations. REAL continues to offer assistance to city leaders who organize community conversations or dialogues on race.

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Special Populations
We are developing the focus we have on boys and men of color (BMoC) to include other special populations.  This provides opportunities to apply a racial equity lens on the analysis of broader policy issues such as infrastructure, housing, and the environment.

Learning Community for Truth and Transformation
NLC provides an eighteen-month program for city leaders from 15 cities an opportunity to learn from peers and national experts, and to gain a comprehensive understanding of how they can implement and strengthen efforts to advance racial equity. 

Equity and Racial Healing Technical Assistance Initiative
For fifteen months, REAL provided six cities strategies for advancing racial healing in their communities. In early February 2018, NLC met with each city three times in-person: at a cross-site convening, at a site visit, and at a mayor's leadership academy. City staff received access to REAL team members on coaching calls and webinars throughout the initiative.

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REAL Tactical Team
We work on the ground in cities, to help local leaders develop and implement a customized three-phase racial equity plan that fits your city’s specific needs and capacity. We are here to strengthen your capacity as local leaders so that you are equipped to effectively lead and serve an inclusive, thriving and healthy community.

REAL brings a wealth of substantial relevant experience and expertise, including leadership engagement; implementation of a comprehensive racial equity process; analyses of city infrastructures for advancing racial equity; training; and access to racial equity resources and racial healing experts.

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NLC connects a network of thousands of local elected officials from across the nation who represent cities both small and large. We use this immense network to build coalitions of leaders from both local governments and the racial equity thought space. 

REAL Council
The REAL Council is an assembly of local leaders deeply engaged and committed to improving racial equity in their communities and carrying out the mission of REAL across the country.

REAL Board of Advisors
The REAL Board of Advisors helps provide strategic advice and direction for the initiative. This diverse group of thought leaders, members of the media, and local and federal decision makers help drive our work throughout the year.

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Dr. William C. Bell
CEO and President
Casey Family Programs

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Angela Glover Blackwell
Executive Director

John Brenner
John S. Brenner
Dep. Exec. Director
Pennsylvania Municipal League

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Dr. Jamal Bryant
Pastor and Founder
Empowerment Temple

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Peter Cherukuri
President and CIO

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Hon. Elijah Cummings
U.S. Congressman

Luz Benitez Delgado
Program Officer
W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Frank Farrow
Exec. Director
Center for the Study of Social Policy

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Kevin Frazell
League of Minnesota Cities

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Hon. Karen Freeman-Wilson
City of Gary, Ind., 1st Vice-President, NLC 

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Sarah Eagle Heart
Native Americans in Philanthropy

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Hon. Betsy Hodges
Former Mayor
City of Minneapolis, Minn.

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Hon. Frank Jackson
City of Cleveland, Ohio

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Van Jones
Senior Contributor

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Hon. Eric Montoya
City of Thorton, Colo.

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Julie Nelson
Senior V.P.
Center for Social Inclusion

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Gabriel Salguero
Reverend and Founder
National Latino Evangelical Coalition

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Nonet T. Sykes
Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Hon. Jennifer Tan
City of West Linn, Ore.

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Jerry Tello
National Compadres Network

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Hon. Martin Walsh
City of Boston, Mass.

Tim Wise
Tim Wise
Author and Activist
Speak Out

Resources and Reports

Resources and Reports

To strengthen local elected officials’ knowledge and capacity to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions, and build more equitable communities, REAL offers the following resources and reports.


Repository of City Racial Equity Policies and Decisions

These pages include examples of concrete policy and budgetary changes local elected officials have made to prioritize racial equity in their cities, towns, and villages.

Learn More


Responding to Racial Tension in Your City: A Municipal Action Guide

Responding to Racial Tension in Your City provides important contextual and tactical information to support your municipality’s efforts to respond effectively.

Learn More


Advancing Racial Equity in Your City: A Municipal Action Guide

Advancing Racial Equity in Your City compiles six immediate steps for improving outcomes for all residents. 

Learn More


My Brother's Keeper Landscape

City leaders respond the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge by tackling the disparities that face our nation’s boys and men of color (BMoC). The City Leader’s Compass to the My Brother’s Keeper Landscape highlights a comprehensive set of tangible steps cities can take to change systems and improve outcomes for BMoC.

Learn More


City Profiles

Learn how cities and their elected leaders around the country are advancing racial equity in their communities.

Read More


REAL Newsletter

Sign up for a quarterly newsletter from REAL intended for those who want to learn about upcoming trainings, online resources and the tools to help residents from all backgrounds thrive.

Subscribe Here



Hear from REAL's expert staff on racial equity issues that matter to city leaders via NLC's CitiesSpeak blog. 

Read More


REAL Guide
Learn more about the services REAL offers with this one-pager.

REAL One-Pager
REAL Staff

Our team brings a diverse background of expertise, work experience and an incredible amount of dedication to their work with REAL. Meet the team.

Leon T. Andrews

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Rita Soler Ossolinski
Program Director

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Aliza Wasserman
Senior Associate

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Kiera White