ACA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives - ACA

ACA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

ACA DEI Statement

The ACA commits to be an association in which participants, members, guests, and the organizations they represent, feel a sense of belonging and are treated with dignity and respect. Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is fundamental to our organization and organizational partnerships. As the New England Council coined in the 1960s, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” by decreasing barriers, increasing access to paddling opportunities within historically marginalized communities, the ACA strives to be a community that is representative of today’s society. All who are involved in ACA sanctioned events are entitled to enjoy paddling in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.


When the tragic 2020 murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor  sparked a national conversation around racial justice, a cohort of ACA members, leaders within the paddling community, and board formed the ACA DEI Program Donation Fund, the DEI Board Committee, and the Paddlesports Action Committee. Important and valued founding members of these initiatives include Erin Jones-Avni, Heather Davis Miller, and Gerry James.

An early DEI Working Group was initiated and led to the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program Donation Fund which supports ACA’s commitment to expanding access to paddlesports by removing financial or other barriers to participation for underrepresented groups or individuals to pursue paddling education, leadership development, competition, and/or instructor certification.

ACA instructors and community leaders hosted a DEI listening session during the 2020 ACA Virtual Conference to lend their voices, ideas, and perspectives towards the ultimate goal of improving access, equity, and opportunities for paddlers in all communities. This session offered a first opportunity to join the DEI discussion.

DEI Board Committee

The DEI Board Committee is composed of ACA  board members, staff, members, and experts that advise and guide DEI initiatives.

ACA Staff – DEI Coordinator, Lily Otu

Lily joins the ACA from Reading, Pennsylvania as our first Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator. By teaching us to lead with equity, Lily will help us achieve meaningful results in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse community of paddlers. While achieving a BA in Sports Management, and a Masters of Business Administration, Lily also competed as a collegiate track and field athlete at Mount St. Mary’s University. She then went on to work to develop, implement, and support DEI initiatives within multiple collegiate athletic departments. More recently, Lily not only became a mother, but also founded a consulting firm that creates personalized strategies for individuals and organizations to advance their intercultural competence and promote honest and purposeful development. Lily’s extensive professional experience in executing DEI initiatives will be crucial in progressing the ACA’s commitment to overcoming barriers to participation in the paddlesports community.

Paddle Sports Action Committee (PSAC)

This committee seeks to develop programs that support the growth of diverse, knowledgeable, and responsible paddlers who are champions for the paddling community, in addition to being advocates for clean water and public access to our waterways.

Initiatives to date:

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program Donation Fund: Developed to support ACA’s commitment to expanding access to paddlesports. The fund aims to help remove financial barriers to participation for underrepresented groups or individuals to pursue paddling education, leadership development, competition, and/or instructor certification.

Leadership Exploration and Development (LEAD) Initiative: This is a program designed to train, educate, and develop people of color, and to help participants transform their local communities and provide representation in paddlesports. These goals will be achieved through a 4-day immersive course and ongoing mentorship. We are excited to host four programs across the country this summer alongside our organizational partners, Hudson River Riders/Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club in New York, REI Co-Op in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, California, and Iowa Rivers Revival in Des Moines, Iowa.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training: The DEI Board Committee has offered multiple training and peer sharing opportunities to ACA leaders and members in an effort to grow a common understanding of inequity.

L.L.Bean Club Fostered Community Grant: Provides grant funding to ACA member organizations, clubs, and volunteer groups for their ongoing activities, projects, and programs which illustrate substantial and quantifiable efforts at inviting and including a diversity of new community members. The goal of these intentional efforts to invite diversity into established club events and programs creates a welcoming environment for new paddlers to get involved and the opportunity to create lifelong connections to their local waterways and to the larger paddling community.

DEI Board Committee Contact: Risa Shimoda –

Cover Photo Credit: Chris Farris – Team River Runner, California / American River Chapter