In episode 71 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Dr. Orletta Caldwell discuss:
Dr. Caldwell is a passionate and qualified educator and nonprofit management specialist. Caldwell brings more than 30 years of administrative and leadership experience to the CEO of Beyond Existing Enterprises. Highlights of a stellar and diverse career include Executive Director, Camp Baber, and Assistant Professor at Grand Rapids Community College. She has served in many professional and volunteer capacities, including Tech Soup, the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD), Metro Detroit Council of Christian Churches, Urban Renewal Commission for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Board Member/Secretary, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and the Southfield Downtown Development Authority for Southfield, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Public Affairs from Wayne State University, Master of Science in Management from Cardinal Stritch, and Ph.D. in Public Policy & Administration specializing in Nonprofit Management from Walden University.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Orletta Caldwell. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Orletta and I talk about her work with African- American led community-based organizations. We explore the specific challenges these organizations face, what folks need to be aware of when they shift from being a project to being an organization, and why it is so key to understand that even as founder you do not “own”
Welcome, Orletta. Welcome to Mission Impact. Thank you. So I'd like to get started with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you? And what would you say is your why?
Dr. Orletta Caldwell: My why? I grew up. In a black church, save a community, help people that are worse off to you. I have been truly blessed in my life and I've just always wanted to give back, and that's my why. And one of my reasons is funny. I'm not interested in being in the front so much, like, president of this or that, but it was always more to provide resources so people can do what they want. Better. So that's been my wife for a long time.
Carol: I love that. I also am more of a behind the scenes person, so when I describe my work, I describe it as I help the helpers mm-hmm. I'm multiple steps away from whatever help is being done. But, helping them do their work better is where I can then see impact.
Orletta: And that, and that's always been my thing. It. Putting those tools together, coming out of a process, but making other people be able to do their jobs better. So that's why.
Carol: You and I both do capacity building with nonprofits, but you really focus specifically on African American led organizations. What are, what are some of the specific opportunities or, or challenges that those organizations face?
Orletta: Well, traditionally in the research shows, they always say they're smaller and have less access to money. And I had one guy who was at his clinic, it was his workshop, and he said, we're not grassroots. We're mud roots. We don't even have enough money to get grass. And that's. What I've seen so many times, and it's always because they may not know what's going on, and I've always wanted to be this bridge to say it. It even led me to go for my PhD to find out what's going on in the nonprofit sector and take it back to my people, my community. And that's why I've focused on them. I'll work with anybody, but I've focused on African American nonprofits for that.
Carol: What are some of the things in terms of building that bridge that you're helping folks gain connection to or access to?
Orletta: A lot of it is compliance issues, filling out that paperwork knowing that that paperwork should be filled out and it's not so much. If you don't fill out the paperwork, bad things are gonna happen. Sometimes I'm like, because you don't have this proper paperwork, the good things can't happen. You don't have access to the grants and the funding that you could have. You miss out on little things. People don't check your credibility. So I'm really into helping nonprofits stay compliant and making sure you understand the rules. Filling out the charitable solicitation paper. Don't let a $275 fee stop you from getting a 501C3 that can open up opportunities for your mission.
Carol: Because I can imagine folks might start something and it's really more of an informal project or initiative. And, they may not be aware of those steps. So what are some of the steps that people need to be aware of? And this certainly in the US context of to shift from just a, a passion project or to, to really becoming an organization.
Orletta: Well, one thing, I live in Michigan and I'm like, just get your, they don't really understand. Once you get your articles of incorporation from the state of Michigan, for example, you're truly a nonprofit corporation, and now we can work on your tax exemption status, which you have 24 months to do, and they don't really understand that, so they're paying out of their pocket. A lot of them, again, when they file for the incorporation papers, they're incorporated. They don't realize they have 24 months where it can still be considered tax deductible donations to them because you have the intent to file for your tax exemption and so they lose 24 months. Of money they could be receiving, cuz they're like, well we're not, they don't think they're a real nonprofit until they get to 5 0 1 So it's those little, niggling things like that. And then my favorite one is the Founder's Syndrome. They think that this was my dream. I thought of it, I ran it. And when I come into a class and say, we don't run, you don't own a nonprofit. That's not how it's set up. That, that, those are interesting conversations. So it's those little things, and those little things. Having a real budget, planning for that, having a board that's gonna actually help you and not just grab your family and your friends. Those are the things, and it's the small things, but it keeps them from having the impact that they can have.
Carol: I don't know that they're that small necessarily. I think there is a lot of misconception about this notion of being a corporation, but that a nonprofit can't be owned by an individual. Can you say more about that?
Orletta: I always tell 'em that the nonprofit system, what I do with my, I teach a nonprofit management series course I wrote, and one of the things I, every time somebody wants to say, Or get into that groove of I'm the owner of my nonprofit, and it's like no, you are you doing this on behalf of society. The reason the nonprofit sector was set up is that you're supposed to be, you're doing it on behalf of society, and if you do it on behalf of society as a reward, we exempt you from your corporate income taxes. But that's, since you're doing it, it's a higher level of standard. We have to make sure that you're doing that and you're not what we call, getting personal gain from the quote unquote profits. And so we, I'm saying, I always try to pull my students back to, why are you doing this? Because you can be nice and not run, start a nonprofit corporation, and I always tell 'em that too. So if you're doing this, you're doing it on behalf of society as such. There's certain rules. And one thing is you don't own a nonprofit. And actually the board is the stewards on behalf of society to make sure that you're running that organization correctly. And that's how I put it to them so they can understand, foundationally what we're trying to do here. And we're not saying you gotta go. We're just saying, you can't take those funds and have a good party.
Carol: It's a whole notion of being a fiduciary for the board or being a steward of those resources on behalf of, of society, of the larger society community. Which I think. Is that a thing? Gap where people not, may not realize, the intent and the purpose of the non, the tax exemption
Orletta:. there's a little, so many misconceptions about the nonprofit sector. So I just, I just chuckle and smile and it's like, okay, we're gonna get through. I had one student, she cracked me up. She's one of my best students and she's getting grants and everything now, but she was just like, but this is my concept. What do you mean? Can my board let me go? Oh, yes, the board runs it. That's the way they are set up. So a lot of them, and it's a lot of that information. If they, if a person doesn't know it, they just don't be, they don't run the organization correctly. And so I really try to work with that.
Carol: You talked about having a real board, not just pulling your friends and family. Can you say a little bit more about that as people are getting started?
Orletta:. What typically do they do? Cuz this is what I always heard. Can I put my husband and my daughter and my cousin in and I'm like, okay, you can legally yes. However, The board is the people that are supposed to look out for your mission. They're the one. So when you out of organization may be having money issues, it's the board that's supposed to help you get that money. So I'm like, why don't you use those purposes, find somebody who has connections, find somebody who has money, find somebody who has expertise, maybe some accounting expertise or different things that you need to run? Increase the impact of your nonprofit and what a lot of people do when you get your friends, that's what you got, your friends, and then again, you feel like you're the founder cuz you're pulling the whole organization on your back instead of getting some people that can support you and grow the mission. Everything should focus on the. I, that's why I don't like nonprofit terms so much. I always prefer mission based cuz everything we should do emanates from the mission and you should have boards that's going to push and impact that mission together with you and not you got people cuz you gotta fill it out on a form.
Carol:. And that whole question of like, who are you pulling in? I mean, certainly people are gonna start with their network, but thinking a little more strategically about, what skills do we need? What competency, what social capital do we need to move this mission forward? I was working with an organization once where it was essentially. One person was running the organization and the board was made up of a group of college friends. And I think it was fine for the first couple years they were excited, but over time, people became disengaged and because they had friendships, the, the, oftentimes groups are already conflict averse, but it made it even more so because they were not gonna just lose them. They were putting the not wanting to harm their relationships as friends, Over what they needed to hash out as a board. And so they really got stuck, mm-hmm. And so, it may be easy. It seems easy, but It also makes it hard to bring in new people, right? Because if you have a subset that really knows each other and they've known each other for the last 15 years or whatever to be able to come in as a new person, how long are you gonna last? If you don't feel like you're actually part of the group, so, Coming on as a board member for the organization versus I'm doing you this, doing you a favor because you've started this thing. It has a really different motivation.
Orletta: It does. And again, it takes the focus, it puts the focus on the founder and the mission. Right, and I think that's the key thing when you really, I find, when you really think about what is this mission, what are we trying to do here? That focus, if you focus on that, it just changes how you make decisions.
Carol: What are some ways that you found seeing people be successful about getting out beyond just their friends and family to build a board that is really gonna move the mission forward?
Orletta: I even recommended people to who, who's volunteering with you. That really is. Into what you're doing. Those are potential board members. And then I said, you can even put on like indeed.com or even some of the free, I know in Detroit we have like a board. I can't, my brain is like an internet listing or something. So if you're looking for a board member, you can put it on there. And I said, it's fine to find a stranger. You may find a stranger. That's so, that's so much more into your. Thank you. So I, I say, see those people that's donating to you and they don't, you, you barely know what you're talking about yourself, but they're helping you. That's a good board member. That's somebody who's really into what you're doing and really into you too, if you wanna, if you wanna have a good relationship with them. So those are the things I say, find people who's into the mission and wanna
Carol: be, and they're there for, the purpose versus just the person.
Orletta: We're, I know we're a very individual driven sector, but, I think we do need to look at what's the mission. So those are the kinds of things I think about, like who are good board members.
Carol: So you're in the process right now of working on a book about the history of African American organizations. Can you give us a few, I know it's not finished yet, you're probably who knows how, I'm not sure how far along you are, but any, any interesting things that you're researching right now that are coming up and bubbling up?
Orletta:. This is my dissertation. I got my PhD at 20. I earned it in 2021. I was looking at
Orletta: Thank you. I was looking at what keeps, what do African American leaders do to sustain successful nonprofits. But part of my literature review when my chair said, I need you to. On the history of African American and his non-profit history. And here I am, I studied this stuff and all this, and I scoffed and I remember reading that memo and thinking what, what history? And it was just ridiculous. But that was the first thing I thought. And it was even worse because I grew up African Methodist Episcopal, that's the first African American. Over, I think there've been since 1787. So I'm like, what are you talking about?, the Free African society. So as I was looking into this and I was writing this literature review, there was an organization, I think it was the Massachusetts Negro Bureau and I wish I can remember the name, but I know they started in 1693 and that was you. Over 400 years ago, and they've been running, they were running, their mission was to help their enslaved brothers and sisters. And that's when I'm like, we've been doing this. We've been doing this. While enslaved, we've, through reconstruction, civil rights or whatever. And so I talk, I'm talking to a book editor right now. We're hashing out what we're doing and he wants to call it the Invisible History of African-American Nonprofits. And it's been like, for me, it's been like a faith journey too. It's sobering. But hearing li reading these stories and researching stories of these people, Who could have just said, forget it, you're on your own. And it always came back for the community and Randy's organizations and some of these organizations are still in existence cuz I'm looking from 1693 through civil rights. And that's where the book is gonna span from. And that whole entire time there's been pivotable figures and organizations that kept doing the work to keep the community.
Carol: That’s amazing to be able to really bring that history to the fore and that, that the length of that legacy that it's always been there. Yes. It's always been there. It may not have been celebrated, but it's always been there. That's amazing. I'll look forward to it, when it gets published. But you also talked about With your, with your work, with your PhD around what makes African American leaders successful, so what were some of the things that really helped people move forward, bottom line, line, once it got beyond some of the stuff that you're talking about, of that and getting beyond the basics of really being able to succeed.
Orletta: Beyond the bottom line, they persist. I mean, even with the lack of money, the smaller ones. But one thing I found out cuz I, what I wanted to make sure, academically, cuz they always, it was always like some of the research tried to say is we didn't have to have particular skills intrinsically as, black people. And I'm like, okay, I know that's not true. That's stupid. So let me, so I want to find out, what do successful nonprofit leaders across the sector do? Well, they get training, they build boards. They build a team around them. And then I looked at what these African Americans were doing. I had interviews. They did the same thing. And not only did they do the foundational things they knew they needed to do to be successful, build better boards, build a team. But because of one interview in particular, she was telling me how, she got a grant from the state and the program manager didn't think they were worthy of it cuz it was a black organization. So how much harder she worked to make sure that all the dots were crossed and everything was done correctly so that they couldn't say this organization C couldn't do it because that's what she had, had to deal with. They knock on doors hard, more, they have, because we, that's one of the things we don't have access to the boards and foundations like our counterparts. So they knock on more doors. I always tell my students you have to go to functions and you just gotta talk and talk and talk and talk, more and you have to do more. The one thing I did find there is an innate loneliness. Hmm. Because often the community that you're fighting, To serve, don't understand what you're doing, and they'll fight against you, while you're fighting for them. Plus, they're being bridges. They can't just do their job. They have to be a bridge, on behalf of a, a whole group or community, and a lot of times to get into those stores to get the money. So it's a. They have a heavier lift, but they do persist. All nine of them persist. And I interviewed nine people. The one thing I found was this was their second career. Mm, all of them. It was like, so you are interested. Can just retire and go home and say, forget this. Which is always, it's been a trade in the nonprofit field, but none of them came in as nonprofit leaders or anything like that. They just saw a need and I looked at what we call a social contract. Socially, I think it's contract theory, Bandura. And it was something innate in them from their community that they learned that I have to give them myself. And so that was a trade I saw over and over. I have to give of myself, not of my wealth. Black philanthropy is not given of our wealth, it is given what we have, but giving of my time and talent and treasure to help the community as a collective. So you, I saw a lot of that too from that.
Carol: There's an organization that I'm aware of here in Maryland that I think is, it has goals to go national, but a black ed network, black executive director network for African-American nonprofit leaders, executive directors. And I think, anytime you're a leader of an organization, it can be lonely. Mm-hmm, but those particular challenges and to be able to come together and compare notes and, and help each other. Persist. When you get to the point where you're like, oh, I cannot knock on another door. I cannot do my little elevator pitch One more time. Colleagues can encourage you to step, get back up and, and move, keep going
Orletta:. we get a lot of microaggressions. it's that small thing when you go like, ugh, and they go like And you just talk, you don't even say a word and it's like, okay, get back out there. And, and, and that's encouraging. So, because it, it, it's a, I and a lot of them are tired. I can, I can see it. It's like, oh my god. ? So, but they just keep doing it. I have this one woman, she runs a garden program and she's teaching sixth graders. She should be sitting in her rocking chair having a good time, and she's trying to teach sixth graders that I don't even wanna be with to show them how to plant a garden so they can sustain their lives in this neighborhood that has food.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. And, being able to bring the whole career experience to the sector, I think so, but then there is that gap, right? Of mm-hmm. Not knowing all the nuts and bolts about this particular sector, how things work, what's different about being in a for-profit business versus a nonprofit corporation, all those kinds of things. Yes. So appreciate that you're, you're addressing those items.
Orletta: That was my real goal. I mean, one, the, the great, one of the greatest things I feel I've accomplished is, is this, it's just a seven week course. I teach at community college, a local community college, but now I can do it virtually too. And it just, in seven weeks, we hit on every aspect of what it's gonna take to manage a nonprofit. So it's not like you're gonna be, I'm proficient now. I've got it. They come out with a one to two page blueprint for the organization. And so I've taught the class enough now that I've had students that use that blueprint. So now I have data. We love data. Yep. I have data to show that I know what I'm talking about. And if you put a good effort into this, you can get your nonprofit running and be compliant. And, some two of them have gotten grants and are working on programs. And I
Carol: I love that. It's just a one one to two page road roadmap? Keep, keep it simple. Keep it moving, right?
Orletta: Yes. That, and that was my thing. And when they do their presentation at the end, I only give them 15 minutes. I'm like, if you can't tell me in 15 minutes what you wanna do, you don't know what you wanna do. And they get frustrated, but it's like, no, you only need 15 minutes to tell me what you're gonna do. That's all you need. Right.
Carol: What are some other things that you found in your studies, beyond persistence? What were some other things that stood out?
Orletta: Is it for me? The difference between white philanthropy and black philanthropy. I did the presentation, I was at my job at TechSoup and I, we were an, they were asking me questions and how we can get African Americans, more leadership and stuff. And I was like, okay. And for somehow we got into this conversation about, philanthropy in general, and I said, you have to understand why philanthropy, and I don't wanna be critical, but basically it was a bunch of robber barons that, raped and pillaged the land and, gathered their resources, got rich, very wealthy, had to clean their past, and now they give their wealth and then their spouses had some jobs, they had something to do. I said, versus black philanthropy, we didn't have a massive wealth, we gave her what we had, washer, women, janitors, porters, gave off what they had and we gave it to us, the collective. And the one example I always use, I used to run camp Babe. That was the ame church's camp, the way that camp was. To be purchased was one of the members. The lady put a second mortgage on her home for $16,000 back in the forties, and that's how the AME church got that camp. So obviously it wasn't, she wasn't wealthy, she mortgaged her home. And so you can see the disconnect and the difference between how, when we look at philanthropy a lot of times, Organizations is to keep, literally keep our communities alive and fed. Like the one woman, I said Detroit is getting better, but we have some food deserts and she started a community garden and she lives in the neighborhood. Actually, this neighborhood I grew up in, it's the land of time and people have forgotten, but she's determined not to forget them. And so they're not, they don't have this proclivity. Community organs. D, she makes them, she actually runs Mimeographs almost and go up and down the street and make people show up for block club meetings. And she's out there in the summer with sixth graders when she should be at home, drinking lemonade, pushing people to keep their properties up and that stuff. So that was the thing I learned. It is just this, it's a life or death situation. One of my students was taking money out of her pocket to feed her. So now I've taught her how to get a domain and she's got all her paperwork now so she can have somebody help pay for this cuz she's literally feeding the children in her neighborhood during the summers. And then on holidays she does neighborhood dinners. Hmm. So, that's the kind of, those are the differences and the things that they're doing, and they do it on very little. Like when he the guy who worked for I o b, it, when he said mud groups, it really is, I mean, they're taking so much that muster seed of faith and just pushing it.
Carol: Well, thank you. Thank you for all you're doing. At the end of each episode, I ask an ice, a random icebreaker question from mm-hmm. A box of cards that I have to ask some questions about. So what would you say is an interesting tradition that your family has
Orletta: tradition interest? Oh. Or unique. My daughter and I, oh, my daughter and I, every time my daughter is an alumni at Michigan State University go green. We go, when they play Northwestern in Chicago, we've, for the last five or six years, we always go to that game. No matter how cold, how hot, whatever. No matter if the Spartans are doing well or not, we always go to that game. We spent a weekend in Chicago and we went to the game and we sang the fight song on the EL train with the rest of the things, and we acted very obnoxious. So it's just something we do, and it's like every other year. It's like, well, they're playing Northwestern again. Okay And we go. Awesome.
Carol: So what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Orletta: Well, the book is coming together and it's so funny imposter syndrome when a book editor is like, taking you seriously is talking about, I'm like, oh, so this is actually good. So I'm excited about that. Like I said, I like to be in the background, but I am being considered for ED for a role. So I'm, but it's, it impacts everything I've ever done in my life. So the mission is totally what I'm into. So lemme see if I'm well ready to go to the front again. But those are the things I'm excited about and my daughter moved back to. Oh, nice, nice, she's my only, so. Yep.
Carol: I've got an only daughter too, but she's trying to train right away, so.
Orletta: Good. Okay,
Carol:. All right, well thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast and I definitely once, once the book is out, we'll have to have you back and have another conversation about that history. I'm definitely interested to learn more. Okay,
Orletta: great. I love to talk about it. You can say I'm, I love, it's just been, it's been life changing, so I'm, I'm looking forward to it.
Carol: I appreciated Orletta’s reminder that no one owns a nonprofit organization. This is a basic concept but because both for profits and nonprofits in the US are organized as corporations it is easy to confuse the two. For nonprofit corporations, everyone involved – especially the board – is stewarding the resources for the good of the community. The mission or purpose of the organization that has a public benefit is why the organization is given certain privileges – tax exemption for example – or the ability for donations to be tax deductible. I also appreciated her tip for founders to get out beyond their friends and family as they recruit board members. Those folks might be easy to get involved with – but do they really want to be part of your organization to support the mission or to support you, the founder? Board members need to be recruited for their support of the mission and what time, talent and/or treasure they are going to bring to help you move your mission forward. I can’t wait until Orletta’s book on the history of African- American nonprofits and philanthropy comes out. I think it opens a lot of eyes to a history that has always been there but hasn’t been fully told.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Dr. Orletta Caldwell, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 56 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Danielle Marshall discuss:
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion. Danielle has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years most recently having served as the Executive Director for Playworks Mid-Atlantic. Danielle went on to found Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to move organizations beyond DEI statements to develop strategic and actionable equity goals.
Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/Executive Coach.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Danielle Marshall. Danielle and I talk about why it is so important for groups to be clear about their why on pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion – both at the group or organizational level as well as the individual level, how organizations can work both at the systems level of policy change and at the service level and have that work complement each other, and why applying an equity lens to your work helps integrate DEI work beyond a stand alone training series.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome, Danielle. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Danielle Marshall: Thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with this question. What drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Danielle: Yeah. It's funny that you start with the question. What is my, why? Cause I definitely wanna talk about that today as well. I think I have been engaged in this work. Before I knew there was a term for it. So, I come from the world of nonprofits and spent over 20 years working in a variety of nonprofits, usually youth serving organizations. And I worked around the country in a variety of different states from DC to New York, Maryland, Louisiana. Even Washington DC, so forth. And there was something that was happening that I found to be very interesting because I am serving youth and particularly what they focus on black and brown youth. I kept hearing this really persistent narrative about who these children were and what their outcomes in life would be. And then potentially like, even who their families were and the narrative was not a positive one. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm working on the ground with these individuals. I see them every day. I see how hard their families are striving to provide for them and, and help uplift them as the next generation. And I realize pretty early on it isn't the actual families that are the problems here, right? It's something systemic. That's leading to particular outcomes. And that's where I began to shift my thinking around, addressing the systems. Now my background is in industrial organizational psychology , which is a fancy way of saying, I tend to look at the whole world as a case study. Right. And so I'm looking at these systems, I'm looking at people's behaviors at the moment and I'm really working to figure out again, how do I use my strategy, knowledge? To create a space where we can start addressing these systems themselves, as opposed to looking at people as if they were the deficit. So that's sort of the Genesis of how I got to the place that I am now. , but in 2020 there really was this emphasis. And, and I started my business a month before George Floyd's murder. I had been on this path already. I knew it was time. What I didn't anticipate though, was the outcry, from the community that came in, I just mass numbers. So I really was beginning to now target specifically organizations that were interested in moving beyond this performative. We care about DEI. We care about racial equity to groups that actually wanted to do something that was tangible, measurable, and resulted in.
Carol: And in thinking about those organizations that really wanna move beyond just, making a statement or maybe having training and checking the box. What do you see them doing differently than that surface approach to equity and inclusion?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that's a great question. What feels like is at the heart of it is these groups. So just going back to the question you asked me in the beginning, what's my. They're clear on their, why they know why they are leaning into this work and that allows them to set again, very clear goals to get there. Right? So if it is happening for a variety of reasons, people can approach their why from the business case for our organization. , some of them are thinking about the bottom line for their organization. They're thinking about diverse workforces, et cetera. , some of them are thinking about values. This aligns with my moral values. This is what I want to see in the world. And others are thinking about it from an inter or intrapersonal level. And so what does this mean to me as an individual? And so, what does it mean for the quality of relationships that I am seeking to have with people? The changes I wanna see in the world, but then even sometimes it is on that, that, outward sort of facing way. I'd like a promotion. And in order to get a promotion in my organization, I need to have skills that are gonna allow me to connect with as many people as possible from diverse backgrounds. And so I would say there, why being clear feels like a really amazing starting place, in the grand scheme of things. Because once we have that, why in place now we can talk about the next step, which is the, what do we want to. , what changes do we want to see if we're talking about equity? What does equity even mean in our organization? What should we be looking for? And then, and only then can we get to the how?
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like most, most groups they wanna move to, they skip over that. Why phase? Yes. And, or, between the different whys it might become. We have to choose one or the other, right? We have to choose working at the system level or working at the individual level where they all interrelate.
Danielle: Yeah I - oh my goodness. I feel so strongly about that because there are two, it feels like distinct schools of thought that people approach this work from. So, they'll talk about the organization as if it was alive, a living, breathing entity, and I'm forever telling people like the organization is a brick and mortar building. It is not alive. The people within the organization are alive and there's nothing wrong with having strong goals for the organization. We actually need them. , but for me, this feels like a both end moment because you can enact policies. , you can go and do an equity review, make changes that are going to mandate. If you will DEI at the organizational level. But again, if there is no personal connection to that on the individual level, if I don't have a personal reason, or even a belief in an organization, why as soon as there's a change in leadership, maybe the budget decreases, it causes policies to falter. So you have put the right sets of things in place, but there's no commitment to completing. And so I think that we can't necessarily just say, Hey, I wanna work on the individuals and I just wanna change hearts and minds, or I just wanna work on the policies within the organizations. My approach again is both. And, and it's really a blending of those two worlds.
Carol: And it goes back to what you were saying at the beginning of the, the youth work that you were doing and that, that the discrepancy between the narrative that you heard and your experience of folks, of, their families, and then thinking about the systems. And I feel like people have often in the nonprofit sector put those two things at a, at a, an either or. Well, don't just work on the direct service, move up the, move back the chain of events to work on the systems. And again, it's , to me, I feel like that's a, that's an unhelpful, argument to be stuck in of both needs to be dealt with. For change to happen. Yeah. Like people have immediate needs and, working with individuals, but also, thinking about those bigger systems.
Danielle: Absolutely. I just was with a client earlier today and one of the activities we were focused on was, something around opposite thinking, ? So I can't do both of these things at once. Right. So what's the opposite of that? Both the community that we serve and the systems need to be addressed. So we're, we're tackling it from that perspective. But then the third piece of that is asking if that is to be true, what are the things that need to happen in order for us to be able to address both? So instead of stopping immediately with this, either it is going to be right, or it's going to be left that we're moving. There's so much space in between, right? Where is our middle ground, where we can begin to really think about multiple things, at one time and hold them both as true. Yes. The community needs services. There are deficits that may be there today. Existing needs that they have. And we also need to be able to say we are driving some of those problems in those communities because of the systems that we have.
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like if you think about the whole nonprofit sector as a whole, and I mean, not, not the entire sector because, but much of it in essence is set up to address. These needs that don't necessarily need to be needed. Right? Like that's like a triple negative, but, if we didn't have a system that caused homelessness, we wouldn't need homeless shelters. Right. So yeah, I just think about it at the, at the bigger picture level of like, Why is our nonprofit sector so big?
Danielle: Yeah, I, oh my gosh. I struggle with that so much because I have a heart for nonprofits. I probably always will, and oftentimes it still feels like we're putting a bandaid on a much bigger problem. And so I have to say that, where there are cases of homelessness, where there are cases of food insecurity or lower literacy rates. Absolutely. These communities need support right now that are gonna help them achieve better outcomes. No doubt. And we will continue to kick the can down the road if we don't get at the underlying systems that are, as you mentioned, like they're really driving this. Yeah, absolutely. So that's the place that I feel like we have to focus a little bit more at, attention and time, but yet not take our foot off the gas when it comes to also being able to support people simultaneously.
Carol: Right. Right. How do you see, do you, can you gimme some examples of places where you've seen folks be able to do that?
Danielle: I mean, I think some people are doing it every day. They don't necessarily stop to think about it. , if, if I'm working with a group that is dealing with food insecurities, and they're also trying to tackle, let's say racial equity systems, they're not stopping the feeding of people. That work continues, but they are allocating time to sit down as a team to review the policies, to begin to look at data, who works in this organization. What's our retention rate based on the disaggregated data, are there certain demographics that are promoted at higher rates to, maybe leaving the organization? Or even hired into the organization at that point. So they're doing both sets of things and I, by no means, would say it is easy because it is an intentional carving out of time. But the people that are able to hold those two things as truthful and important in the moment, those are the groups that I see having the most success.
Carol: So what are some of those steps that you see organizations taking to move things along and, and shift their cultures?
Danielle: Yeah, I'm gonna go back to 2020 for a second because I feel like so many things shifted at this point. And I, I will absolutely say there have been people doing this work and committed to it for longer than I've even been around sure. On this planet. , but what felt like shifted in that moment to me is in 2020, it sounded like people really got for the first time that, Hey, we need to sit and talk about this. We need to be able to. Understand that we are not all seeing the world. Similarly, we are not all having the same experiences. There is this really interesting thing in the US where we, we're, we're the melting pot everybody's supposed to blend together. Therefore we all have to be the same. I don't even know if I agree first off with matter of fact, I can say pretty clearly. I don't agree with the fact that we should all be the same , but beyond that, it was never true to begin. Right. There are different cultures. There are values, there are different beliefs that people bring to the table. There's just simply different understandings of the world. And to not look at that is sort of a detriment to us because yes, we may have gone through the same situation, but how we experienced it is vastly different, ? So we've all gone through this period of COVID right now. And depending on who you were. So did you live in an urban environment? Did you live in a more rural environment? Did you have a stable job or were you one of the first people to go on furlough or lose your job? Right. Like these are going to force different outcomes. Were you someone who didn't have a choice, but to go into work? And so as we look at it, yes, again, we all went through the same period and still continue to go through it. But how it's impacting us is very different. And so when people say, well, it's, it's as simple as you just need to go apply for jobs. I did it, it was easy for me. Great. I'm glad that you had that experience or the next person they may have put in 50 resumes, but because their name is an ethnic sounding name, they're never even called in for the first interview. We're having different experiences. And so I think in watching people begin to realize that it was the first time, at least in my lifetime, that I saw so many people saying, Hey, I wanna understand this on a deeper level. I wanna dig a little bit deeper into this. And for many people, I think they made some great strides. It feels like there's a pulling back right now that is happening for many folks. And I don't know if you see that in your work as well. , but it seems like the attention given to it. Felt like it was ripe for that moment. We were all home. We were watching TV on a loop. We could see all the devastation occurring across not only our nation, but across the world. So it felt prime to dig deeper into some root causes, but as things have begun to open back up and I, I don't say this from a pessimistic standpoint either. , But more so from a reality check, like we need to be able to continue to sit in these conversations so that it's not just talking about it and I'm not just talking about, Hey, I'm learning something new, but what is the strategy that I'm now going to use? Because I have invested in this knowledge, you can have a ton of information at the ready, but if you're not doing anything with it, you're also part of the problem.
Carol: And I think there was, certainly for white people, who delved into this, there was a huge remedial education essentially that we had to go through, to catch up and, and get a lot of perspective. And then, but then again, as you're saying, how, how to actually put that, the stack of books that I've read over the last, whatever number of years, and then put it into action, is a different thing. Can you, can you gimme some examples? Organizations where you see them being able to integrate it. And it's becoming more of a way of thinking or more of the culture, then we went, we had these conversations, we did these training sessions.
Danielle: Yeah. One of the things that I have found to be incredibly helpful, within organizations. And I see them normalizing this into their practices are groups that are using an equity lens when it's time to make decisions. So those decisions could be, where we choose to hold our conference, this year. Is it going to be in person? Is it going to be virtual? It could be a decision around a particular policy now that we're returning to the world reopening what's our telework policy. Right. And so to apply an equity lens means we're asking some pretty fundamental questions around, like what are the assumptions that we're bringing to this issue? Are we ensuring that multiple voices are heard and included in this discussion? And not just from the standpoint of like collecting feedback, but that we're actually listening to the dynamics that are emerging for people. We wanna think about it again, like, what are those outcomes. We are not necessarily predicting. They might be potential outcomes. There's always someone in one group who is like, sort of the negative Nancy, they're the naysayer. And they're like, but wait, but this thing might happen. And our tendency is when that person speaks up, we're like, Ugh, Nancy beat, please be quiet. Like we, we don't need this right now. We need to move the project ahead. But I actually think that person at times can be a real asset for us because what they're doing is poking holes in the plan as a whole. But they're helping us uncover things that we may have a potential blind spot towards. And so being able to listen at least to, Hey, what, that might be something that could occur. Here's what we now can plan for, because we're aware this may be a potential barrier that we come up against, things like that feel like they are. Really helpful for me. And it's a simple strategy. There are a variety of equity lenses that exist out there. But nonetheless, like if I am thinking about my policy, if I'm thinking about a decision. I can now start thinking about who my stakeholders are, how this decision will impact them, if I'm collecting feedback from a broader group, right? So we often do this, especially in the nonprofit sector. I wanna know everything that you've experienced. Are you satisfied with our program? Are the kids reading at a higher level? Did we plant more trees? Whatever it happens to be, we ask all of these questions. And then where does the data go? Sometimes it literally sits on someone's shelf in the old days or now, in the cloud somewhere, but we're not using it effectively. And I really have a problem with that because it almost feels a little disrespectful, quite frankly, that you've asked me in a very transactional way to give you my insight on something unpaid, right. Free labor. And now you're not even gonna tell me what you've done with it. And sometimes you haven't done anything with it. So, when I think about that, these are tools that we can use. If I want to have partnerships that are transformational, it means that there's a constant dialogue going on between us, where it is less about the transaction. You provide your feedback, you provide this resource for me. And I go about my business, but like, how do I take that in partnership with. And grow it to the next level. Like, based on the feedback that you offered here are the things that we've done differently. Here are the changes on the horizon. Like people are not necessarily asking for EV everything to be different like today, but they would like to know where you're headed. So that's one, I think a solid example of where I'm seeing people make a difference is by intentionally using equity lenses, building those into staff meetings, into leadership team meetings, like on a regular basis. I often tell my clients, like, Hey, post it above your desk, right. It should be whether it's a bulletin board, some people have it as screensavers. Like you should know these questions well enough. That at any given time, even if you're not looking at it, you should be able to say, Hey, what are those assumptions we're making right now? Like, am I biased in my thinking? Like, how do I test that assumption?
Carol: Yeah. And I think we can start with the assumption that we always have some bias.
Danielle: A hundred percent.
Carol: But I love, I love because I feel like I've heard that term bandied around a lot -- equity lens, but like, what is it practically? The thing that you're describing seems so grounded in, okay. Here's a set of questions that we're asking. Each major decision and how it's impacting folks, and I also really appreciate the point you make around all the data that nonprofits tend to collect and how the assumptions have been built into that process. In the past that asked that one have assumed a complete access to folks and, and their willingness to just show up and, and provide input and, and provide perspectives, but also, forgetting to close that loop of, how are you, you've taken the information in, how are you sharing it back out? I mean, I'm at the midst of a strategic planning process right now, and I'm just, as you're talking, I'm thinking, okay, I know I've mentioned this to the client. We've gotta make sure that we do some type of feedback that goes back out to everybody that we've asked information from, not just board and staff, which is the typical group. Mm-hmm, we'll hear those findings, but who are all the people that you've asked, for input and, and how are they gonna see what was said? What are some themes and, and how it's gonna be actually used, in the work that the organization's doing at that moment and the purpose that it collected the information.
Carol: Absolutely. And like can, but yeah, it's only for funders, that's not the right audience,
Danielle: Oftentimes that's who we're focused on. Right. The funder said we have to deliver a report in one year's time and therefore I'm gonna collect feedback on it. And. I don't want to belittle nonprofits, because I think there are some really amazing groups out there that are taking that feedback and they are sharing it with their teams to strengthen their program quality. I see that every day, but what is that further step, right? To go back to your partners in the community and say, we really appreciated this. Here are some of the changes. And, or, we got some initial feedback from you and we're still really noodling on this. We're not sure what's next, would you like to be a co-creator in the next steps of this process? Because that, that's the other thing that really concerns me sometimes is that we believe, as nonprofit leaders, that we have the answers to whatever ails the community. And we often don't go back to the community itself and say, what do you need? Years ago, I worked at a nonprofit that built playgrounds, and I remember going to a community meeting and we had given the kids an opportunity to actually say, Hey, here's some of the design elements we want in our playground. And if you've been on a playground lately or sometime in your life, they have these really cool tool tubes where kids can climb through. And we were talking to the parents after the kids said, we want one of these climbing tubes. And the parents said, absolutely not now, I'm, I'm an early professional. I'm in my twenties at the time. And I'm wondering, what is the big deal about this? Why are the parents putting up such resistance? The question in that moment though, was not so much about what they were saying. But tell me more. What is the context? What is the why behind that? Well, as we began to dig deeper, we understood that the families didn't want the tubes only for one reason: when people crawled through them, they couldn't see what was happening within that tube. And this was a community where there were some, they were experiencing homelessness. There was some drug abuse, there are things that are happening. And they said for us to feel comfortable with our kids playing in this space, we need to just be able to put our eyes on it. Right. And as soon as we said, we have a tube that has a glass bubble or a plastic bubble, they were like, oh, that's great. So, we're jumping to conclusions about what the community needs at times without actually asking them what is a value to you and tell, tell me more about it. What is going to make this possible for you? Because in terms of the resistance they put up, they had every right to put up that resistance. That was a safety issue for them. Sure. As soon as we understood it, the dynamics were completely different. They're like, great. We've solved that problem. Let's talk about some other stuff. Now we love this idea.
Carol: Yeah, and part of that is just, having the opportunity to slow down a little bit and be able to ask the next question.
Danielle: That is exactly it, ? And so when we are faced with time pressure, when we're distracted, when we're even tired,
Carol: Which feels like everybody these days.
Danielle: Well, yeah, it certainly does. Right. So what does that mean to us in the grand scheme of things? If we're facing this every single day where you go to work and that you're, every project you had was due yesterday, there's constant time pressure to get to the next thing. You're distracted because we're multitasking. If your desktop looks anything like mine, you have like 11 billion tabs open at any given time. There's a lot that can stop us from being able to ask quality questions, and just sit with people because sometimes just the act of sitting and listening tells you so much about where people are and what their needs are at this moment.
Carol: Absolutely. When I'm doing meetings with groups now, and it's often virtual, online, one of the things that I will say at the beginning is, literally, if you have a ton of tabs open, I invite you to close them. just so you can be in the here and now for this meeting right at this moment. I love it. So what are some wider trends that you're seeing in the nonprofit sector, around these issues? We've talked about some of them, but what are some other ones that you're, you're noticing talked about a slow down in terms of interest in the, in the, work around equity? , what other things are you noticing?
Danielle: Yeah, I, I would say yes, there, it feels like there's a slow down of people, but when I say that I'm, I'm thinking more sort of on a national level, lots of different sectors. What I am personally experiencing is that the people who are stepping into this moment are more committed than they ever have been before. Mm-hmm . And so I think that, while I would love for everyone to get behind this particular effort, the reality is not everyone's ready. Not everyone desires to. , but what I am seeing is with the people who have made this commitment, there are some things that are shifting they're understanding they need to, we just talked about time. They need to allocate time in order to really embed this work in their, in their staff, their teams, their training, their onboarding processes, et cetera, how they're interacting with the community. So they're setting aside time for that. They're also setting aside resources. And that's something that in the past, if you ask someone what their DEI budget was, oh, we don't actually have a budget for that. We have a budget for professional development or maybe there's a training budget, but that was sort of a catchall for everything, right. It could have been for Excel. It didn't even matter. They did not have that set aside. And so I think that is useful. The other thing that I'm really seeing, move forward and. This one can be tricky at times. And I see a lot more boards getting involved. Mm. Right. And, and as a governing body, they need to be involved in this work. , because again, we can't just be in service to communities because it makes us feel good. How are we actually being of service, meaning helping as opposed to helping in the way we think is.
Carol: Right. Helping that’s helpful. Not helping that's patronizing.
Danielle: That’s exactly it. Yeah. So like, how are we driving that board? , and I'm really enjoying the board work in particular right now, because I have an opportunity to talk to people who. This is not something that they've been thinking about, right? Boards tend to be a little bit older. At least they have been in the past, right? Older, white male, et cetera. And this has not been something that's necessarily on their radar. And so we are challenging a ton of assumptions on a daily basis about how one we approach this work. Audre Lord has a quote that says ‘the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house,’ right. The way that we've gotten to the point that we are at today. Will not be the way that we get to the next phase of our evolution. And so we have to think about, yes, there are some strategies that we have used that feel like they may be tried and true, but what else is out there? What else could we be utilizing? And again, this is where those multiple perspectives come in. And I always wanna hear from the community. These are people that live there every day, right? They're raising their families. They work there, they have homes. They're seeing things that we don't necessarily get to see as the outsiders bringing services in. I'm hearing more conversations around working with boards on equity and inclusion issues. And I've definitely seen, with different boards that I've worked with, that there's often a big gap between where the staff is and where the board is. And then, Yeah. Some, some, and oftentimes some, some resistance, from older, whiter mailer folks, to how does this connect to our issue, not seeing those intersections. , and I think, that can feel all, I don't know what, I don't know what the right word is. Maybe. Like dismissive and I'm also curious, like, okay, so how can we like, maybe I, how can I draw the breadcrumbs from one to the other, yeah. This issue that you work on and, and these, these. To me, these issues permeate everything, but it's not, they're not necessarily seen that way. Yeah. From everybody.
Danielle: One of the things that I utilize a lot with boards is, the intercultural development inventory or IDI. And this is a tool that's been used in nonprofits, corporations, education, government, et cetera. What I really appreciate about it is it doesn't tell you who you are. , but it does provide based on self assessment. A snapshot in time of how you relate to similarities and differences when it comes to culture. Right. And we can talk about culture in sort of sweeping terms, right? So it might be your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, so forth, right? So like these big groupings of people that we have some type of social identity and connection to. And so, as people are starting to think about how they relate to groups that are similar to them, versus people that are, are different from them. Like it's really interesting to see, literally see, I, I mean, sitting on zoom calls and I can see people, the light bulb going on in their hip. Like I hadn't considered that. So this really feels like that issue of time constantly comes back to the forefront for me, because why don't we see certain things because we, we don't even allow the space for us to explore it. , and that feels really important to me because it's almost like a paramount to driving that new car off the lot. You go out, you find your favorite car, you buy this car, you haven't seen anybody. And you're like, I'm gonna be the first one to have this. You drive it off on your way home. You see 30 cars that look exactly like yours, even the same color. Right. And all of a sudden it is there. It is salient. It is right in front of you and you hadn't noticed it before. And to that end, what are we not noticing on a regular basis? Because it is not something we allow time for. We do not put intentionality. So with this IDI assessment, it's an opportunity to just really sit there and, and one explore how we're viewing these similarities and differences, but secondary to this. And I think probably the most important, cuz this connects back to the why, what do you wanna do with this information? Like why does this even matter to you? right. So if I know that there's a particular group that I may feel a little disconnected to, I don't know them as well as I'd like, but I have a goal, I wanna be able to connect my nonprofit services. Right. We wanna expand who we're reaching. I've heard a lot of groups recently say, Hey, we may serve the black community, but we're not really, and, and Latino community, but we're not doing well with reaching out to people in the Asian popul. Okay, great. I now have a goal in mind, right. So knowing how to increase my cultural competency is gonna actually help get me there. Right? So there's, there's this idea for me of like the knowledge building piece, who is it that I want to engage? What do I need to understand about them? So before I come in with my best ideas and like, Hey, this is the path forward. What do they do? Do they even want my help? Are they requesting it right? Or am I a burden to them? Because I've brought in this thing for them, it's not actually useful for them in building all of this, right? So I may have some motivation. I understand why. I'm beginning to build a knowledge base about the particular community that I wish to serve in this case. Now I tie this back into strategy, right?
Carol: You mentioned the IDI and it really focuses on how people can develop their personal cultural competence. What are some steps you see that folks can take once they get a little bit more aware around how they're interacting with differences or how they're seeing them or not seeing them?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that very much ties to the stage that they come back, at, within the IDI. But one thing that I do wanna clarify is certainly about being able to develop individual cultural competencies. But I also work with a lot of organizations who are, they're basically getting their team aggregated results. And we can say, as an organization, Here's where we sit and I'll give you an example. Many organizations will come back to the stage of minimization. So if we're in minimization, there is a tendency to seek out similarity. And so people are constantly looking for the ways that we are, like one another. , and so, well, of course we all think that we wanna be happy. We wanna be healthy. We wanna be respected. Great. Seems on the surface, like a pretty safe state. But it is more nuanced than that. So like, as someone is thinking about organizational work, what does that actually mean? So what does respect mean at the organizational level? And what does respect mean for you Carol, versus how I view respect? Because that's where I think things get a little tricky. We use words, just assuming that everyone is behind the definition, they're seeing it in the same context, because again, we're minimizing right differences without digging into. How we are seeing and, or experiencing the world differently. And that matters so much. , I can't even put enough emphasis behind that particular point. It matters greatly. , and when we ignore those factors, We end up with people that are unhappy, right? They're disgruntled. I don't feel seen. You're just sort of glossing over this issue. That is greatly important to me. I'm not included in your organization. I don't feel a sense of belonging. , it also is the very thing that in some cases, has organizations pushing people to assimilate to be more like them. Right? So we talk about culture fit. You hear this all the time when people are hiring, oh, we need someone who fits our culture. Let's break that down. What does that mean? Oh, well, they have to be professional. What does it mean to be a professional? And I am by no means saying that we shouldn't have some guard rails that we use within our work. So like, as you define as an organization professional, okay. We're gonna have an understanding of what professional means, but is it one that is inclusive of the team members you presently have and then also future thinking? Is it something that is inclusive of the people you wish to have on your own? Like, you're never gonna get to the fit if you're not acknowledging, identifying what this means and how we are allowing people to show up as authentic versions of themselves within the workplace.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I've literally had. Conversations with teams where, the first round of doing well, what do we want, what are, what do we want as our team values and big words, like respect get pulled up, professionalism, whatever it might be. And then you actually take them to the next step of, So, what does that look like? How does that actually show up? What are the behaviors that are gonna mean respect to you and have people say diametrically opposing things where respect is. You never interrupt me. Respect is we can have an engaging conversation where everyone jps in and we're all talking depending on, cuz not every culture interprets that particular thing. For example, interrupting the same. Yeah, and I was actually on a call this morning where the whole conversation around, being business-like, or professional. Just using that as a catch raise, but then again, right. You can create those guardrails, but have a conversation about, well, what are the behaviors that we agree mean professional. Yeah.
Danielle: And which are the behaviors that we're using. Sort of we're using unconsciously to keep people who are different out. Right. That I think that for me, feels like probably, one of the hardest conversations to have with people cuz they don't wanna admit it, but it's there it's present. Right. So we, if we carry these biases with us, but we just use a word like professionalism as a catchall. It allows us to continue to be biased without ever having to have this conversation about what a professional actually looks like.
Carol: Like, yeah. And I think beyond also I'm thinking about this right now, just beyond the behaviors. It's also like what's actually necessary for the work. Yes. I mean, I think that's being reexamined across job descriptions, qualifications. Yeah. Requirements, the need to have versus the nice to have, like, does everyone actually have to have bachelor's degree, et cetera, et cetera. So reexamining all those assumptions. Absolutely.
Danielle: You make me think about a position description I had years ago that one of the criteria for qualifications is must be able to lift 50 pounds. Okay, that would be great. If I had a job where I needed to lift 50 pounds worth of anything, I sat at the desk all day. What am I lifting? Here's the other thing about it. If we're moving towards this place where we wanna be equitable, we wanna be inclusive. What you're saying to me is if I am not an able bodied person, who can, if needed, lift this 50 pounds. Then I shouldn't even bother to apply for this job. It's not said explicitly like that, but that's certainly the undertone of it when it was not actually anything that I needed to be concerned about because I had a desk job. Yeah. And what are the accommodations we're willing to make for people they're like, oh, we're, we're totally open to making accommodations. Great, but your language presented a barrier before this person even applied for the job. Because if I read that and I'm, especially as a woman, cuz , women have a tendency to look at it and are like, oh I don't meet these qualifications. Whereas men are like, oh, I'm gonna apply. Anyway, women will pull back from it. But if I'm reading that and saying, Hey, what, I can lift 25. Can't do 50, this, this isn't the job for me. Mm-hmm and it's a silly example, but yet it's not silly because there are so many things embedded in position descriptions along those lines that you just miss.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So really digging into what, what, what is actually required for this job? What is actually embedded? Thank you so much. This has been such a rich conversation and I'm just gonna shift gears a little bit here at the end.
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Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program portfolio review, design thinking, and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources.
We’re back on Mission: Impact.
Carol: At the end of each episode, I play a game where I ask. You, one random icebreaker question. And, for listeners, if you've been listening to all these icebreaker questions, these are great ones to think about starting meetings with, to help get to know groups better. But when, when you talked about your journey to the work that you're doing now, when you were younger, what did you wanna be when you grew up?
Danielle: When I was younger, I thought I was gonna be a veterinarian.
Carol: All right. How, why, what, what brought you to
Danielle: That path? My mother told me I was gonna be a veterinarian oh, okay. Well, I mean, she had expectations for me. She thought I was going to move into something medical related. , and I tease her like, so my background now is in psychology, so I'm like, I am sort of a medical person, but not quite. I was like, I focus on the organization side, but it wasn't necessarily my dream. Fast forward a couple of years, I thought I was going into television and that was really the job that I thought I was going to have. And I was gonna love until I had an internship in television. Okay. And I said, this isn't the particular path for me because what I knew even in college is I needed to be sitting in service, uplifting others, giving, Giving support to people who are learning sometimes to use their verse, their voice for the first time. Like that is my space to be in. I am an introverted person who has an extroverted personality. When you put me in front of an audience, like I love to engage people and just really help bring out threads of wisdom that we're always there for them, but like that they can do something meaningful with.
Carol: Awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Danielle: Hmm. That's a good question. I'm just fresh off of vacation. I'm thinking about that. I think what is emerging for me right now that feels incredibly important is, is this leaning into cultural competencies? So we talked a little bit about that already, but like, if you understand that there. A goal ahead of you again, whether it is to diversify your board, if it is to be more inclusive of a variety of vendors, like I don't even care what your goal is. Like, how do we begin to shift the mindset? How do we institutionalize these practices in organizations? And I'm really trying to work a lot more, I think with organizational mindsets on that, because. The policy reviews the use of the equity lens. Those are simply, those are tools. Those are things that we can do there. I want to get to a place where you don't need to look at the tool. I want you to just be able to think naturally like, Hey, someone's voice and perspective was not included here. Here are the places where I know that I'm being biased. Here's how I'm gonna move differently. So like, those are the spaces I think I am really excited about moving into with the organizations I'm supporting, but more importantly, once we have this strategy on the table, How are you implementing it? Cause I hear a lot of folks talk about a good game. They may even have so many people out here right now doing DEI plans, racial equity plans. How are you creating a feedback loop? To say, Hey, this worked really well. Or, what? We missed the mark with this. We left something, someone, a perspective out of this, how do we incorporate that learning back in? So that the next time that we do this, we emerge even smarter, stronger, better positioned to do this work than we were when we got started. And so I think those are the things that excite me because when I think about what stops people from continuing this work, it's often the fear that I'm gonna get it. Guess what you are, right. That is what we do. We mess up royally all the time. The question is, are you committed enough to get it wrong? Pick yourself back up and do it again because for us to achieve a world that is equitable, that is inclusive, where people really feel like they authentically belong. We're going to misstep. So. But getting back up and continuing to try continuing to advance this work is the only way we will ever see that level of success.
Carol: And building that in, as you're saying to the mindset of how do we learn from mistakes yes. At an end and normalizing that and normalizing it, normalizing that we will make mistakes. The project won't go forward perfectly with all of these different things. How are we, how are we taking again, taking the time to stop and think and, and consider. How, what did we learn from that experience?
Danielle: Yeah. And being willing to admit that there isn't one right way to do things, right. There are a multitude of perspectives and ways that we can begin to embark on this. Are all of them gonna work? Probably not, but can we at least hear them out before we say, oh, that's not gonna be the path for us, or we've done it this way, as long as I can remember. So that's the way we're gonna stick to it. I want to figure out what could be. How we might approach this, that really, if, if there is one thing that excites me, it is the, how might we, mm.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll end it there. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation. I really appreciated all of your perspectives and, I'm gonna hope that you send me at least one link to an equity lens. So I can put that in the show notes for people as a tool. , cuz I think, as when groups are getting started, It is helpful to have a couple concrete things. And then like, as you said, once you use it over and over again, then it becomes it. It just becomes infused with how you see things.
Danielle: Absolutely. Carol, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for the invitation to join you today. I've loved having this conversation.
Carol: I appreciated Danielle’s point about doing a better job of listening to the ‘negative Nancy’s’ in your organization. Instead of just seeing resistance as something to overcome, slow down and listen to the challenges – what can you learn from their perspective – and what blind spots are they helping reveal. I also appreciated our conversation about an equity lens. I have heard people use this term for quite a while – but was not necessarily sure what they meant or how to implement this and integrate it from a concrete point of view. Danielle shared her lens – a set of key questions to consider each time you are engaging in a new initiative or policy or process update or revision. These questions help you and your group think through the equity implications of any proposed action. Whose voices will be included? How will input be gathered? Will the change favor one group over another? You can find a link to Danielle’s equity lens resource in the show notes. And in addition to using this type of tool – Danielle went on further to point out that it is really about shifting organizational mindsets and having equity integrated into everything the organization is doing. Having it really embedded in the culture vs. something we happen to be working on this year. Building in feedback loops for learning is a key way to work towards that integration. That is the end goal – an equitable culture.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Danielle Marshall, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I am about to go on vacation so we are going to have a slight pause in releasing podcast episodes. We normally release an episode every two weeks. There will be a slightly longer gap between episodes.
In the meantime, until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Helping nonprofits boards move toward greater equity with Christal Cherry and Renee Rubin Ross
In episode 55 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry discuss:
Dr. Renee Rubin Ross is a nationally recognized strategic planning and board development consultant. Committed to racial equity in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Ross supports organizations and individuals in practices that celebrate and amplify diverse voices and perspectives.
Christal M. Cherry is a nationally recognized nonprofit executive and professionally trained fundraiser. With over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, she has supported higher education institutions, human services organizations and faith-based missions. Her career portfolio, as a full time professional and consultant includes American University, the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College, Nicholas House, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Florida A & M University, Action Ministries, and the GA Center for Nonprofits.
In each role, Christal has interfaced, guided and collaborated with diverse boards made up of college presidents, ministers and bishops, politicians, corporate CEO's, civic leaders, consultants, attorneys, stay at home moms and students.
With passion and a wide breadth of experience, Christal works today with clients to help them mark a clear path to success in board development. Her style is electrifying, inspiring, and energizing.
Christal earned a MA in Counseling from Hampton University, a BA in Liberal Arts from Hofstra University and professional development certifications in nonprofit leadership, social media fundraising, and nonprofit management.
She currently serves on the board of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Villages of Carver YMCA. She is regular presenter with CANDID, Qgiv, Network for Good, Bloomerang, and the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy where she facilitates webinars and teaches courses in fundraising, board development and equity and inclusion. Christal has been a guest on multiple podcasts and enjoy serving as a requested expert on board matters. She is contributing author in Collecting Courage, a documenting of racism and survival by 14 accomplished Black fundraisers working across North America. She also enjoys her membership in the African American Development Officers Network, Toastmasters, and F3, Fabulous Female Fundraisers which she founded.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact are Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry. We talk about how nonprofit boards can work towards becoming more inclusive and more diverse. We explore why it is so important to not just name the challenges boards have with diversifying, but also identify some possible solutions and positive actions to take to create movement, why it is important for groups to unpack and own history, including their group’s history, how white people need to accept being uncomfortable during conversations around race.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Renee and Christal to the mission impact podcast.
Christal Cherry: Thank you.
Renee Rubin Ross: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
Carol: So I'd love to hear from each of you on this question, I'd love to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do and what motivates you, what would you describe as your, why?
Christal: Go for it, Renee
Renee: Hi. So I'm Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. And a lot of my work is really focused on inclusion and bringing out the wisdom in the room, bringing out all voices. And I would say that some of this comes from, from my experiences as a kid who, and a geeky kid in the back of the library, not feeling included and really observing and thinking about who. Part of the group who has power and how do I change things? And then more recently, I, one of the things that I do is I run the Cal state east bay nonprofit management certificate program. Our students are a rainbow of people of all races and in teaching board development for the program, our students have asked me. Not just to share the problem of board composition, which we're gonna be talking about, but what are some paths to solutions? And that's what, that's, what started to motivate my work. And also then connected me with Christal actually.
Christal: And I'm Christal M Cherry. And I wanna say, as I started doing this work group, and then we encourage each other to, to share our race autobiographies. And that's something that we do in the work that we do with our boards. And as I started to really think about mine, I realized that there were many times when I was the only in many cases I was bused out as a small child. Out of the neighborhood that we lived in and I went to school were predominantly white children from elementary school, all the way to high school. So there were many times. When I was the only in the classroom and then graduated from high school and went to a predominantly white Jewish college Hoff street university in Long Island, New York and was part of a small program called the new college at Hoff street university. And I was the only one there. And then in many cases after graduation from college, I worked on teams. I remember I worked at the Bank of New York in New York City. And was only for a short period of time. They did eventually hire others. So I've always been the only in, in, in many instances and because of my personality, I'm a type, a personality, outgoing, not shy, not afraid. To enter groups and introduce myself, but there were still times where I felt like, ah, do I really belong here? Do they really get me? Do they really understand? What my lived experience is like I remember in college, my peers during the summertime were backpacking, of course, Europe and I was working at Macy's, so I couldn't afford the backpack. I didn't know anything about Europe. I was like, that's not part of my reality. So because I've always been the only. I think this work is about inclusion and belonging. Resonates with me. And particularly as we talk about boards, because I've been on boards, I've, I've sat in a room with boards and I know how uncomfortable it can be just for board members, periods that don't know each other. But then when you throw in race and culture and background then it gets weird. And if people don't get it, then people might not feel comfortable speaking up and you will find sometimes that people of color on boards are quiet because they're not sure whether or not their voices are gonna be heard. They feel like the only, and they're not sure whether or not it's okay to speak up. If what they're gonna say is gonna really be heard. And respected if, if, if they can weigh in it'll matter, all of those things. So that's why I got started in this work and in particular working with Renee. She's awesome. And, even though we're very different we have this thing in common and we have synergy and we respect one another and we work well together. So here we are.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. And you've named a couple different things there. This extra kind of challenge that hasn't happened, there hasn't been a lot of movement in terms of diversifying boards. Having them folks will recruit people, but not necessarily create a culture that really builds that inclusion. And I love how you talked about not just stating the problem. We, we, many. Many people have done lots of research around, around the problem, but love that you guys are working towards a solution. And, and just to name what it is, is really working towards helping nonprofit boards become more equitable and, and inclusive and create a culture of belonging. So what would you say are some common challenges? That nonprofit.
Renee: Carol. I just wanted to just appreciate what you just said, which was, you said equitable because sometimes we say we hear people when we start working with people, we hear them say, oh, you're trying to make boards more diverse. And I truly wanna call that out and say from everything, we know, and we've heard and all that without the pieces around culture and around Understanding how boards are connected and how all of us are connected to the larger inequities in our society. You're not gonna make much progress. So we do talk about inclusion and equity a lot too. Yeah. So thank you for that.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate it. I appreciate you calling that out. And I was reading recently and, and I'm sure others knew this way before me, but how the whole language around diversity came about was basically white or dominant entities wanting to avoid the whole conversation around race and wanting to call it something different. So I appreciate you calling that out. So what would you say are some common- I mean, I appreciate that you don't just name the problem, but let's just say, what are some of the common challenges the boards have in working to be more equitable and inclusive?
Renee: Well, we talk about knowledge gaps. So often things happen and then some people, and it is often the white people don't really understand what just happened. So very concretely, we had a board that brought us in and they had some contentious conversations. There were several women of color who left the board. And, and when they, when the organization reached out to us, they didn't say, this is what happened. They just said, well, we need some, we need some consulting. What do you say? You talk to us, you support us. And then as we got into our interviews and all of that, we started to learn. There had been some really hard conversations and, and interactions. And even after this happened, the people who were involved still didn't understand why this is that they never really went back to those people and said, Hey, is there something we could do to bring you back? You know? So it's just like this real lack of understanding. What had happened with these women, which, we, we didn't interview them ourselves, but we're guessing that they experienced this. We know that there was some aggressive behavior towards them. And certainly that there were most likely microaggressions that happened over time. And they truly just felt like I'm not being respected. I don't wanna do this anymore. Who would? And, and so, so, but, but from the perspective of some of the white people on the board, it was like, Oh, why can't we just talk this all out and not understand the larger dynamics Christal?
Christal: What do, what do you say? Yeah. And we received some resistance when we started talking about white supremacy culture and what that looks like. I remember the board chair pushing back and he was one of the main reasons why the women left because they went to him with their concerns and he threw them off. And it wasn't until we worked with him for a couple months that he really started to realize maybe his, how he was being complicit in this and that he was also a part of the reason why these women left. But it took a while for us and he did come around. But initially he was Kurt with them and dismissive. And so it's with this deep dive work where we really ask people to take a good long look at themselves and we have them do the race autobiographies. As I mentioned earlier, we do some race caucusing where we separate the board by race and Renee talks to the white people. And I talk to the black people, the people of color and and some really, really greeting conversations come out of that experience. And essentially what happens. What I've learned is that people of color are angry and white people are fearful. And so when we come back in the room, we've realized that, unless we start having these conversations where white people really can UN they're confused, they're fearful. They don't know what, what, what they, they don't know what to do. They don't know how to fix it. They, they, they feel shameful. They feel like we're trying to put them on blast and make them embarra. And, and they're like, I wasn't there, I'm not responsible for what happened. I wasn't there during slavery. And that's one of the things I tell people to disarm them. None of us were here were in slavery happened. Right. So, no one's pointing the finger at you and you and you, what we're just asking you to do is to own the history. And to accept the fact that because of what happened, some people live a certain way and some people don't, and that still has ramifications hundreds of years later. And while neither of us were there I still struggle with some of the disadvantages of what's happened to my people and maybe Renee. Some, some perks and bennies, some privileges that she got because of her background and because of the color of her skin. So we just wanna call people out and say, listen, we're not trying to make you feel bad individually. We just want you to see it and not ignore it anymore.
Carol: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate that. You mentioned something that you do with boards, a race autobiography. Can you say a little bit more about what that is and what comes out of that conversation?
Renee: Yeah. So we got this, this exercise originally from this, or organization called rise, where they teach about facilitating racially dust spaces and what it is is we, first of all, we, we give people some questions ahead of time. Think about when, when did you first notice race? When did you talk about race? How, how was it discussed in your family? So that they're thinking about ahead of time, then the two of us model this together, and it is active listening. So whatever I'm sharing Christal says, Christal doesn't say, oh my gosh, I can't believe that really happened. You know it, but it's actually just wow. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you opened up and, and shared that. And then Christal shares. Same active listening. And then we send people off into breakout rooms and let them for, three or four people talk and, and listen to one another in the same way and people just really love this. I think that it's so interesting. There are certainly statistics now about our society becoming. More segregated and that it's harder to have these conversations across honest conversations across race. And yet I do think that people are really interested in understanding the perspective of somebody who's different from themselves. And it really has deepened, deepened connection, deepened empathy. And that we believe is the way to start making progress in terms of breaking down all the other hard stuff that is happening, because like I care about this person. And so I want them, I care about the more I understand their story. And so I, now I want them to feel like they're part of this group and I want them to feel like we value what they are bringing because it's, it is needed in this setting.
Carol: Christal. I wanted to follow up on one of the things that you talked about. It's the different experiences that folks have based on racial background. And the shame that you talked about, a lot of white people are sitting in and then acting out of. And I think, white fragility has been well described, but I think that, that, that oftentimes I know when I. Myself and them working with other white people is that initial reaction is they're saying I did something bad and perhaps they did do something that was harmful that they need to own up to and, and take accountability for. But that shame can be so paralyzing.
Christal: Yeah. And so, you know what we've learned is, some white people, they don't wanna feel uncom. They don't, they don't want to feel that wiggly feeling when you're in the room and you're just like, something feels itchy on my back and you're just feeling uncomfortable. And so they opt out and so , so, which is what happened to us when we were working with a client in Montgomery, Alabama. We had a client where we were doing Renee and I were doing some deep DEI training with, and it was a large group and it started out with, I don't know, 32 people or something like that. And then at, by the end we realized the group had dwindled down and who was like blaringly? Absent were white men. We had, we had white women, we had black men, we had black women. But we looked around and we were like, we're the five or six white men that we started this training with. They just opt it out. They didn't wanna deal with it. They didn't wanna talk about it. He just didn't come. And, that board talked about having some accountability for them. you can't just not come because it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for all of us. But if we're really serious about trying to change our culture, then we all have to sit here and deal with this discomfort and they just opted out. And so I think that's why. people of color are so angry because white people wanna just opt out. They don't wanna teach their kids about it. They don't want their kids to feel uncomfortable. They don't wanna feel uncomfortable. And we are just saying, you have to look at it. You have to look at it in the face. You have to own it. And not own it. Like you, you are personally responsible, but own it, that this is just a reality of what's happened to. Yeah, I just,
Carol: I mean, definitely that, that white privilege of just being able to opt out and being able to say, oh, I'll worry about that tomorrow. And obviously it's not the experience of most people in the United States, so yeah, really appreciate that. And, and yeah, it's, I, it's just seeing that as an unfortunate dynamic. Yes.
Renee: I, I was gonna just add onto that, that, that many of us believe that our society is better when people of all races can thrive and really understand, like that's the vision. And so it's like, well, what needs to happen? In order to move towards that vision. And one of the great books on this is the sum of us by Heather McGee. And, and it's funny because we just did a webinar for the network for good. And we were talking about this and it was all about building belonging. Right. And we talked about it a lot in terms of race and how people of all races should feel like they belong. On a board and belonging is very specifically, I am part of the circle. And then someone, a colleague of mine just listened to this webinar and said, oh wow. This really applies to, to the people who feel left out to the white people who feel left out.
And I was like, yeah, that's exactly right. Because what this is saying is when we think about all the people in our society and everybody's feelings. There's a sense of belonging. You're thriving. It's actually good for everyone. Right? So that's the, I mean, that's the, I know that there's so much fear around this as if something is getting taken away and, and that's the, the white people's fear, but at the same time, it's like, well, what, what is the positive vision? And I, for myself and in this work and what we talk about, how do we keep holding that positive? And, and for, for, for ourselves, for our clients, for, for these boards, I I'm gonna, I could go on this longer ,
Christal: but our society perpetuates us and we have this capitalist society. We have this patriarchal society and this whole thing about if, if you gain, I lose. Right. It's not like we can both get there. I can't, I can't have it. Nice things. And you can have nice things, right. If I have nice things, that means that you are gonna have less nice things. And, and, and that's what that really is what the bottom line is, is that, we we're, it is this competition. I have to maintain power. I have to maintain influence. I'm the one that has the money and I'm pulling the strings. And if I give. The opportunity to pull the strings. That means I'm gonna have less power. And that's essentially what this book that some of us talk about, but that's really the root of what's going on with this whole diversity equity and inclusion thing. Boards have been historically white male, right? They have been the ones that have been making the, there's 64 million board members in this country. They have been the ones that have been calling the shots about how nonprofits have been operated, how the monies are being spent, decisions on what happens to black and brown children. What happens to women who are pregnant, what happens to, and all of the things that we know, all the missions, the causes are out there in a nonprofit space. These boards who have been historically white male have been the ones that have been making the decisions about what happens to millions of people. And now what we're saying is, Hey, wait a minute. The world doesn't look like it used to. And there are more brown people in the world than it's ever been. And how dare you make decisions? Hello? Does this sound familiar? How dare you make decisions about me without allowing me to weigh in on those decisions? And so now we're saying move over and let other people who actually come from the communities that you're working with, have a say in what happens to them and, and the white folks who have had that power saying. I don't wanna move over. I mean, I know, right? It's, it's politically correct to say you should have a, you should have a seat at the table, but I've always had the seat. I don't wanna make room for you. I don't wanna make room for you. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and so that's basically what's going on. And so people will come to us and say, yes, we wanna, we wanna change our culture, that we wanna change the composition and wrap up. But then as we start working with them, we realize when it really comes down to doing the real hard work. They may not, they may not really mean it.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like a lot of organizations and, and boards fall in the trap of the diversity piece. So if we wanna recruit people beyond white men or white men and white women to be on this board and they actually don't think about how it's gonna, how they need to shift in terms of their culture. And be more open. I'm a hundred percent with you, Renee on the, that's the vision of where we want to go. And I'm sometimes a little fearful that that can fall. That white people just wanna say, okay, let's get there. How do we do that? We're just all the same, like I don't see color pieces. So, so as a whole fan,
Renee: Oppos and we thank you for saying that, Carol, we, we each talk about this as this is, you're, you're on, we are gonna help. What we're gonna do with your board is unfreeze. Because, and by, by starting to deepen conversations around race, I, another thing that we wanna mention is like, everything, from research is you need to talk about race because if you do not talk about race, if you're not able to talk about race, then anyone who experience race experiences, race is those experiences are made in. And so it's not enough to say, oh, we serve diverse communities. I mean, you, you really need to be specific. And, and only by doing that, can you start to really pull out in equities in the society and do something about them? But you're right. It's like, do you want to do this work of building belonging and, and, very simple. Do you feel like people who are equity is defined as people who are closest to the problems should be weighing in on the solutions? It's either a yes or no. Either you believe that, or you don't, or you believe that someone else who's really far away somehow knows. What should happen, which sounds very, patronizing to me, but ,
Christal: Carol, while we focus primarily on race, I mean, we talk about diversity. We talk about all the isms. I mean, not only just color and, and background ethnicity, but able body versus disabled, right. cis straight white heterosexual against, people of color who are LGBTQ+ I right. You know? And so when we talk about diversity, we are just talking about difference. Right. Coming to the table, being different from what has normally been at the table. So Renee and I focused a lot on color and race and background and ethnic, background, but we are really talking about it all. So I don't want us to just be pigeonholed to talk specifically about race, which is our focus. And which we think is really, really, of course, obviously important. But when we start talking about belonging, we're talking about all those isms, right. And all those individuals who are historically left out to be at the table in the boardroom.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I just think it's a hundred percent in what you're saying, the language around belonging. Probably EV I would guess I could go out on a limb and guess that almost everybody has had an experience of feeling left out or feeling not like they didn't belong. They didn't feel included. And so being able to connect into that just as a, at a basic human level is really helpful. And I think starting with race, it's kind of, it's so deep in our history in terms of the US specific context, but I, but I think, I think there are folks around the world who actually listened to this podcast. And so I always make a point of saying, we're talking about this from a us perspective, but at the same time, I don't think it's a uniquely us problem either. So, what would you say are some first steps you've taken about some work that you've done with different clients? What are some first steps that boards can take in terms of becoming more inclusive?
Renee: So we, I mean, we, so again, one of them is deepening one's ability to talk about race. And that might mean Understanding who is on the board. One of the really other things is getting a sense of whether people feel, feel belonging. And I, I told this story, not, not long ago about, we had this conversation with this man named Carl, this white man named Carl. And we said, well, do the people on your board feel belonging? And he said, oh yeah, of course they do. Of course they, everybody feels so much belonging. And then I said, well, how do you know? And, and he was like, well, I don't know. I mean, I asked my three friends, and they all said that they feel belonging. Like, well, there's another 20 people on the board. Do you know anything about oh, no, but I'm sure they feel belonging, like, so, so, so what we do when we come in, we do some assessment that is interviews and a survey. And this, we're a cross race team. Sometimes people feel more comfortable talking to one or the other of us about what's going on. And we're listening and then we share everything back and it, and one of the principles is even if there's one person who has some information that person might be, might feel like, wow, this is, this is a super welcoming board if you're white, but I am, I am black. I'm a Latino, I'm Asian American. I don't feel welcome here. You gotta listen to every single voice and really understand what's going on. So first just getting a sense of what's happening.
Carol: Yeah, I think that, that, that Taking that step to really gather some good information, qualitative quantitative, and then mirroring that back to the organization so that they have that fuller sense. So it's not just the four people that I happen to be friends with on the board. Right. And talk to them on a regular basis. And so I think I know what everybody the, the, the bad phrase of, well, I think I'm speaking for everyone here. Well, no, you're. Whatever. Right. Even paying attention to who's speaking up in the meetings and who isn't who you are hearing from? And I think some people are, are pretty attuned to that and others just don't, don't notice it at all. And so that can be so helpful.
Christal: And Carol, I'm a big proponent of doing self work. Right? And so I always tell the board that before we could start collectively working as a group, you really need to do a selfie. You really need to take a selfie and, and look at yourself in the mirror. This is all part of that whole race, autobiography stuff. It's like really starting thinking about who you are and how you feel and where you fit in. Why do you feel the way you feel about others? How do you feel about yourself? Like where do, where do you fit in, in this whole thing as, so Renee and I, during our, our training, we will, we will show videos, we will encourage art reading articles and we, we copy chapters out of books. Right. And we send them to the board members and we ask them to read, and then we come back and we talk about those things. And so I think, doing your own self work so that you can look at your mirror yourself in the mirror and say, you know what I do have Biase. I do feel this way about this group of people. I have heard certain things and I believe that, and so really breaking that down to see where you stand in this space and then come back to, is that really how I wanna be? Is that really how I wanna navigate through this world? And maybe there are some stereotypes that I've bought into that are not. And so I think when we start to really take a really hardcore look about who we are and how we are behaving and how we may be contributing to what the perceptions are about groups if we can really get people to really see that and start breaking that down, I think that that is another next step. To come back together in, in the room as a group and saying, okay, I looked at myself, I've had the conversations. I'm ready to come and talk to you all about what's happening with me and then how we can work together as a group to maybe make some change.
Renee: I just, I just wanted to add, I mean, going on to that, that, that we model that ourselves, like as a, as a white person, I feel like I need to keep learning. I need to keep listening. I need to keep stepping back. I have my own communities of, of, places where I learn as a facilitator and trainer, and that are centering. By, black indigenous people of color in this work. And, and so that's really a suggestion that we make for, for the white people in the group too, is, yeah. We're gonna give you some resources and we're gonna share some, some great information, but there is, there is such a, there is often a lack of awareness about bias, about racism and, There's some real catching up that the white people in the group need to do. And, and so, we support them as much as we can, but this is where we do say, all right, we're gonna UN we're gonna unfreeze your group. Mm-hmm and you're gonna need to keep talking about this. And it is if we took 400 years to get to this. It's gonna take a long time to untangle this. Right.
Christal: And I always say, give yourself a little grace, there's no fixed endpoint to this work. Like I, as much as Renee and I talk about it and read about it and write about it, we're still learning. She's always sending me information. I'm like, oh my God, Renee. That was so good. That was good stuff, you know? And so give yourself some grace, it's gonna take a long time. You're not gonna be able to undo everything that you've learned in your 55 years in, in, in, in three hours. Right. And so give yourself some grace, but start. Start and keep and keep it moving. Right. And then we also talk about finding some champions, finding people who may be a little further along than you are. And I did a lot of that. I interviewed people on LinkedIn, like cold calling people who either wrote an article or blog, or I saw they did something amazing. And I was like, can we do a virtual coffee? Can I get, can I get your ear for 30 minutes? I just wanna learn a little bit about you and your experience and why you wrote that blog. And so find some champions and people who are actually doing the work, who may be a little further along than you. And see if you can get some perspective, Renee, you wanna add anything?
Renee: About that? Well, I will say that I think one of the unique features of this training that we do is this race caucus work because sometimes, I mean, so I lead the white caucus and this is, we come together. We say, we are. Sent we are, our goal is to build an anti-racist organization. And we are what is doing this and an organization where all people feel a sense of belonging, but we, what is, what, what do we, as white people need to work out in order to get to the place where we can come to the table with the rest of the group and. It was really interesting. I mean, people talk about can, can go through some of that shame and powerlessness without wasting the time of the BIPOC people in, in the group. So we, we, we did this with a group and then, we had the caucus meetings, we came back together and then one of the. people, people were looking at each other. The, it had been pretty emotional, some of these conversations. And so, one of the BIPOC men looked at the group and said, what'd you guys talk about? And we had this woman, we’ll call her Emily, she raised her hand. She said, I just, what we talked about was the, the, the shame and sadness that we are feeling about racism and about the impact of racism. And then this man in the bipo caucus said, well, that's what we talked about too. And it was really this, this amazing moment of like, okay, maybe we're not as different because we're, or, how do we, we can find these, these places to bridge what we're trying to, what we're trying to do. And not all problems were solved. But, we started to, to get to some understanding. What, what do you say, Christal?
Christal: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And, and when there's anger that comes out of it, we had a black male stand up and said, I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of trying to convince white people to wanna be on this board with me, you know? And if they don't want me here, I can go back to my community where I'm wanted and I can work on and on other things I don't have to be here. I'm tired of fighting. And, we applauded him for having the courage to stand up and, and really share how he, how he was really feeling. And we were all taken aback. But it was definitely a moment. And so we're glad that we are providing space for people to feel comfortable doing that. We round out our training after we do all of this work as we try to come together. If we can come together in person, we can cause a lot of the training is done virtually, but we try to end the training with all of us in the room. And it's really nice after having seen each other in these little boxes for all these months, Renee and I can actually shake hands with people and the first 10, 15 minutes of the training, we're just all sitting around kicking it. And it's just nice. We're just talking, getting to know each other. But we do do some more work and, and we end the training by inviting them to come up with some priorities and goals that they're gonna work on. ‘Cause our time with them is finite. Right? And so we wanna make sure that once we leave that their work continues. And so we realize sometimes it seems so overwhelming. There's so many things I didn't wanna work on, but we tell you to pick three things. Three things that you're gonna work on this year. And then each group comes up with what those things are. And then once we decide, they decide what they are, then we put some timeline and benchmarks and who's gonna do what to it, but we wanna leave them with a plan so that they continue to do the work past Renee and I.
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And I appreciate what you said about the caucus. And I feel like white people sometimes will be like, what, why will we do that? This is supposed to be diversity trading. And, but I really appreciate how it creates a space for right. The white folks work through that shame, have all those emotions and are not burdened. The people of color, not just waste their time, but also stress them out, from an emotional labor point of view of having to listen to all that. Like, no . And so I think one thing that I would say, Christal, you said you did a lot of reaching out to people who were one step ahead of you. And I would say for the white people listening. Try to find other white people are a little further ahead versus reaching out to the people of color that who are already like, have had it with telling white people about this stuff.
Christal: yeah. And what's interesting about my caucus is that I have people of color, so it's not just black people. So I, we have black people, we have Asians, we have Hispanics we have, and even in our group, we can't call people, people of color together and think that they even all. The same experience, cuz their experiences are all very different. And even in the group, you'll find that a lot of the black folks are speaking up, they're angry and then the Asian folks are quiet. Right. They're not saying even in the group where they're supposed to feel comfortable with all of us, cuz we're people of color, they still feel like it. So we have those conversations about why is it that black people always feel like they get all of the attention? Why are we adored? Why can't we ever talk? And so, and they're like, we just have been told our culture tells us to be quiet and stay, stay in the background, stay small, and then Latinos have their issues. So we have very interesting dialogue, even in the people of color caucus. It's very different.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean that, that black, white dot binary is certainly something embedded in our culture, in the US. And then we've lumped this enormous group of like the, the most people in the world into one group as if they all had common experience and they all come with different cultures. Different norms. And so, yeah, that's, that's for sure. Gonna, gonna come up. I would love it. You talked about modeling a couple different times and if you indulge me, I wonder if you guys might model the racial autobiography exercise that you do when you do the training. I wonder if you just would do that for a few minutes.
Renee: All right. Woo. You're putting us on the spot here. so, what I do is so interesting in terms of reflecting on what, on the conversations in race about race in my home as a white Jewish person. And what I noticed when I thought more about this is that we didn't talk about race and we never talked about race. It is rare. It was almost impolite to notice someone's race or to refer to it. So there was something bad about, bad about mentioning race. And, but the funny thing is I personally was so curious about different people's experiences, but there wasn't even really any space because it was sort of like it was the wrong thing to do. And the only thing that I and I feel so sad about is this. Talking about it. But the only thing that I remember was hearing about a black neighborhood as an unsafe place. And so that was all that, that was most of what I had in my, my mind, in my images. It was this fear and boundaries. And I mean, I've, I've done a lot of work over the last five years to shift all of these images, but they are powerful and yeah, I, I mean, that's, I guess I'll leave that here and,
Christal: well, thank you for Renee for having the courage to share your personal history and your personal story. We really appreciate hearing it.
Renee: You're welcome. What about you Christal?
Christal: Yeah. So I had quite the opposite experience in my family. And so race was talked about all the time. And I always share the story about me being a little kid playing on the, on the floor with my dolls and, and hearing my father and my uncles stand around the bar, having drinks, talking about the white. And the white man is not gonna let us do this. And the white man is gonna do this and the white man, he has his foot on our neck and the white man. And I remember as a little kid thinking, who is this white man? And why is he so mean and is he coming to our house? And so I grew up hearing that we should be fearful of white people. And there were times and instances where we would be out in public. And I bring up the instance where we were in the mall one time and we were about to go down the escalator and we got there first, me and my family, but a white family was coming and they got there maybe just a minute or two behind us. And I was just about to step onto the escalator. And my mom pulled me back and pulled me aside. To let the white family get on the escal first. And she said something like, oh, sorry, sorry, come on. Then she said to me, get outta the way. Come on. I can get outta the way. And I remember thinking to myself, Why couldn't we get on the escalator first? And why were we being a nuisance just by being present? The white folks didn't ask to get on first, but my mom felt like it was the right thing to do to push us outta their way to let them go on first. And so I was constantly being fed that white people were superior. And that we were inferior and that we should be fearful. And so I didn't even realize that. And then I was bused out of my neighborhood, which was the message that my neighborhood was not good enough. Right. And so I was constantly fed that black people were not the same as white people. And so I didn't even realize all of that Carol, until we started having these conversations that Renee and I are having about how much that was ingrained in me as a child. And so it has taken me a long time. For me to come around to my own feeling of self love and self acceptance and self-worth and particularly in doing this work.
Carol: Yeah, no, I appreciate you sharing.
Renee: Thank you so much. You appreciate so much your story
Carol: Then since I put you guys on the spot, I guess I'll have to reflect on my own. I mean, I think yes, mine has in common with Renee's that race was invisible to me. I grew up in very segregated areas here in the greater Washington DC area. And then my dad was in the foreign service, so we were overseas in Europe. So it was primarily European, although the country's demographics were changing as I was growing up in two different places. And so when I've had these conversations before, and it's been reflected back to me that the, the time that I noticed race was when there was a black kid in my class, in, in first grade. Right. And so that's when it was an awareness for me or when I was on the London tube and I first saw somebody with dreadlocks and he was like, what is that? And I was a kid, you know? And so I, I think, I think I had that experience of a lot of white people. Since I was part of the dominant culture and had so many boxes that checked off the privilege boxes that that race to me was pretty invisible and, and not, and not spoken about. And so yes, to have to unpack and UN I think we all are untangling all these messages, all these things that we've internalized and, and just need to keep doing that to, to, free ourselves from all of this as much as we can.
Christal: Wow. Well, thank you, Carol, for sharing that it's very brave. We appreciate you for sharing.
Carol: So you talked about some steps that, and obviously every organization's gonna have different steps that they're gonna be taking as they move along in this journey. What are some examples of success? I know Renee wants us to, to look on the brighter side and not just focus on the problem and think that there can be solutions and we can move in, in a direction of helping more people have a sense of belonging. What are some successes that you've seen?
Renee: We, we have gone through the process with a couple of organizations and got, again, we haven't solved all problems. Sure. No, but we have, we have worked with them too, to foster conversation and build a plan. And can, and and that they would continue the work going forward. And also we have gotten them to make connections between their work on the board and why this, why it matters to build belonging and talk about race. So, for example, we worked with an arts institution and we started talking about. Well, who needs to be served, who is served now? what, what, where is the organization located? Where are you creating events? And, and why does this matter in terms of even the future of your organization? Right? So it's like this isn't just about us in the room. It starts with us in the room, but it really radiates out. In terms of the future of your organization, if you're ever gonna survive, because it's like, are you only gonna be an organization that's gonna serve white people in this white neighborhood? Or are you gonna be something that belongs to the people of all races and get them to think about that. And so really deepening what is at stake here?
Christal: And Renee suggested that, because I think one of the issues that we found with that group was that the black people in the community felt like the museum was not located in their community. It wasn't, they didn't have access to it. And so we talked about maybe having a pop-up exhibit and taking the exhibit to them, to their community, maybe in their community center, maybe at their library, maybe in a place where they can walk to it, as opposed to having to take three buses and two. To get to it. And I know that that is something that has been considered. So we're praying and hopeful that they will take some of the things that we said into consideration and maybe try to reach across the lines and, and give access to the artwork. And, and, and also, there weren't many pieces of artwork in that museum that represented those communities. Right. And so Renee and I actually pulled out one of them and had them talk about it. And, while it was that one, I actually went and visited that museum and that piece of artwork, which was absolutely beautiful. It's on the back wall behind like four or five different walls. You gotta walk in and out. You have to walk in and out of the, and then on the very back wall, that one piece of artwork representing a, a, a church scene of people of color. But if you don't make it to that back wall, if you cut your visit short and you decide you're gonna go get some ice cream or something and, and not make it to that back wall, you're gonna miss that piece. Mm-hmm . And so why is that piece on the back wall? Right. And so all of these things, , all of these things are things that we, we, we, we brought to their attention and so practically they've moved that piece and we'll, we'll see what. And
Carol: Those looking for those glimmers of hope. And I think it's, it's taking away those blinders. So, I talked about how, for me, it was so invisible and now, I can't look anywhere without seeing the implications. And. and I think also just like everyone has biases, it's built into the way our brains work. So the shame that people have about those, yes, those are the stories you were told. Those are the stereotypes that are in the culture, but how can you start, questioning those, thinking about it differently. And it's still in the stem, right? The way back to a part of our brain that's always just looking for. Foe or friend the foe or friend. And we have to have all those shortcuts or we wouldn't be able to manage in the day, but then it's like slowing down, taking the time, questioning, like taking a pause saying, Ooh, no, that's not how I wanna show up. How can I do it differently? Moving forward? Mm-hmm .
Renee: Absolutely. Oops. I wanted to mention Reesma Menakem and who we just really love his work and a black man who talks about black bodies and white bodies and what we're carrying around in our bodies in terms of love and fear and hate and all of this, because this is very much, sadly, and, and men, other people have done work in. Also, it can be very much on an emotional level. And that's where, again, we're, we're trying to foster these conversations across race to try to get people to rewire a little bit, because this is not just intellectual work.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. Christal, any, any final thoughts? And then I'm gonna shift gears a little bit.
Christal: No, I just wanna encourage those, those organizations whose boards have not really thought about this, or have not delved into this work to really just begin, it, you have to. Start, what do we say? A journey of a thousand steps begins with just one small step. So you have to just start, and if you're not sure where to start, you could certainly reach out to Renee and I, but find someone who could help facilitate the conversations because it needs to happen and it's no longer an option. The world looks different than it did a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, 10 years ago. Right. And so it's time. It's time for you to, to, to do the work. And Renee and I are certainly here to help. If, if you need us.
Carol: Yeah. There is definitely magic in getting started. Well, like I said, I will shift gears a little bit. At the end of every episode, I play a game with folks where I ask them a random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box of icebreakers. So I'm gonna ask you both the same question: who had the most influence on you growing up since we talked about growing up.
Renee: Well, I can, I probably can start. I was part of a Jewish youth group. It was actually called Hannah Szenes. And so Hannah Szenes was a paratrooper who was also a writer who died in the second world war. And I just really appreciated her writing her thoughts. Community and connection and the challenge of, of all of that and, and her desire for a better world, a better and more just world. So if someone just, comes to mind at the, at this moment,
Christal: Yeah. And what immediately came to mind to me was my dad. He just while he's deceased now, but, and and certainly while he was not perfect, he had a high moral compass and he just really just taught us the difference between right and wrong. We used to say there's a right way to do things and there's a wrong way to do things. We laughed at my sisters and I laughed about that today. Cuz we, we always say, people don't care, we're always the ones trying to do the right thing and other people don't care, but he was just a, a man who believed in hard work. He believed that, if you, if you worked hard, you, you, you got, you got success. And if you're treating people right, then even if they don't treat you right. If you treat people right, then you're doing the right thing. And so I think that's probably stuck with me the most. I can always hear his voice in my head. And so that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do the right thing,
Carol: Carol. Excellent. Excellent. I'm trying to do the right thing each day, too. So what are you guys excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work you're doing?
Christal: we gotta talk. We were in the middle of trying to write this book. All right. Well, not even in the middle. We're at the beginning.
Renee: We have been interviewing people about this and we have our own work and we have some, a framework that we have created about this work. So we're really trying to write it down. So, yeah. So we're writing a book. We still are offering the training for boards. We'd love to hear from people who are interested and, and yeah.
Carol: Yeah. That's exciting. Well, let us know when the book comes out and we can add something to the show notes and we'll, we'll put links to your bios and the links that you've talked about and how to get in touch with you. All of that'll be in the show notes. So, but appreciate both of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing.
Christal: Thank you. Yeah. Thanks for that invite. Yes, we appreciate you as well.
Carol: I appreciated Christal’s point that we need to give ourselves and each other grace when engaging in these difficult conversations. It took us 4-500 years to get where we are and we are not going to dismantle these systems and ways of thinking overnight. Yet this also doesn’t let folks off the hook- especially white people – from continuing to examine themselves, their thinking and how they show. And to keep stepping into growth and learning. And for white people to reach out to other white people who are a little further ahead of them on their equity journey rather than defaulting to reaching out to people of color in their network. That is part of doing your own homework as a white person. I was also struck by the differences in each of our racial autobiographies. Of how within white families – Renee and mine – there was little or no conversation about race and how in many, but not all ways, it was invisible. And for Christal the experience was the opposite. It was a topic of conversation frequently. And in both Renee and Christal’s story there was an element of being taught to fear the other. So it is an uncomfortable conversation – especially if you are white and you are not used to talking about race. Or even if you were taught it is impolite to talk about or a taboo subject. Christal’s observation that white people come into the conversation with fear and people of color with anger – strong emotions to handle and uncomfortable emotions to have in the workplace. As a fellow white person, I invite white people to step in and manage their fear and be in the conversation, knowing that you will make mistakes and screw things up. For people of color I appreciate the grace, generosity and patience I have observed over the years – all in many ways probably undeserved.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Renee and Christal, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
This episode is the final part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis discuss:
Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis is a senior leader with over 17 years of broad-ranging experience in program management, advocacy, and community outreach. She has a passion for public engagement in STEM, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a groundbreaking healthcare and STEM pipeline program for West Baltimore youth. Dr. Grier McGinnis is a Baltimore, Maryland native where she still resides with her family. She enjoys exploring urban green spaces and volunteering to promote mental health awareness.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis. This is the last of the series of interviews I did in collaboration with my son-in-law Peter Cruz as part of our culture fit podcast project.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Gia, Peter and I talk about the challenges young people of color face in seeing themselves in STEM fields given how historically – and currently – white male dominated the fields tend to be, how she found role models and mentors and has played that role for other, and how she sees the impacts of health disparities play out front and center in the work she does and how the news of police brutality impacts her students.
It has taken me a little while to get all these interviews for the culture fit project out so our conversation is from last year so some of the events we reference in terms of where we were in the pandemic reflect that.
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
Peter Cruz: Welcome to Culture Fit, the podcast where we do our best to answer your diversity, equity, and inclusion questions that will help you navigate the professional landscape, especially when you are not a culture fit. I am Peter Cruz.
Carol: And I’m Carol Hamilton.
Peter: How are you doing?
Carol: I am doing well, managed to run and grab a little bite for lunch. So that was good.
Peter: Yeah. It's needed. I think the only thing that I've been snacking on are these foods that are good for health. White cheddar puffs. They're like healthy healthy Cheetos Cheeto puffs. Those are the only things like since the heart attack and stroke that I can snack on.
Carol: My favorite has been dried mango. We are now buying in bulk from Costco.
Peter: So now that we've got the snack plugs out of the way, this week we have Gia Grier McGinnis. How are you doing here?
Gia Grier McGinnis: Great.
Peter: Great. For our listeners, can you provide us some context on your professional background, who you are, where you from?
Gia: So from Baltimore city originally, I've had two overarching themes to my career. One is that like public and community engagement, the other is always with health science or the environment. And sometimes those two things have play together and sometimes I've done them separately on the. Right now, I'm the executive director of a program called CURE Scholars at the university of Maryland Baltimore system and healthcare pipeline program for west Baltimore, middle and high school youth. I'm also really into mental health advocacy right now. I'm on the board of NAMI, Maryland. And I know Carol, from my days on the Baltimore GreenMap board, which is about giving access to young people in the community to green spaces around Baltimore.
Peter: Could you speak a little bit about this? The fellowship program that you work with. Could you elaborate a little more on that?
Gia: So CURE scholars started back in 2015 and really the idea is we're trying to generate the next generation of STEM and healthcare leaders for the society to work on health disputes. We actually recruit youth at sixth grade level and we stay with those youth all the way through high school. It's a multi-year program. They're all recruited from the same three west Baltimore middle schools. Very close to the University Maryland at Baltimore's campus which is intended to be good neighbors to the west Baltimore community. And we both provide them with STEM activities year round, but we also have a social work team that helps them with social emotional support and with any barriers that the families might have anything from food insecurity to unemployment. We consider ourselves a wraparound program.
Peter: Great. And, and this is more for, I guess, exposure or would this lead into like, I guess, internships in the future?
Gia: Certainly. At the early grades, a lot of it's about exposure. They do like STEM labs and three science areas. But as they get older we partner with Youth Works, which is Baltimore city summer jobs program. We actually serve as an employment site. For their summer, they do get paid to do their STEM work with us. Once they hit high school level we also have a team that works on college career readiness. The goal is to actually walk them into competitive STEM majors on college campuses, or for those that maybe don't feel like college is for them to explore careers that may require maybe two year degrees with something more technical.
Peter: And, and for that being that STEM is, and I think we've all experienced this like as, as women or people of color. But STEM is a very white male dominated space. What are, what do you feel like are some key areas that you yourself or the program and the fellowship Tried to address and I'm like holding on for, I guess, the code switching, the amount of code switching that might, may need to be done or, or simulation at a fairly young age.
Gia: Yeah. I mean, so really what we're trying to do is, get them to see themselves as scientists. Like you are a person of color. You can be a scientist and it's amazing how many scholars will expose them to say a dentist or expose them to say a psychiatrist. I didn't know, black people could be like, like it's tough. It's like, of course, but to them, it's like, oh, okay. Right. That's a career I could have too. And it, it really actually works as a spark, like. A role model that looks like them, which is what we try to do in the program, is exposed to career professionals and they go, okay, like maybe I'll be a genius or maybe I'll be a nurse. Because I see that the other thing we started doing this year is we did a whole week last week on mental health. Trying to get them to learn about self care, trying to get them to learn about, breaking the stigmas on. Like, you can take care of yourself. You can understand that as a person of color, you're carrying a lot of stress. we had yoga sessions. We had a speaker come and talk about black male wellness. We then had a separate session for ladies. really trying to get them to understand. Yeah, stem fields will be stressful. And how do you prepare yourself? You can't change others a lot of the time, but how do you help yourself cope and how do you navigate life in general against stresses that come at you?
Peter: Yeah. Cause those are things that we're all kind of, and it'd be like don't escape those things, right. Like what have you learned from working in this, in this field and doing, like, even facilitating or coordinating these types of things, whatever you learned insofar as your own professional experience. And I mean, I could only assume having to assimilate or coats, which are under like, cause. discovering new things and new perspectives as we become more of a progressive society. Yeah. what are some like new things that are tricks of the trade, but you have even. Oh, like, I have a hot moment, like, oh, wow. I've been doing this my whole life where I probably shouldn't have.
Gia: Yeah. it was interesting. like I said, I grew up in Baltimore city and I always just had a natural interest in the environment and nature before I had a label for those things. And eventually I go off to college and it's Predominantly White Institution and in the environmental studies major, I am the only black woman in all of my classes. And I don't say it was like a bro culture. It wasn't, I mean, it wasn't, it was just, it was a small liberal arts college. it was very, everyone's very chill and Hey, white, white, white very small. And it was a huge culture shock right. Coming from Baltimore city, going to what was on the Eastern shore, Maryland. A small way. But it was like, the black community on that campus did the whole, well, white kids sitting together at the cafeteria, we sat together and stayed together socially and so very early, you learn like, all right, you need support systems. like, every once in a while you see a person of color. Be by themselves. And it's like, eventually they drift to the car. It's like, yes. Right, right. You need, you need us, we need each other. we, that was something very early. It's like, find, find your people both intellectually, but also culturally if you need to. And then as I move through life, I think the environmental fields become a little bit more diverse than they used to be. Well, all that tiny bit, like ma'am, there are more campuses that have the major and things like that. And people talk more about climate change and things like that. But yeah, I mean, when I graduated from that university, I was the only black graduate in that major. But what I noticed was right behind me was another black female. Like she declared like right, right in the class behind me and. That was great to see. Right. So if one person does it right. Okay. It's cool. If one person does it, like, okay, maybe I can do it now. And so in subsequent years, they're a little bit more people going through that program.
Peter: Do you feel like, as you reflect on that time being that you were the first and only. Is it a burden to be that type of a role model? Like, did you feel like you were a role model, even though you were in your mid, late, early?
Gia: Actually I didn’t. And I think that's, you don't really, you're not thinking about it. You're thinking about your own experience. You're not thinking about like younger classmates or and I just moved in spaces that I wanted to, like, I was very active on that campus. I was in student government. Again, like one of the few ran people and that, I just, I did whatever I wanted to. I studied abroad. I did all these things and other students were like, oh, don't, you just want to be black student union. It's like, I want to do everything like I do all the things. But no, I never really saw myself as like chili then or anything like that.
Peter: And when you shifted from guess university to then the professional landscape, like did your college experience in like defaulting and trying to find and establish support systems being that you go into the professional landscape and that it may not necessarily be the case, especially if you look a certain way.
Gia: it's interesting. , I graduated from undergrad and then I went to Washington DC for an AmeriCorps year. it did, they now call it, they call it a gap year now I don't know what to do. I'm going to do it. AmeriCorps is what I called it. And I did, I was working for an environmental health children's mental health network and there was a black female. She's now the ED, but a black female in that office. Again, a role model for me. I call her every once in a while when I'm stuck. But what happened was that the program was really keyed into environmental justice. I actually found by the environmental justice community in DC there is a great community organizer named Diamond Smith. He was really active in South African divestment,but had started this black peace and justice group in DC. So I was doing it. And by miracle work with the children's grandmother, not that work doing environmental justice work, but al doing this peace and justice work with this really incredible leader. I found it. My community of organizers and people that were really committed to inclusion and really loved it. That was a year where I was just like soaking in all sorts of social justice, overwhelmed with it. And it was that time. And I remember it was like the occupation they're all these, like, this is kinda like early two thousands and like DCU is exploding with all the anti occupation stuff. I was like, knee-deep in that. And then over here, I was knee-deep in environmental justice and health stuff. We're kids. And it was like an overload of social justice. And it was a wonderful, wonderful year. But then I was like, I want to go back to school. then I went back and That's a university culture for a couple more years.
Peter: And in that time, did you feel like the university culture had changed at all?
Gia: this time I went off to a totally different campus. University of Michigan. Big huge school. But within that, I was in the natural, natural resources school, which again, had a very small community of people of color in the environmental justice program they had there. And again, like, Here's community again, right this time, our environmental justice group that we're doing like work in Detroit and Dearborn and our mentors kind of, teaching their classes. And so again like predominantly white culture, but finding this group of people that really cared about environmental justice and, and really, thinking in and, and finding a home.
Peter: from your having a lot of experience of being one of few, what are some things that you tried to instill in the CURE fellowship or scholarship fellowship?
Gia: The scholars. And out of school time program, it's also considered a, what they call pipeline program. it's walking the youth progressively into a career field. But yeah, I mean, it's all about raising confidence, giving them platforms to lead, giving them platforms to present to others. one of the activities they do at the end of the year, say. Then called the SIM expo, where they get to present to their family and their community about a science topic they've picked and worked on in spring semester. this is like their time to like, stand up and introduce themselves like when you go to poster sessions at conferences and you could just see like the ones that maybe start out in the beginning of the year, super shy by the time they hit the expert or like, saying their names, shaking hands, eye contact. They stand up a little taller, which, again, like you need to develop that confidence to be able to navigate what's going to come next. a lot of it's about wrapping around them and saying, okay, you can do this. And you're just as smart as any other kid out here.
Carol: Yeah. And I was talking to someone this morning who described those public speaking skills and all the things you're talking about, this. It's really leadership skills.
Peter: And also for, because so far we've been talking about like from the leadership, if you have control over a certain environment, which more often than not, we do not, but if you do. Establishing an environment where these young people, cause yes, they are building up these like hard skills throughout this process, but the soft skills that they're also and needs that they're being that are being addressed are acknowledgement and recognition, which are like the most vital things to not feel excluded.
Carol: Yeah. I heard you just continue to come back to the notion of finding, finding community. As a, as a safe space and a place to, I dunno, hang out, be yourself, not worried that not, be on as a place to rejuvenate that whole importance of wellness. And how do you build those skills and practices that you can keep, keep on keeping on.
Peter: For those young people as that warm handoff like they transition and progressed through the full, through the program is what is alumni engagement? Cause I think like, being a part, when you're a college student being a part of a fraternity sorority, or a club, like you like to go back to those people when you need to do that type of thing exist or, or is in the process of being.
Gia: what's interesting with this is because the program's only five years old, our oldest scholars are juniors and we were literally building the program as we go. And we'll have our first graduates next year, which is super exciting. And we're already thinking ahead, like, okay, they're going to be first year students on college campuses. What can we be doing? How can we get some of them, the thread back and maybe do near peer mentoring with the ones coming behind them because they would be the best mentors the program has eventually as they get older. And so we're definitely starting to think about that. As we look to our first graduates,
Peter: That's exciting to make it. Like, I can't wait. Like I'm sure they are as equally as excited about the prospect of the world opening back up so that they could stop mething very large-scale
Gia: like that it's been hard, you, like the, the scholars you don't want line learning has been tough. I definitely think, yeah, next year. Looking forward to seeing them in person.
Peter: we've been talking for a minute. I only have another one question. Carol, do you happen to have any additional questions or can I ask the classic Peter question?
Carol: I guess I was just thinking that, that this year, even though I obviously, for the program for everyone, it's been a bit of a tough year. And at the same time, it puts all of those issues that you've been working on front and center in terms of disparities, in terms of health equity, or lack of equity. Even right now, as we're looking at the vaccine, roll out how that's not happening in, in an equitable way in Maryland. I was wondering how you're using what's going on right now to work with students and have conversations about it?
Gia: Absolutely. We both provide them a little bit of clear information about COVID as it's a science program. Of course let's learn about neurology. But also, some of them have had COVID. Some of the families have had COVID. I had COVID so just also sometimes, we'll get family calls that say, We have COVID and okay, well here's here resources that the university has. Like, here's how I'm, here are things you can do. And so we've definitely had it hit home for people, but also trying to use it as a teachable moment for science and stem. it is a great time for public health right now. But yeah we've also had, Things with the pandemic just affect families, economically, just unemployment. our social work team helped develop an emergency fund. we have this fun that parents can tap if they need emergency electrical assistance or help someone buy an oven the other a couple months ago. whatever we can do, and of course it was all a very quick pivot, right? we're, everything was a pivot, The pandemic hit and just all of a sudden we had all these new issues and al exacerbated issues amongst our network. And we really had to think about, okay, how do we continue to Pratt support virtually safely? getting people resources. yeah, it's been a really challenging year and then I'm looking forward to the herd immunity or the vaccine distribution pushing out.
Peter: Well, I'm about what we're first firstly, glad that you're doing well. I think the last question that we have is having experienced what you've had in the entire tidy of 2020. Also actually let me ask this question first. We, we address the pandemic, but In regards to the social unrest resurgence of black lives matter that impacted the young people that you serve and also you as a person.
Gia: Yeah. first of all, say this community was deeply impacted by. 2015, it's the protests in Baltimore that went through west Baltimore, it's almost like Freddie Gray all over again for these communities. And our scholars, they read the news. They're very up to speed on what's happening. Some of them express concerns for their own safety of traveling out in space as a person of color because they saw what was happening on the news and they're just like, should I even be going outside now? We brought in a speaker for them, so we could talk through after George , we did a social justice town hall around that, just to get them to talk about that and unpack that. But absolutely these young people are very aware about what's happening around them and their place in the world. And what does that mean for them and trying to figure that out.
Peter: Yeah. Cause it's like, it's one of those things where of course they can see the positive and then you get like, oh, I could potentially replicate that. But that's through my own, I guess, effort and like sticktoitiveness, but things like Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, like those things can just happen without my knowledge. But also I could see myself with them as well. now then that transitioned, like, because you're building, we are building these habits as a society. Also your program, your. What are some things that you are looking forward to in the near future or, 2021 and beyond in regards to the program, societally, how the mental health of these young people.
Gia: Definitely looking forward to the end of the pandemic, but also through all the struggles of the pandemic, we've actually done some things that are a little innovative, like things that we never would have normally done had it not been for the pandemic. certain types of programming that we've never done before. All the things we're doing online are pretty neat. And so there's also this sense of, Do we go right back to the way we were or do we hybridize and go, actually that was pretty cool. What we did there, there and there. I also look forward to thinking more about, okay, what does crew styles look like with our curriculum post pandemic? Like, we used to have monsters. Huge events like with hundreds of people. are we still doing that? do we, do we figure out a different way to solve it or maybe we can do that, you know? I think it's actually exciting like this whole year of like, do you ever think differently? I think it has opened the door to be like, okay, maybe moving forward, we do do some things differently. it's actually pretty exciting.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, yeah, there's, we're at this intersection of like potential and like having been through so much. it's like, it's very exciting to actually like, be in the midst of history, if that makes sense. But yeah You don't want to hold up more of your time, I think. thank you so much for joining us. We truly appreciate it. And maybe we'll have you on after the graduation and see how that
Gia: oh, absolutely.
Carol: Well, thank you so much and thank you for all the work you've done.
Peter: Again, thank you to Gia. That was a great conversation and a lot of great insight on her work and her as a person and the journey that she's been on. I think some of the things that really stood out to me is the importance, like you mentioned, of community Wherever you go. It's important to have that support system and knowing that there are people who are going through the same journey as you who have the same concerns is always comforting in a very real way. When you go into professional spaces that you are truly the minority, she's another person who is one and only that it is very intimidating and scary. Kind of, for me at a younger age, I would probably avoid those spaces. Yeah, so, the importance of community and being recognized and acknowledged as a person, as a being, as, as someone who is different, because I think most spaces want to be like, oh, we're all family here. It's like, nah, we're all different. And that's okay.
Carol: Yeah. And I think when we pulled together our tagline. Podcasts and, and name. And when I was listening to that again, I'm thinking, oh God, I hope people don't think that we're kind of, advocating that people have to, be a culture fit or have to assimilate or have to take on these attributes. It's more a recognition that that's the reality. And a lot of people are navigating and Yeah. just that, that just acknowledging that reality. And how people have to manage those to survive and thrive.
Peter: It’s really like a spotlight on the struggle that we all go through. The mental gymnastics that we all have to play as someone who. Isn't part of the majority. And I think as we go and have more conversations, different people will have a couple of episodes where it's just us and talking about our experience and juggling all that. Yeah, the importance to, for stem exposure. And we're doing the importance for, I guess, The emotional and, and mental baggage that we have. Like we're exposing everyone to that. These are all very real things. And what you're going through is also just as real.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. In that support of a, of a group of folks going through it together to make it just a little bit easier.
Peter: Sure. All right. So. For us please send those over to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will see you at, yeah, we'll see you when we see you.
Carol: Thanks for listening. Bye bye.
Peter and Carol: Bye.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Gia, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
This episode is part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Damary Bonilla discuss:
Dr. Damary M. Bonilla-Rodriguez is a national leading authority on leadership development, especially as it pertains to diversity and inclusion. She delivers keynote addresses and presentations drawing upon her experience from roles in the non-profit, private, and government sectors, as well as her doctoral research. Her research about Latina leadership in the United States has served as the foundation for events, conference sessions, publications, and content development - to address the urgency of leadership development for a fast-growing population and create a pipeline of diverse leaders.
Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Social Work from the College of New Rochelle where she received the College President’s Medal, graduated with Departmental Honors, and was awarded the Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Award. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Organizational Communications and a Specialized Certification in Corporate Communications, both from the College of New Rochelle. Personal endeavors of overcoming statistics and accessing higher education, led her to earn a Doctorate in Education focusing on Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College.
To change the political and leadership landscape for Latinos, Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez ran for State Representative in the 189th District of Pennsylvania in the 2016 election cycle where she became the 1st Hispanic to make a State ballot in Pike and Monroe Counties. In November 2019, she became the 1st Hispanic elected as School Board Director in the East Stroudsburg Area School District where she Chairs the Education and Negotiation committees. Passionate about supporting professional organizations, she is a Board Member of the Brodhead Watershed Association where she Chairs the Membership committee, Colonial IU 20 where she serves as Vice President, Prospanica NY where she serves as Vice President of Professional Development, Latina VIDA, Latinas on the Plaza and an Advisory Board member for several organizations including: The Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs, Monroe County Children and Youth where she leads the Education committee, SciGirls, and the Alliance for Positive Youth Development. In addition, she was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf to represent the Poconos Region on statewide commissions on Redistricting Reform and Latino affairs (GACLA) where she Chairs the Education committee.
Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez was recognized as a 2014 Coors Light Lideres finalist and the recipient of numerous awards including a proclamation from the NYS Assembly, the Proud to Be Latina Soy Poderosa award, and the SISGI Beyond Good Ideas Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership award. Her published written accomplishments include the books Ethics, Gender, and Leadership in the Workplace and Today’s Inspired Latina (Volume II), as well as contributing to the Huffington Post and being featured by several media outlets including NBC Latino, Chief Writing Wolf, and the Empowered Latinas series.
While, she is proud of her many accomplishments, she highlights her greatest as being the mother of eleven-year-old twin boys, Caleb and Joshua. She resides in Pennsylvania with her boys and husband Robert. Her favorite quote is: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” (Newton).
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez. This is one more in the Culture Fit series I did with Peter Cruz. Damary, Peter and I talk about the interconnections between having to code switch and imposter syndrome, the pressure of being “the only,” and her hopes for the upcoming generations. Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Peter Cruz: This week we have Damary. Hey Damary. How are you?
Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez: Hey, Peter. I'm good. How are you?
Peter: I’m doing well. For our listeners, could you just share with us some tidbits about your professional background and who you are?
Damary: Sure. So my background is I am a Hispanic woman born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York. I've lived in the Poconos for the past 14 years. I'm the director of the leaders of color New York program, which is focused on building a bench of black and brown leaders in New York. I serve on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's commission on Latino affairs representing the Poconos region as well as served on his redistricting reform commission. And I say that my most important job is being the mother of 11 year old twin boys.
Peter: That's incredible. As an expecting parent myself, that seems challenging.
Damary: Congratulations. It is challenging.
Peter: But in regards to your professional side of it when you were working with. Leaders of color who are trying to enter or establish their positions in, in, in mostly white dominated spaces. Just to jump us off, like what pressures do you see that exist to either code switch or similar, remove aspects of themselves just to like, I guess be taken seriously.
Damary: Your, so a topic related to leadership that is emerging for women and for leaders of color more now than, since it had been coined in the 1970s as the imposter syndrome. And this week, I've talked about it several times because women and leaders of color struggled to. I have the opportunity sometimes to achieve a formal title and position in society to climb the ladder of success, to penetrate the political sector. And once they do get there to really be able to maintain the status, if you will, because there are expectations that. You should speak a certain way or behave a certain way. Sometimes even dress a certain way. Right? For the women, we talk about things like, is it okay to wear hoops in the workplace and be still considered professional? For those of us that are bilingual, is it okay to use a little bit of Spanish or Spanglish? I was raised in New York City and we speak Spanglish. That's another language. And so just being able to understand where. And if you have to shut off some aspects of yourself, which then does not allow you to be your authentic self is a challenge in itself. Right. And then when you do get a seat at the table, how are you able to gain and maintain the respect of your colleagues, particularly individuals that may not be as qualified as you, but based on privilege, are at the table and absolutely feel like they belong. So the conversation around the imposter syndrome is you, you internalize those concepts and those notions that are just throughout society and or not, when you're able to leave those aside and push through what. Like you don't belong at this table or there's no room for you, then you're able to really show up as your authentic self and challenge the status quo. But that's a day-to-day struggle.
Carol: So often I feel like I mean sometimes, and certainly more nowadays they're, they're direct messages that are very clear and explicit about you don't belong, but I feel like a lot of times it's, it's much, it's more subtle, and oftentimes for the four people who are in the dominant culture who are white, who are white men, unfortunately, men that may not even realize that they're taking up as much space as they are taking up, or, assuming competence on the part of other colleagues that look like them or themselves in this.
Damary: Absolutely. The implicit bias in the professional setting is probably the greatest influencer of the environment of whether or not somebody feels like they fit in based on their gender, their sexual orientation, their their age, their race or ethnicity. And you're right. Sometimes people don't even realize because they have biases where everybody looks like them and talks like them. And here comes this individual that doesn't fit what they are used to. And sometimes they just don't know how to react. And I've heard comments from older white males at the same tables, as I am saying, things like you speak out of turn or your tone will not be tolerable. Sometimes I am seen as - and this goes for women leaders and then also people of color sometimes, and often, mostly women of color who are leaders, where you hear things like you're aggressive, or, you are abrasive or, you're, I've been called unprofessional. You're unprofessional because you speak up and you speak. But for me, it's conviction and leadership. You asked me about working with leaders of color and as a leader for leaders of color, I feel like it's my responsibility and I have to speak up and speak out. Otherwise what's the point of being at any given table?
Carol: You say you've been labeled aggressive and, studies have shown that, that same behavior, whatever people were perceiving of, how you were showing. That same behavior on the part of, of a white man would be labeled as assertive or leader, so the exact same way of being the way of showing up, it's just perceived and so different a way, depending on what your social identity.
Damary: Right. And that brings me back to the conversation about code switching, that we were starting to have around leaders of color, particularly when you're trying to fit in, you see yourself in a position to either compromise your identity in terms of not speaking about certain aspects of your life. We see that I'm not when it comes to the LGBTQ plus population, but then also in terms of shifting, if you're in certain places and spaces, You might try to adapt the way you speak, use words that you think will be more acceptable in that space versus when you are with family and friends and individuals that you feel comfortable with. Myself being in academia. Oftentimes I use layman's terms because that's how I best communicate with everyone at every level. But when I'm in the academic spaces, individuals are using big words. I know the big word. I know the meaning of the big words, but I choose not to use them because I'm a communicator and it's more important for me to be able to connect with all individuals at any level, whether they have access to formal education or not. So code switching and fitting in is really about making choices around how much of yourself are you willing to compromise in any given space or, or moment?
Peter: Yeah, and the thing that I wanted to just touch on briefly was just that. This is a thing that is universal regardless, because there are a number of people who are shifting careers or moving to different cities where, maybe if I move to a more progressive city, this probably won't be an issue. Or like, trying to escape it because it's, but the thing is that it's unavoidable in, in your experience, moving from a bigger city to the Poconos, being there for an extended period of time, like. What is that labor-intensive and trying to, I guess, use this for an Eichler, was it, I mean, cause that's the assumption.
Damary: It is labor-intensive Peter. It wasn't, it is. And, and it will be because these are the systemic issues that we talk about. So you're right. Regardless of where you are. There are geographic perceptions. So have you moved from the north to the south? There are certain expectations that individuals in the south have that somebody from the north may not be able to, to live up to. Right. So regardless of where you go, you have to realize that there are cultures within communities. There are people who have lived in certain areas for many years. So some of the issues that I have had to grapple within our community and I've been here 14 years are. Everything from speaking with an accent, which people don't realize, right. It's my New Yorker’s accent. And so I've been asked about, you know the way that I speak, where my from et cetera being labeled a transplant and, and not fully being. The white individuals who have been here for generations, who to me have a lot of wisdom to share in terms of the economy of the community in terms of the educational system and other systems that I want to be part of. And I want to help, and I've traveled the country. So I have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that now is starting to support our community. As I'm leading the diversity, equity and inclusion. For our school district. And so on, in December of 2019, I was sworn in as the first Hispanic elected to the east Stroudsburg area school district school board. And as the first, thank you as the first and as the only, you often have to educate people along the way about what it's like to be you about, what are the issues that are unique to people like you, in this case, students, educators, community partners, through. I also represent us on the board of the colonial intermediate unit 20, which is 13 school districts from Delaware valley out to north Hampton county and focusing on special education. And there I'm also the only Hispanic as well as the youngest and several others first and only. And there is pressure that comes with that. But for me, there is also a reward that I have the opportunity to help create a space that is more inclusive for individuals who are different. They don't have to be like me, but they just have to be different than who's been at that table before me.
Peter: And for people who are numbers like a first and only because I think that's like what's happening now. Right? Many organizations, many companies are having. First ever diversity equity, inclusion person, most commonly it's a woman of color because of the glass. What is it? The glass cliff taking over it. For those people who are trying to establish that type of environment, what are some key things that you have, like tried to implement that were unsuccessful or things that were successful right off the bat, that they should either try to replicate and make their own. But things that helped you get off the ground and establishing
Damary: that because of the individual, whether you're the person that is pushing for change or the person on the other side of the change certainly has. A personal lens on the diversity equity and inclusion conversation and thinking about what is my perception of diversity, how do I promote a more inclusive environment? How do I move the needle forward in my organization? My community and society broadly becoming more equitable and, and being able to serve everyone who wants to be served by this institution or deserved by, to be served by the institution. If we're thinking. School district or a nonprofit organization or a company with a target audience in terms of the organization, it's really about evaluating the policies and practices that are in place. Are those conducive to being an inclusive environment, are those conducive to moving the organization, the institution. Equitable practices or not. And then there's a level of buy-in that has to be gained from every individual at the organization at any given time. You're not going to get that buy-in all at once, but you do have to work with individuals in the respective. So that it becomes institutionalized. And then if you're the person that's pushing for the change or driving the change, you have to be patient, you have to be mindful and you have to be sensitive to meeting people where they are. And knowing that just because you want people to buy into DEI does not mean they will. And just because you want an organization. To take on this effort doesn't mean they will, or they can, they may not have the capacity, the expertise, right? The individuals on the team to be able to do this work comprehensively at least.
Peter: Yeah. I would just speak on, on my own experience that this also it's prevalent in. Corporations or organizations that are actually not white dominant as far as the people involved, because racism is so systematic that we, and white supremacy culture is just prevalent everywhere that we're just perpetuating it without really recognizing it. I remember being in a diversity equity inclusion meeting, and having someone say, well, we are all brown and black people, so where we don't have the same types of struggles, but that's furthest from the truth.
Damary: Absolutely. So you touched on a couple of things. One there's, there is racism and prejudice amongst like individuals, right? So within the Hispanic community, there are over 20 countries represented under that umbrella of Hispanic, Latino Latinex. Right. And there is racism and sometimes division. Even those countries, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans or Ecuadorians and, and, and the mannequins, et cetera. So we can not assume that just because it is a black or brown institution, these things are not happening, but also in terms of the tenants of white supremacy culture, when we think about perfectionism and that pressure, right, talking back to the imposter syndrome that we touched on a little bit ago, that pressure to be good at things, or to have to work harder, to be at certain tables because. I don't see a way in or nobody that looks like you has been there, or nobody in your family has achieved a level of higher education. I mean, I'm one of less than 4% of Latinas in the United States with a doctorate. I was raised by my grandparents who went to the first and third grade. They didn't speak, read, or write English fluently and what they did know, they self taught. Where would I have ended up if I didn't have the opportunity for mentorship for nonprofit organizations given. The space to know that these opportunities existed. And then at the college level, having advisors that supported me and Latinas that looked like me, where I learned that a doctorate was a possibility that wasn't anything I had ever thought about before, but I was open to the possibilities when I got to college, I was the first in my family to graduate college. So then my responsibility is to pass that along to others in my family and my community and society.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, it's because so much of what you're saying and just like I had experienced, I'm also Puerto Rican first in my family. I think when I graduated, I read this study that said like about. Three to 4% of Hispanics just like to go to college. And then of that three to 4%, about 8% complete. And it was just like very, very, it's just an immense pressure and burden to be the representative of everyone. So the simulation just has to come naturally because. shifted and navigated through these spaces. Do you feel like you could answer this? How can we, as you want, but do you feel that that is more existing in education or in politics?
Damary: Oh, this is a whole nother session, I think in both. So in, in education, in terms of access to education and being in this. The student, you do experience the need to assimilate frequently, because if you look around, you're often by yourself, right? And as you stated in terms of what the data shows, but the higher you climb in terms of formal education, higher education, the more likely you are to be the only one. So to finish the journey. So you, you find yourself having to adapt and shift along the way you find yourself having to identify with individuals that may not speak the same language or eat the same foods, but that you can still learn from and have some peer to peer mentorship with, to just make it through the journey and then using the opportunity to help others. In terms of politics, though, we talked about geography a little bit. So if you're in a place like New York city, you're going to find more. People of color in positions of elected leadership, right? However, if you're in places like the post. You're not going to see that. And though we did have an influx of people of color and particularly Hispanic people who moved to the Poconos in the last 20 years, they still have not fully penetrated those spaces. I ran for state representative in 2016 and became the first Hispanic to make a state ballot in Monroe and Pike county. That was just five years ago. That's the reality of what the data shows. Right. And then when I did get on the ballot and I was knocking on doors, I heard things like, you speak with an accent. You're not a NoCal. You should be home with your children because my five-year-old twins were on the campaign trail, handing out flyers and they really loved it. They love people. They love the energy. They say that they're going to run for office. So. That is where we're able to shift the dynamics. When we help our children see the possibilities that we didn't see, right? Because we didn't have the role models because we didn't have the opportunities or the experiences. Then we shift the dynamics because their generation, for my kids, they expect to go to college. They expect to run for public office. They expect to be elected to public office. That's a very different mentality than those of us that have had to really fight. And the fight for social justice is every. It's everything from the boardroom and the school district to, the, the boardroom in any of the organizations that I serve across the country. But even here locally, I was the first Hispanic to be elected to the board of the Broadhead watershed association and Hispanics care about the environment. However, There's a difference between individuals that come from the city who don't really understand, how do I help maintain the waters? How do I help contribute to protecting our environment? Right? So there's a level of education and support and connection that our organization knows is very important. And we've had informational events and have been deliberate about inviting diverse individuals to join. So when you talk about politics, sometimes issues like the environment may not be front and center when people of color do get to the table, because if you've grown up in an urban community versus the suburbs versus another geographic area, The priorities are different to that. I would say it's across the board.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, yeah, like we've been talking about it's all universal everywhere. I have one question that ties into it, but in regards to politics as the world kind of, becomes more progressive in a way. Right. I think the starting off point and the foundation is different based on geography, but The near future when your children maybe run for office or my child runs for office, who knows when in some near distant future, we hope you foresee it? Cause you were just interacting with the two people trying to tell you that you're not from here X, Y, and Z that the need in politics per se. Cause I think it lives out in the public. To Western than need to assimilate.
Damary: I hope so. And for the record, please plant the seed for your child, that they can and should run for office. I hope so. I'm the type of person who is very comfortable standing out, so I don't feel the need to assimilate personally. Just because I'm also patient enough with others to teach them what it's like to be me. And sometimes it does take more push than others, depending on the individual, depending on how receptive they are, depending on how much they actually want to learn about me. But I hope that we are making strides so that our children are able to show up as they're often. So because we use the word authentic leadership often, and, we want people to be authentic. We want people to bring their full selves. And yet when people attempt to do that, we center them. We don't want people to be their full selves. It just sounds like the right thing to say, especially when it comes to the diversity conversation. And, and so, right now the social unrest and the issues that we're seeing and, and in the media and that we're seeing play out in our communities, It's putting a sense of pressure and urgency for institutions and organizations to move some of those that you talked about, that yourself they're creating the diversity officer positions. I mean, across the board every day we see lots of posts. Some of those, even if not intended that way, are just to check off the box. That's what they're doing. Right. Because if the organization does not have an environment conducive as these individuals and we're forcing individuals to assimilate, then you're really just checking off the box. So I'm hoping, but I'm also an optimist. I still believe in a government for the people and by the people because who better to tell us what are the issues that they need to prioritize than the people going through those issues, who better to inform the social justice movements that we are promoting right now than the people who have lived marginalized for generations. Public incidents have happened over the past year or so. And global prices for these issues to emerge to the place where they are right now. So I'm hopeful, but I can't say for sure.
Peter: And that's usually, that seems to be the last question I asked, like, what are you optimistic about and what are you hopeful for? So I'm glad you addressed that stuff. Carol, do you have anything else?
Carol: I just want to say, I appreciate your persistence, you keep showing up, you keep being the one and only, which is that's a huge amount of emotional labor that you're taking on.
Damary: Thank you. Yes, it is. It's exhausting. I've been saying that a lot more lately. And so I'll, I'll share this with you in terms of, in terms of optimism, what I'm optimistic about is people being inspired by injustice to the point that they will step up to the. And take on leadership roles. And I've been talking a lot over the past year about how crises bring about leaders. And so you're either going to sit back and complain and just be bogged down by the crisis, or you're going to step up to the plate and ask what can I do and contribute. And that can mean getting engaged in your child's PTO, or that can mean running for office, or that can be. Anything in between, but it means that if you really feel compelled to see difference, you're going to be part of the difference. So what I'm optimistic about is that more people will be inspired by social injustice, by prejudices that they experienced or that they see others experience. And that, that will bring about more allyship in terms of diversity of racial and ethnic communities. Right. Because we can't sit around and just talk about white privilege and white supremacy, if we don't talk about all the privilege. I was born and raised in the projects in New York City. I'm a homeowner. My kids do not have the same experience that I had. And so understanding that I have privilege in a heterosexual family versus not understanding that my kids have privilege because of the socioeconomic status of their parents versus their parents growing up is important as well. So there’s just a lot of DEI dynamics that that we can talk about. So hopefully we'll continue the dialogue.
Peter: Yeah. Maybe we'll have you on when we talk about intersections.
Damary: Yeah, I'm leading a committee at work on intersectionality and coalition building.
Carol: All right. So perfect.
Peter: So that will be part two of our conversation. Thank you so much to Damary. Thank you for doing that. You don't want to take too much more of your time.
Damary: Oh, great. Thank you. And it's an opportunity to reflect, but yes, Carol, sometimes I'm exhausted. I woke up this morning thinking like maybe I need to throw in the towel on this, on the school board piece. And then I got a message on Instagram that one of my quotes was printed on a greeting card in this new company for. But for highlighting women of color and it, and, and it was exactly about how we remember your blessing, no matter what life circumstances you're facing. And I'm like, okay, I get it. I remember what I said.
Carol: It's terrible. When your own words come back to you. Right? My favorite is when your kids say it back to you.
Damary: That one's great. Especially when they're sassy about it. That's what awaits you, Peter, what mommy, you said? I know I said it. I know what I said.
Carol: Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.
Damary: Great talking with you both. We could've gone on for a while, so anytime I can hang out with you, let me know.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can learn more about Damary and her background, as well as how to connect with her in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. We also post the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
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