Contributing To DEI During A Time of Racial Awakening

It’s A Matter of “Standing Under” Another’s Reality

I’m finally discovering a rhythm to keep up with and continue to grow my inspiring network through virtual connecting. Although I desperately miss sharing physical space with these amazing people, I now have systems in place to grow and nurture relationships. I’ve also found a silver lining!

Besides adopting a new networking pace of “online check-ins” and “virtual roundtables”, I’ve adapted to how I expand my horizons— both in a networking sense and by revealing my blind spots. And since networking need not be limited to physical proximity, why not cast a wider net to explore a specific topic? This, I’m excited to announce, has hatched a Racial Justice learning circle.

Moving Forward Together

In July of 2020, I was introduced to a man who was looking for a group of change management practitioners to explore how to best service DEI clients. The goal was to determine what must change in order to bring our capabilities to bear regarding how these changes could be effectively implemented. In other words, our contribution is less about the content of the changes than about orchestrating the human landscape so true transformation can be fully realized. We decided to create our own approach!

Then, my dedication to supporting companies as they embed DEI into their cultures transformed after George Floyd’s murder. Prior to this incident, I had merely “understood” the inequities that black and brown Americans face. Amongst efforts to serve my dedication toward promoting physiological safety in the workplace, I received a certification from Coaching Diversity Institute in partnership with Howard University in diversity coaching. The next step was a huge leap.

On June 5th, 2020 I became a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) specialist. I facilitated a session called “Absorbing the Impact of Anti-Black Racism…and Moving Forward Together”, just as tensions were heightened during the 2020 racial justice protests. Sure, I’d facilitated challenging sessions before; but this was on a whole new level. The goal was simple, and yet so complicated: The listening circle was to be a safe space to share whatever was on the minds and in the hearts of those working in a 6,500-employee municipality. I didn’t even fully understand what was going on in my mind and heart during that surreal time!

The stories revealed in that safe space were heartbreaking. These were real people with real experiences of managing everyday hardships and insults due simply to their race. I don’t know if I was more disturbed by what these folks had endured or more angered by the obtuse offenders.

Then fast-forward to our first Racial Justice meeting, masterfully designed by my wise friend and colleague Phyllis White Thorne, when we explored the thought-provoking question, “What is racism?” Sure, we can easily define the word. But it turns out that racism is so much more than the definition. The real question is, “How does racism actually affect people, both in-the-moment and through the ripple effects of unintentional acts?” It prompted me to see racism as “death by a million paper cuts”. Each day, it stings and smarts, and builds toward a breaking point for the BIPOC community.

Make The Invisible Visible.

I was recently sharing details of my Racial Justice learning circle during a catch-up call with my pal Megan Harnett when she made a brilliant analogy: In 5th grade, while learning about the Revolutionary War, Megan and her classmates were taking turns reading paragraphs from their textbooks. Megan then instinctually asked her teacher if this was the same history that students in England were learning— an inquiry that was wise ahead of her years!

For sure, we are taught the history of the dominating group. And yes, there are several sides to a story. But I wanted to learn about Black History through another lens— that of the historically oppressed. After all, my commitment to psychological safety and wellness in the workplace mandates every person in an organization to feel safe. When I better understand others by “standing under” their realities, I can more effectively facilitate the change that will make our society a healthier place.

As I speak with people in my ever-expanding network, they want to be involved in these types of cultures, too. Do you want to learn the first steps in becoming a better ally and courageously create the space to make the invisible visible? Here are a few substantial first steps:

  1. Be respectfully inquisitive. Don’t assume you know how others feel in their roles of the movie they call life. Ask questions instead of making statements. And if you’re motivated to speak about race with a member of the BIPOC community, ask if they’d be open to a discussion about bias or discrimination.
  2. Start understanding (standing under) another’s reality. Watch this TEDx Talk by Megan Ming Francis as she shares what happened to her one day at the TSA. Consider how often people are harassed by officials because of how they look or are profiled by police for their race.
  3. Get ready to mess up. It’s not a matter of “if” you say something offensive, but “when”. Listen to White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo as she shares tons of examples of being a better ally, including how to apologize when you mess up.
  4. Follow us on Twitter @DRIVENpros. We’ll be sharing resources all month for appreciating and celebrating Black History, including how to contribute to an inclusive future.


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