Last week I was supposed to be in St. Louis. This would have been my first All Staff days with National Benevolent Association [NBA]. I’ve been doing some contract work with them for over a year, helping to transition a new staff person into their program, assessing program partnerships, and offering program support. I was looking forward to spending in-person time with folks that I typically work with via Zoom, phone calls, and texts. But instead of viewing the arch and playing at City Museum, we gathered on Zoom for our All Staff days. Two days were dedicated to Racial Equity Training and one half day to play.
The folks who make up NBA- board, staff, partners, contract folks- have committed to anti-racism practices as an organization and as individuals. NBA has created a staff Racial Equity Team and has hired consultants, Rebecca Jackson and Madeline McNeely, to facilitate a process that will include racial equity audit, Healthy Community Cultural Assessment, trainings, and coaching. Rebecca and Madeline come to NBA with long held practices in this area. They are colleagues who work with Trinity Church Boston’s Anti-Racism Team as well as Conditioning Leaders and Trinity Boston Connects.
Just before the all staff days began, we received a flurry of emails and preparation resources for the training. There were a lot of really helpful materials provided. Some of them include: The Ground Water Approach, White Supremacy Culture, and Racial Identity Caucusing: A Strategy for Building Anti-Racist Collectives. The meeting started with a group share. Folks brought objects that were sacred to them and we all had one minute to show and share about the object. This allowed us to check in and connect before moving toward group process. Next, we received the data and overview from the organizational cultural assessment.
The information in the organizational cultural assessment was not surprising. There was demographic data on the current reality of the organization: age, gender, race, of staff was reported. There was also data on tenure and senior leadership- how long folks had been working for NBA and at what the demographics look like at various levels of leadership. The document was 22 pages long and we had a short time to digest it during the training. There was a lot of good evaluation on the organization and where it needs to dig deeper to move from diversity to equity, from tokenism to inclusion.
The large group was given the time to listen to the facilitator’s report of the assessment and then we broke into small groups to talk about it. When we got into groups, we shared our irritations with the process. It is hard to do this work at a distance on zoom. We wish we had more time to read through and digest the document materials. This is a lot to ask of us, to have racial equity conversations while also juggling children at home and a pandemic at our doorstep. Why are we only focusing on race when there are socio economic dynamics at play as well?
I don’t think I was able to totally take in what was being shared with us during this part of the meeting. As read back over the document, I see there was very good and important information we were being given. During the session though, I read the assessment and my gut reaction was “Of course! Is anyone surprised?” As I read back over the assessment now, I wonder if my gut reaction was halfway on point and also half way a defense mechanism. It was likely something like, “You’re not telling me something I don’t already know.” And if that was my internal dialogue, then I may not have been as open to what was to come as I’d thought.
When we got back into the large group and shared our feedback with the large group, the facilitators put us in check. This is a hard time to talk about racial equity, but the right time to do the right thing is right now. There is no better time than now to do the hard work. We are focusing on race because our nation is founded on 300 years of racism and racist structures. The other identities and intersections are important, but our primary focus will be on racial equity. We are choosing to trust in the long life’s work process of transformation. Any amount of children interrupting or internet malfunctioning is to be expected and we trust the process is forming and shaping us, even if some of us have to miss part of a conversation and rejoin us at another time.
After the large group share, we took a moment to reflect on how things are going: What’s coming up for you? Are there things you want to say? Where do you feel it in your body? This was the moment of real clarity for me. I felt a little off center, a little defensive, a little prideful. When I listened to others, the thing that stuck out to me was that the people of color, almost all of them, were expressing relief, gratitude, and hope. This was the thing that made me decide to let go of my uncertainty about the process and facilitation- I was feeling off center and they were feeling hopeful. I needed to listen and let myself be open and guided.