Welcome to the Racial Affinity Group Field Guideproduced by the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) for public distribution. Affinity groups are an important part of the journey towards understanding and promoting racial equity and racial justice. We are so glad that you have signed up to support people in having these important conversations.
This guide provides practical advice for leading and facilitating racial affinity groups in your organization or community. It includes the nuts and bolts of organizing affinity groups; potential topics to cover in your groups; the importance of managing your own interior condition while participating in an affinity group; and links to various tools and resources.
Many questions are likely to arise as you design and lead your affinity groups. It’s important to remember that there are no perfect answers to these questions; there are always pros and cons to trying different things. We encourage you to avoid a false sense of urgency and the pressure to make everything perfect, both of which are characteristics of white dominant culture. Some things will work and some things won’t. You’ll make mistakes and that’s okay, particularly because that means you are learning along the way.
We encourage you to try out different affinity group content and techniques, and eventually you will have greater comfort and ease in the role. If possible, surround yourself with a community of other facilitators so that you can learn, experiment, and grow together. Please know that there are many others doing this work; you are not alone!
Please note this guide was written for people living and working in the United States. Racism is a global phenomenon, as Europeans displaced and oppressed non-white people all around the world. However, racism in other countries may operate in unique ways based on the historical context and the expression of modern-day racism in that location. We encourage you to further adapt the ideas in this guide to reflect your own local context.
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
This guide is structured to address the most common questions that arise when designing and facilitating race-based affinity groups. It addresses the who, what, when, where, why, and how of all things related to affinity groups. Read the whole guide or skim to get the answers to your most burning questions. And, as always, we welcome your comments.
Last week, the REACH Fund (the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change Fund of Borealis Philanthropy) invited us all to participate in the building of a collective muscle that reflects the future we envision. With Kelly Bates from Interaction Institute for Social Change and Natalie Bamdad from Change Elemental leading the way, we explored the journey of racial equity, trends we should anticipate, and what’s needed from philanthropy to elevate and prioritize this vital work.
Here are a handful of high-level learnings the REACH Team shared after the conversation with Kelly and Natalie:
We must expand our lens for the type of work that contributes to the advancement of racial equity. Racial equity work is about more than toolkits and evaluative reports—it is about data and also storytelling, relationships, process, design, healing, and implementation. As funders, we must acknowledge the value and breadth of this work and its unique component parts.
The pie is big enough for everything. Funders must abandon a scarcity mindset in funding racial equity work and choose multiple streams of work to resource. The potential for change is limitless when we collectively approach our work with abundance.
Racial equity work is reparations. Racial equity work is reparatory work. As funders, we have to acknowledge the source of concentrated wealth, incorporate this history into our funding decisions, and let resources “flow like a river.”
Philanthropy must grapple with the scale of transformation needed. Part of “readiness” for radical racial equity work is understanding the depth of engagement required to untangle the impacts of white supremacy on our organizations and ourselves. Racial equity work is not one-off, project-based work. It is a years-long journey and a vision that must be embedded into the core of our organizations.
We have to design for the future we envision. Ultimately, racial justice requires we exist to serve the future we envision—not simply act against oppressive and oppositional forces. We must center our vision for the future in our organizations’ racial equity journeys and missions.
The REACH Team also shared that they were meditating on a lesson they learned long ago—one that speaks to their Fund’s very existence, which they are reminded of repeatedly: the work of racial equity practitioners is vital to leading the movement ecosystem towards liberatory principle and practice. The wisdom, approach, and tools of these facilitators, coaches, and healers are essential to supporting the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to dismantle and repair the systems designed to uphold white supremacy—and, importantly, to do so in a way that centers healing and joy.
IISC is delighted to share that a number of our staff will have the opportunity to attend this year’s Facing Race National Conference, presented by Race Forward. Enthusiasm for this flagship racial justice convening is popping, especially given that it’s happening in person for the first time since 2019.
We are looking forward to being in community with other racial justice practitioners as we gather to gain a deeper sense of what is needed in this moment and how we at IISC – both individually and collectively – can best contribute. We’re also excited to hear from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, now our fellow Bostonian in his role as director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.
In addition to attending the conference as participants, members of our team will also be leading workshops!
IISC President Kelly Bates and Director of Practice Miriam Messinger are co-leading a session – Let’s fight the return of the “Old Normal!” – Leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation – in which they will lead participants through a process of co-creating visions of racial justice in practice and strategizing about leading our organizations and networks out of “old normal” white supremacist systems and practices toward liberation and transformation.
IISC Senior Associate Cynthia Silva Parker is co-leading a workshop with Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Executive Director of Building Movement Project on behalf of the Deep Equity Practitioners Network. Real Talk About Building Organizational Capacity for Racial Equity: A peer exchange. The workshop will offer people who facilitate learning, strategy development, healing, team building, coaching, organizational change, and more to advance racial justice an opportunity to build community and share ideas about engaging tough issues – from getting past performative efforts and moving toward liberation to helping organizations embody racial justice in their operations as well as their programming.
We are committed to sharing reflections once we attend and process the conference experience. Stay tuned!
IISC is honored to share that we were selected as a finalist in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion category of the 4th annual .ORG Impact Awards. This program – sponsored by the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the people behind .ORG – honors and celebrates inspiring mission-driven organizations and leaders from around the globe that not only demonstrate a passion for making the world a better place, but also work tirelessly to create a positive impact in their communities. IISC is pleased to be one of only five finalists in this category – selected from a record number of submissions from around the world.
The winners in each category will be announced on November 15 and we will certainly be even more delighted should we win that final honor (along with a cash prize!). That said, regardless of the outcome, IISC is pleased with this recognition as a finalist and will be happy to celebrate with the winner should it be one of our co-finalists.
Most importantly, we honor the people of IISC who make this all possible. So much hard work and dedication is behind why we have been recognized in this way. Learn more about us here!
At IISC, we’re asking ourselves some hard questions. Are we maintaining the status quo or breaking it? If we are alive in times like this, what are we living for? And whatever that is, we better make it worth it. Because this country has been presented with a mirror and what we see is our ugly reflection, and the choices we now make will have life and death consequences.
So we feel it’s right, and necessary, to ask the hard questions, The questions are rhetorical, but hey, why not, since we’re all talking and trying to be brave.
If we don’t ask for and expect this President’s immediate removal, what are we sanctioning?
If you lost steam for the fight for racial justice that rose up last summer, or if you went back to business as usual after George Floyd died, why is that? Do you realize that racism is always awake even when you’re sleeping?
If you’re shocked about the attempted takeover of our Capitol and country, have you accepted that white supremacy isn’t just present in those that stormed the doors, but are also inside government institutions and within our own elected officials?
If you think diversity training and simple “DEI” initiatives are enough to dismantle structural racism, think again! How can you begin to shift your focus to dismantling structural racism?
If you think you aren’t complicit with racism, ask yourself, “am I too comfortable?”
Yesterday was an epic system failure (or, from another perspective, it’s the system working as it was designed to work), born out of relentless racism, white domination, and male violent entitlement. It’s not extremist. It’s not an aberration. It’s America. If you’re numb or checked out, wake up. If you’re shocked, don’t think more shock isn’t coming. You may feel pain, but that exists for a reason. The pain tells you that you’re alive and alert. We may be striving to do the right thing, but playing it safe is not an option during a 24-7 assault on our humanhood.
Safe is “we can do this later.”
Safe is “someone else will take care of this.”
Safe is “we can talk about ‘equity’ without being laser-focused on tearing down racism.”
Safe is “we can avoid struggle, hard truths and conversations, and real work.”
We turned out in record numbers in the November general election — despite a pandemic, an economic crisis, and so many attempts to stop us. We voted for our communities and the things we care about, and to make life better for all of us. We voted because it is our right to do so. And there is still more to do…
Yes – we still need to phone bank TODAY for tomorrow’s #RunoffElection in Georgia! This election determines control of the senate, and we can all show up for Georgians the way they showed up for the country’s future in November. Sign up NOW to phone bank with @newgeorgiaproject 5-8pm ET (mobilize.us/ngp) or @NAACPYouthCollege 6-7pm ET (bit.ly/GAPhoneBanking)
As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?
What does it bring up for you?
Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?
As you navigate the complex times of COVID-19 and racial uprising, consider what it would take to transition through these four dimensions, what needs to be in place, what is already in place, and what we need to reimagine and rebuild.
1 – In the Trauma Dimension: How are we responding to the impact of trauma from COVID, racism, and other shocks?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we removing racialized barriers to emergency resources?
Are we using a racial equity impact analysis tool to understand and evaluate our response? Even when we feel rushed?
Are we recognizing deep racial harm in our organization and networks?
Are we pausing and engaging in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement to guide our responses and ensure less harm?
Are we attending to both relationships and results as we carry out our work?
Are we acting and responding with humility, empathy, and transparency?
Are we practicing presence and accountability?
Are we connecting with diverse networks to gather and share information and foster flows to address critical needs?
2 – In the Reckoning Dimension: How are we grappling with deep distress and the reality of shifting resources? How are we embracing racial uprisings for change? How are we embracing uncertainty?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we acknowledging inequities revealed by crisis?
Are we acting to undo the racialized impacts of our actions?
How are we recognizing the leadership of Black people and what are the lessons for our organizations?
It’s the days after the November 3rd presidential election in the United States. What’s a leader to do in this post-election moment? We believe the most fundamental principle that grounds Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, a transformative learning experience we teach and share with social and racial justice leaders, may shed some light.
The fundamental principle of Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, IISC’s flagship workshop, is that decisions are best made when we tap into the power of participation by involving every person who is a stakeholder in the decisions that impact their lives. Facilitative leaders create a safe environment for participation and collaboration. Those who are still counting ballots – and may soon be recounting ballots – will serve us best by being mindful of this and ensuring that every single vote is counted, as objectively as is humanly possible, and with an eye toward complete transparency. The integrity of the next steps of the election process and the outcome of any legal challenges depend on this.
In our organizations and communities, Facilitative Leadership invites us – now more than ever – to be collaborative, strategic, receptive, and adaptable. In this moment, linking arms with others safely in the streets or metaphorically in Zoom rooms, to connect deeply to strategize and engage in the work of racial and social justice with everyone at the table, truly matters. Generating and facilitating authentic conversations that help us to better understand ourselves and our country, and to adapt in peaceful and nonviolent ways to what’s happening now, is deeply needed. Greeting each decision with openness to the ideas and challenges of others without defense and ego can set our communities and leadership on the path to deep transformation.
As we make decisions in the coming hours, days, and weeks about the shape of our country or the work in our offices, seek maximum appropriate involvement. This doesn’t mean that every person must be involved every time you have a decision to make, but it does mean considering who will be impacted by that decision and how best to ensure their voices influence the outcomes of the decision, including making them more equitable.
Discover Shared Meaning
Now is an especially important time for people to engage in conversations, transformative listening, and deep thinking about what is holding us together and what is separating us. What can we learn from this election and the values, behaviors, and interactions that came from it? What assumptions and conclusions have we been making? What new insights do we have about our future?
How can we help others understand the ways in which systemic injustice and racism are playing out in our political process, in our work, and in our communities? How can we make more visible the different parts of our system – whether it is institutions like government, education, or health care – so that we can organize for change?
Inspire a Shared Vision
Even if you’re uncertain about the future, what do you understand about humankind and those you work with? What are the possibilities? How can we create and live into more equitable and resilient futures?
Focus on Results, Process, & Relationship
Whether we are with our families watching the election process and legal battles unfold or bringing together managers in our organizations, focus first on how people are doing and the strength of their relationships. And then go about things in a way that honors their human fragility while pointing them towards the results we are working to achieve.
Design Pathways to Action
Now is the time for us to start thinking about how we can design a pathway for getting what we need and want. The election has revealed once again the depth and level of racism in our cities, towns, and communities. What can we uniquely design to root out racism in ways that will bring along even those we think are not with us?
How can we work with others and with our government officials to facilitate a peaceful transition and build agreements that allow our nation to heal through the reckonings of COVID, racial violence, and election divisions? The wounds are deep and require challenging conversations that can be harnessed into agreements, concrete actions, and more repaired relationships.
Let’s be our most facilitative selves in this critical moment.
In these unsettled and challenging times, many of us at IISC are finding ourselves inspired to actively share our reflections. We welcome your comments and reactions. And we wish you all so much love and good health. Together, we will make it through to the other side.
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love– for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
As IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden was scrolling through Twitter, he came across a post from Adam Kahane of Reos Partners who shared five practices for breakthrough facilitation. IISC enjoys teaching the tools of facilitation through our signature workshops. We offered additional ideas using our lens of equity to build on his ideas.
how our team responded:
@adamkahane tweeted on Jan 7, 2020
Five simple (but not easy) practices for Breakthrough Facilitation from Adam Kahane
This is a repost of a third in a series of posts on power, facilitation and collaborative process that former IISC Senior Associate Linda Guinee wrote back in 2010. Last week we reposted Linda’s piece “What is Power Anyway?,” which followed a new post by a few of us on power and meetings. Enjoy!
More about power and group processes. There have been a mountain of books written about the “bases of power” and the “types of power”. I’ve done some work to try to boil it down – and find thinking about this very useful in moving forward the conversation about how to address power issues in group processes.
In the 1950s, French and Raven put out a proposal about five “bases” of power, which others added to. Bases of power are what gives a person or group power. French and Raven came up with these five:
Reward Power – power that comes from the ability to reward the other party for complying
Coercive Power – power that comes from the ability to punish the other party if they do not comply
Legitimate or Normative Power – power that comes from accepted group, community or societal norms or values which are generally viewed as “legitimate”
Referent Power – power that comes from being identified with a person or group (for example, so and so gains power by being friends with X or being a member of Y group)
Expert Power – power that comes from the perception that the person or group has knowledge
Ecological Power – power that comes from being able to control one’s social or physical environmental in such a way that the modified environment induces a desired behavior or prevents an undesired behavior.