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November 17, 2023

Rethinking Thanksgiving

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I was that kid. I grew up in Carver, Massachusetts, next door to Plymouth. In middle and high school, I challenged (and most likely annoyed) my teachers when I wondered out loud why Native Americans would want to celebrate Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. “Shouldn’t it be a day of mourning for them?” I’d ask. I don’t recall any teacher having a good answer to my question or even being willing to engage in meaningful dialogue. In the years since, I have earned a reputation among family and friends as being “no fun” or “too serious” for pointing out the oppressive underpinnings of many elements of popular culture and U.S. traditions. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but “[s]ince 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth [not far from where I went to high school] to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”  Source:

Thankfully, I know more now than then, and I am grateful that the enduring impact of racism and colonization has made its way into the public discourse in the U.S. And, we still have a long, long way to go!

While there is nothing wrong with having a time for families and friends to gather and reflect on their lives with gratitude – even in the midst of so much war, oppression and devastation – it’s also important to correct the historically inaccurate mythology that surrounds this holiday. Native American activists remind us that giving thanks was a Native American tradition for generations before the European settlers arrived in Plymouth, and long before President Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a U.S. national holiday. As Suzan Shown Harjo, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, reminds us in a 2014 interview, some Native American people celebrate Thanksgiving in keeping with that generations-long tradition, while others observe it as a day of mourning – a day to reflect on the devastation their people have experienced at the hands of settlers, and the U.S. government — both historically and currently. 

Here are a couple of things to consider to bring more accuracy and equity to your Thanksgiving traditions.

  1. Teach your children a true story. Check out these children’s books that speak from the point of view of Native Americans. 
  2. Attend an observance of the National Day of Mourning in your area. You’ll join your heart in mourning and you’ll learn a lot. You may even begin to build new relationships. If you’re in New England, consider joining the United American Indians of New England on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth.
  3. Act in solidarity with Indigenous activists in your area. If you’re in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Indigenous Agenda is a great place to start. 
  4. Join the Decolonizing Wealth Project and its Liberated Capital Giving Community. Read Edgar Villanueva’s book Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance and get a guided journal to help you learn to apply his “Seven Steps to Healing” so you can begin to use money as medicine to heal what’s broken in our world. The seven steps are straightforward and simple to state, and oh so challenging to practice! (No spoilers here! Get the book and the journal!) As I reviewed them recently, I realized how often I skip past some of the steps and sometimes even practice their exact opposite. I invite you to join me in digging deeper, reflecting more honestly, loving harder, and practicing grace with oneself and with others more often. How will you open yourself to being guided by Indigenous wisdom as we seek to heal divides and restore balance?

This Thanksgiving, let’s connect with those we love and enthusiastically give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. And let’s reflect on what has made those blessings possible, including the full range of effort, sacrifice, serendipity, privilege, and oppression. Rather than be paralyzed by anger, guilt, or fear, let’s find ways to make our awareness and gratitude count for justice!

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August 25, 2023

Three Take-Aways from the 2023 114th NAACP National Convention

Earlier this summer, I walked into the Boston Convention Center with thousands milling about and locked eyes with a Black woman who had the kindest smile. As I learned later, she, like me, had been to hundreds of conferences in our lifetimes but we felt shy. The exhibits weren’t open yet so we started chatting about our work and lives. I learned she is the president of a local chapter of the NAACP in the south, and a Black woman president at that. Her power has been challenged daily by white power structures resisting change and by male leadership within her ranks who assume they know better, but she didn’t look tired. She was ready for the convention and she was proud of her youth leaders who were participating. She was here, at the NAACP convention, working to build a better future and that was all that mattered.

New friends at the NAACP convention

If the convention had stopped there, I would have learned something. When you get to my stage of life and attend events like this, you often spend time with people you already know. That day, I spent time with people I didn’t know and at workshops in which the content was unfamiliar. I came away enriched with a new relationship, with new ideas, and – most importantly – with new-found hope. And I learned a lot about what advocates working for change most need in these times. 

Here are three takeaways:  

  1. These times are not new, and we have the people and tools to break through this painful America we are living in right now. Shavone Arline-Bradley, president of the National Council of Negro Women, brought the house down at the women’s luncheon when she ran down the list of conservative white supremacists that Black leaders have reckoned with  – including George Wallace, former Governor of Alabama, who was an ardent advocate for school segregation in the 60s and 70s. Despite his efforts to keep in place Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized school segregation in 1896, it was overturned 58-years later by the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. She argued that we have seen the likes of supremacists like Donald Trump and Ron Desantis before and we have stopped their progress through organizing, get out the vote efforts, and in the courts. And she credited the strategy and strength of Black women who waged these fights.
  1. The climate crisis must be viewed as immediate and dangerous, and as a critical racial justice issue. Boston environmental and racial justice activist Reverend Mariama White-Hammond and other climate leaders clearly laid out the climate and weather shifts that we are now facing. We learned that the impacts are disproportionately centered in Black, Brown, and low-income communities where residents don’t have access to sufficient air conditioning or plentiful and drinkable water in hot conditions, or places to go when flooding hits apartments and homes because of poor water mitigation systems.

    As I listened to the inequities, I realized that there should be no “change” in climate change because it’s now a crisis, and there is no “threat” because climate chaos is already damaging our cities and rural communities in the form of extreme heat, wildfires, floods, and droughts. What gets in my way and the way of others who are in this fight is that it’s just so hard to face. We need to stare the climate reality in the eyes, and as indigenous people and people rooted to land know, we must focus on healing our planet and taking the best care of it we can. 
  1. We must bring young people to our tables. There were hundreds of youth at the convention, all attending workshops and participating in events designed to develop their leadership at all levels of the NAACP and in local communities. It was clear from the panel conversations and the myriad of people I spoke with that if we’re going to fight modern-day supremacists and their successors, we need young people leading the way. And we need to train and support them with strategies, tools, and resources for social change and racial justice.  Our legacy will continue through their passion and ideas and we have a responsibility to support them, teach them what we know, learn what we don’t, and follow their great ideas.  

I am walking away inspired by the knowledge that we absolutely have what it takes for the fights ahead, as long as we continue to build the strength of our networks and prioritize the leadership and energy of young people.  We can – and we will – do this. 

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August 10, 2023

The fastest way to kill collaboration? Obscure decision making.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Folks who know me as a facilitator know that one of my first and favorite questions in planning a meeting is “who’s deciding?” It’s a question that can be counter-cultural for groups that are unaccustomed to clearly defining the decision-making process. And yet, leaving the question unanswered or unclear is one of the fastest ways I have seen to erode trust and to drive people away from working together.

Tips for doing better

Answering a few simple questions can help to avoid a great deal of frustration and prevent the fracturing of collaborative work:

WHAT decision is being made? What information will we need to make the decision? What criteria will guide the decision?

WHY is this the decision we’re making? Is there something else that we need to address first?

WHO is the final decision maker? Is it the group that’s meeting now or is it actually some other group or individual?

HOW will the final decision be made? If the group is making the final decision together, do they have an understanding of what consensus is and how to reach it? What will they do if they can’t reach a consensus? If an individual is making the final decision, will they gather input from others or proceed alone? How will they share the factors that will be considered as the decision is made? How will people be informed about the final decision? (Check out our Levels of Involvement in Decision Making framework for many more details about options for how to involve people in decision making.) What constraints will shape the decision-making process (e.g., time available, resources needed, etc.)?

Using the Questions in Sticky Situations

Do any of these situations, which we’ve seen repeatedly in our work, sound familiar to you? Here are some ideas about how applying our tips could have helped.

  1. A team receives a task with minimal guidance about constraints, other than when the project is due. They complete their task and are told, “No, we don’t have time or money to do all of that.” or “That’s not actually what we thought you’d do with the task.” The team is asked to go back to the drawing board but many members feel disrespected and frustrated, and are reluctant to continue working on the project.

The leader who set the team up with the project could have named specific time and resource constraints to help both the leader and the team set clear expectations, and could have indicated what would happen next if the group couldn’t make its decisions within those constraints.

  1. A coalition is meeting to decide on its goals for the year. A few priorities rise to the top,  but there is no moment when the group clearly affirms the choices. Everyone goes away feeling good, but thinking differently about what was actually decided. A few days later, members read the meeting notes, which sound to some participants like they were from an entirely different meeting. Frustration ensues as individuals jockey to get the items they thought were agreed upon onto the final list of goals.

The meeting facilitator could have explicitly checked for consensus as priorities began to emerge, and clearly identified where there was/was not agreement. The note taker could have recorded on chart paper or used a computer and projector (in an in-person meeting) or screen sharing or a shared online document (in an online meeting) so that everyone could see what was happening with the information in real time. 

  1. A team receives a meeting agenda saying that the outcome of the meeting is an agreement on a solution to a pressing organizational problem. During the meeting, people spend all of the time exploring the problem. Some people are frustrated that they didn’t even begin to move towards a solution. Others are frustrated with the stated meeting outcome, since there hadn’t been any problem analysis. The meeting ends without a clear sense of what to do next and what to say to those who are waiting for the solution.

Typically, if a group is deciding on solutions, they first need to understand the problem they are trying to solve so they can identify solutions that effectively address root causes. The facilitator and meeting planners could have designed pre-meeting work or discussions to build understanding of the problem before getting into solutions. Or, they could have shifted the timeline so the group could explore problems during this meeting and solutions later.

  1. People leave a staff meeting thinking they have reached agreement on organizational priorities. A few days later, the CEO announces priorities, which are slightly different, thanking the group for the way the meeting helped her to make her final decision on priorities. Staff members are confused and frustrated because they thought they were all making the decision together. Some team members begin to wonder if they can trust the CEO. 

The leader could have first asked herself whether this is a decision the team should actually make together. If the situation really did call for her to make the final decision after consulting with the team, she could have started and closed the discussion by clearly stating why she is the final decision maker and how this discussion gives the team a chance to inform her final decision.    

  1. A colleague sends you an email, assigning you a task that you didn’t know about and asking you to do it in a way that doesn’t make sense to you. They don’t invite any questions and do not appear willing to discuss your ideas about how to get the job done. You wrestle with how much energy you want to put into asking questions and whether you have the energy to deal with a potential conflict if you just do the task in a way that makes most sense to you.

The colleague could have explained who decided that the task needed to be done in this particular way and why, spelling out important factors that led to this decision. They could have asked for your questions, concerns, or ideas about how to proceed. And they could have explained any degrees of flexibility around how the task was to be accomplished. 

While clarity about decision making isn’t magic, it will make many collaborative ventures much smoother. It will grow the precious resource of trust, without which your efforts to work together are destined to fall short. It will also give you new ways to explore and expand power, which is so often experienced through the act of decision making. Questions about who decides on things like priorities and strategy; the allocation of time, money, and other resources; involvement in designing and implementing activities; and who decides who gets a seat at the decision-making table are fundamentally questions about power. Clarity around decision making will create space to address power dynamics more directly and grow more shared power to accomplish together things that you could never accomplish on your own. 

Let us know how these tips are helping your efforts to collaborate for social justice and racial equity.For more on power and power dynamics, check out our series Bringing Facilitative Leadership for Social Change to Your Virtual Work, which includes sessions on Managing Power Dynamics in Virtual Meetings and Collaborative Decision Making and Shared Leadership.

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July 13, 2023

What do we do now? Five Strategies for Action After the Recent US Supreme Court Decisions

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou. John Mathew Smith & from Laurel Maryland, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0] <> via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re asking the question “What do we do now?” you’re asking the right one.

With the recent plethora of dangerous decisions by the US Supreme Court, many of us were not surprised. As soon as former President Trump added new members to the Court and set them on a course for an anti-civil rights and anti-equity agenda, we knew many of the transformative gains we had made over the last sixty or more years were in danger. 

Civil rights and civil liberties that protect human rights are, and never have been, guaranteed. America has a history and deep practice of white supremacy, control of women’s bodies, and discrimination and violence against Black and Latinx peoples and LGBTQ+ communities, land theft, confinement, and erasure of Indigenous communities, and scapegoating of immigrants. And it is all firmly backed by politicians and their carefully selected court appointees who threaten the rule of law and everyone’s security by dismantling protections to live, work, go to school, and love freely.

We knew the plan and we knew the pain that was coming. Now we need to understand and analyze the decisions. And, most importantly, we need to act and exercise our power – organizationally, collectively, and individually.

Here are five actions to take after the recent US Supreme Court Decisions:

  1. Stand firm and advance racial, gender, sexual orientation, and class equity like never before. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. If you’re a boss, offer your staff benefits and protections that no court can take away. Don’t use vendors, professional services, or companies that do not reflect your values. Sit your human resources professionals and managers down and ask them to do everything in their power to remove impediments to equity and justice in your workplace. If they’re too attached to the law and not willing to be creative or take a few risks to protect the rights of your employees, find the person who will. 

    And take advantage of any loopholes in recent US Supreme Court decisions. For example, even though the Supreme Court restricted affirmative action in admissions programs, Justice Roberts writing for the majority said “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life.” At UC Santa Barbara, for example, students still write about their race and ethnicity in college essays. Although the admissions team can’t consider race, they can evaluate how students responded to significant issues that impacted their lives and factor that into their admissions decision. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted in a statement that the recent cases do not “address employer efforts to foster diverse and inclusive workforces or to engage the talents of all qualified workers, regardless of their background,” clarifying that it is still legal for “employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace.”
  1. Own Your Power. Get political! Some people think of politics as an ugly endeavor (or dirty business), but politics – the building and wielding of power and policy to help lives – is, or at least should be, the essence of democracy. Understand what you can do within the confines of your organization. There are fewer limits on nonprofits than you may think. For instance, 501(c)(3) organizations can educate voters and elected officials, and even lobby under a certain threshold. And organizations can set up 501(c)(4) organizations and PACs to do direct electioneering and endorse candidates.  

    And up your personal political game. Participate as a voter if you’re eligible. If not, register voters and campaign for candidates that show up for civil rights and racial justice. Research the legislation politicians are voting on and make sure they hear from you about your priorities. Consider running for local office. Make your voice heard by showing up at school board, zoning commission, city council, and other public meetings. Don’t assume that because you’re in a more progressive state that we don’t have work to do –  it could just be a matter of time.
  1. Reclaim the streets. We have to continue to organize, demonstrate power, and march in the streets at unprecedented levels to protest the perilous actions of the court and politicians. We need a narrative and set of demands that undergird our outrage about how the American people can no longer trust the courts because precedent and human rights no longer matter to them. We must call on Congress and state legislatures to pass new laws that grant civil rights and personal freedoms. 
  1. Vision, plan, and execute for the long-term. Anti-civil rights groups have been planning and building for this moment for decades. They have focused on five crucial areas that have brought them wins: policy, candidates, gerrymandering, courts, and messaging. They laid plans years and sometimes decades in advance to identify policies they wanted to change, recruit candidates, draw political districts in their favor, elect politicians that would approve their court picks, and cultivate messages online and offline that resonate with voters. Those of us who focus on progressive social change need to do the same – unapologetically and now. 
  1. Build and expand community – even those you think are not with us. Anti-civil rights groups and networks have captured more of the working class vote and white imagination than the progressive movement thought possible. They have been digging into white, middle America communities, swing states, and emerging swing states,  spreading misinformation and fear throughout. They have been present and listening to communities that some progressives have abandoned, believing erroneously that they only need each other to make change. 

    We’ve got to reach more people, understand their concerns, find connections, and foster greater love and empathy for others. The people who are opposing affirmative action, reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, cancelation of student loan debt, environmental protections, and reasonable gun restraints are not fighting a single-issue battle and neither can we. They are fighting for a narrow conception of what it means to be the United States and who this country and its resources are for. We will not win the moral battle for justice as discrete communities, but rather together – as a collective so strong and a movement so large, diverse, and inclusive that we cannot be divided!

And, as you take these actions, know you’re not alone. While the forces against justice have gained ground and visibility, there are many individuals, organizations, and networks who are “fighting the good fight” and getting into “necessary trouble.” This is a time to collaborate across traditional boundaries and put your justice values into practice. IISC can partner with your organization or network to help you advance and operationalize racial equity and equity of all kinds at every level of your organization. This is the time to dig in deeper and we’ve got a full team ready to dedicate our services to you.

Knowing that our country needs more political action and organizing, IISC wants to work with more advocacy, organizing, and electoral organizations and networks so that we can support movements for justice by sharing our facilitation skills and tools for collaboration, equity, and network-building. Can you connect us to them? IISC is also available to bring seasoned facilitators to organizations and networks that are eager to clarify their vision for the future and develop a pathway forward to realize that vision. And we can support you in facilitating conversations with people who are nontraditional allies and with whom you may even be at odds. Learn more about our offerings here.

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June 22, 2023

Kelly Frances Bates: A 2023 Living History Maker in Hyde Park, Massachusetts

IISC President Kelly Frances Bates was honored this Juneteenth holiday as part of the groundbreaking launch of a new exhibit titled “Living History Makers of Color in Hyde Park”, a pictorial installation of Boston residents and leaders of color who have made historical contributions locally and nationally.

The exhibit features 13 Hyde Park residents of color who are having a positive and enduring impact in the local and national arena and who have committed themselves to service in addressing marginalization, disparities, and inequities. Consisting of larger-than-life pictorial stands of each honoree, the exhibit is scheduled to travel to various sites around the state over the coming months and will have its home during the winter months at the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library. 

The exhibit was conceived and produced by the Forum for Racial Equity in Hyde Park, led by Marcia Kimm-Jackson. The Forum for Racial Equity in Hyde Park via Educational Experiences (FREEE) believes that acknowledging modern Black and Brown contributions and history is important for many reasons. First, it allows us to eradicate the pervasive and damaging myth of inferiority that has been perpetuated throughout history about communities of color. By highlighting the achievements and successes of Black and Brown residents, we challenge this false narrative and promote a more truthful and positive view of the residents and the broader community in Hyde Park and beyond. Second, by recognizing the valuable contributions of Black and Brown residents, we can help to create a more inclusive city and state that values and respects the diverse experiences and perspectives of all individuals. And third, acknowledging the contributions and history of Black and Brown residents is a crucial step towards achieving racial justice and equity.

The full list of honorees, in addition to Kelly Frances Bates, includes:

  • Reverend Dr. Bruce H. Wall – “Defining the Church Without Walls” – Groundbreaking pastor/activist/changemaker
  • Aisha Francis-Samuels, Ph.D – “Educator at Heart” – First female college president at Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology
  • Conan Harris – “Purveyor of Fortitude and Foresight” – Esteemed purpose-driven leader and mentor
  • Segun Idowu – “Man of the Moment” – Exemplary economic and equity leader
  • Wyatt Jackson/Dianne Walker – “Ambassadors of Black Creativity, Giants in the Arts” – Impactful educators and award winning and historic artists
  • Ruthzee Louijeune, Esq. – “Working for the People, Advancing Equity” – First Haitian American city councilor; accomplished attorney
  • José C. Massó III/José Fabio Massó – “Voices for Change, Pride and Unity” – Award-winning broadcasters for equity and unity and living the legacy of love in service
  • Pat Odom – “Trailblazer” – First female of color in Massachusetts Army National Guard
  • Imari Paris Jeffries, Ph.D – “Keeper of Stories” – Exemplary and influential nonprofit leader & equity advocate
  • Ayanna Pressley – “Policy is my Love Language” – First Black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress
  • Tanisha Sullivan, Esq. – “Courageous Leader and Fighter for Collective Advancement” – Visionary and impactful attorney, humanitarian and civil rights leader
  • Ricardo Arroyo, Esq. – “Making Space for All” – First city councilor of color in Hyde Park

Congratulations to all!

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April 12, 2023

Racial Affinity Group Field Guide

Welcome to the Racial Affinity Group Field Guide produced 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. 


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.

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March 29, 2023

Bending the Arc Toward Racial Justice Part 2:  Lifting Up Emerging Trends

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

In the first post in this series, we lifted up a set of juicy questions about capacity building for racial justice. Here, we dig into one of those questions: “What trends are you noticing in the field?”

Let’s start with a little good news. In spite of all that conspires to the contrary, we are seeing some positive trends. 

People are hungry for effective action. We are seeing a shift in some quarters away from “help us establish agreement on why racial justice and racial equity are important” to “help us build agreement on how we are going to make a real difference.” There is more need than ever for creative thinking and evidence about the effectiveness of efforts. People don’t just want to be busy, they want to move the needle on outcomes that matter within their organizations and within the communities they are serving or organizing.  

Racial justice advocates are more paying attention to moving at a human, sustainable pace and nurturing organizational cultures that will support this intention. While the concerns and needs continue to be pressing and urgent, at least some leaders are leaning into practices that put people first and create more spacious, supportive organizational cultures. 

Healing and embodiment are finding currency in more spaces. As part of the shift to more sustainable cultures, more people who are advancing racial equity

Some funders are working to shift power dynamics and make their processes more accessible. This includes a revival of interest in general operating support, streamlined paperwork and the emergence of trust-based philanthropy as a framework for shifting power dynamics between funders and grantees.

And, of course, some of the news isn’t so good, and some of that “news” it isn’t even that new. 

Burnout is on the rise. Between the trauma of repeated racial violence and mass shootings, the multiple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and high vacancy rates in many organizations, both workloads and psychological burdens have risen dramatically in the past few years. Long-time racial justice advocates within organizations and networks are especially weary. 

Some organizations are coming apart at the seams and struggling to achieve their missions, in part because of the impact of the effects of systemic racism, power struggles, generational tensions, and gaps in basic management functions. Sometimes there really is an “elephant in the zoom” or “in the room” as Ryan Grim lifted up last summer.   

Up is down. False is true. We live in a time where polarization is intensifying and facts seem unimportant to a growing portion of the public and public officials. Public discourse and the public’s ability to think clearly and critically seems to be eroding as race discourse heads in opposite directions at the same time. In the year following the murder of George Flyod, the term “systemic racism” appeared more in the media than it had in the previous 30 years combined. That good news has been met with backlash, as white supremacist and white nationalist rhetoric continues to move from the margins to the mainstream and state legislatures are enacting Orwellian laws to ban books and prevent teaching of a caricature of Critical Race Theory on the grounds that it teaches hate (which it doesn’t) and might make white children uncomfortable (which it might, but has anyone noticed how uncomfortable Black and other children of color feel when their histories are erased or confined to just a few problematic mentions?!).  

Among people working for racial equity, the temptation to lump diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into a single bucket is leading to frustration and stymying progress. Making diversity a proxy for equity or justice does a disservice to each of these concepts. And it gives cover to those who want to declare victory prematurely (“We have people of color in leadership. We’re all good.”) or who want to point to a lack of progress (“That diversity training didn’t work. So let’s not do any more.”) as a reason to stop pursuing equity and justice at all. Diversity training and efforts to diversify leadership are good things but they will not end systemic racism on their own. 

Unclear ideology and analysis leads to muddled thinking and disagreement about what’s needed to make change and what strategies and tactics will get us there. Maurice Mitchell points to this and a host of other challenges to our collective thinking and action as he sheds light on what it takes to build resilient organizations characterized by joy and durable power.

Racism, colonization, and other forms of oppression are baked into the structure of our society and our organizations. Many of our efforts to transform single organizations, systems, or networks run into practices and norms that work against equity and justice. We will not transform the consequences without exposing, uprooting, and replacing the ideology and the practices that hold them in place. This will require new ideologies and new practices that are equal to the task.

In the face of these trends, we have been tailoring the way we work with groups and examining how we operate as an organization. As we enter into a strategic thinking process this year, we will be asking ourselves how we can meet these trends in the field with deepened or transformed ideas, practices, and systems – for our clients and partners as well as for ourselves. 

What trends are you seeing as you work for racial justice and racial equity? How are you transforming your ideas, practices, and systems to meet them?

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March 21, 2023

Bending the Arc Toward Racial Justice – Part 1: Juicy Questions about Building Capacity for Racial Justice

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

If you’re a regular reader or part of IISC’s network, you’ll know that we build collaborative capacity for individuals, organizations, and networks to pursue social justice and racial equity. Organizational and network capacity isn’t the only thing we need to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, but there’s no doubt that we need the collective ability to deepen relationships, sharpen analysis, create shared visions, and make space for joy and for rest, even as we design effective strategies and develop action plans. 

Last fall, I participated in a panel of grantees of the Borealis REACH (Racial Equity to Accelerate Change) Fund at the Exponent Philanthropy Conference. Moderator Makkah Ali asked us (myself, Judy Lubin of the Center for Urban and Racial Equity, and Natalie Bamdad of Change Elemental) to respond to a series of thought-provoking questions. Our pre-panel dinner and the actual conversation was too juicy not to share! For now, just sit with the questions (some of which were asked directly, and some of which emerged as I was writing this post). 

How is racial justice work evolving in organizations and networks?

  • What racial equity trends are you noticing in the field? 
  • What are people interested in working on? What goals are they focusing on?
  • Where are you finding more resistance?
  • How is the work (i.e., the analysis, goals, methods, language, etc.) evolving as people encounter positive energy and resistance?
  • How are people thinking about the relationship between racism and racial justice and other systems of oppression that matter in their work? What kinds of strategies are they using?

What does it look like to build the capacity of organizations and networks to pursue racial justice?

  • Walk us through an engagement that demonstrates what it looks like to make inroads toward racial equity. What were you hired to do? What happened? How did you assess the group’s progress?
  • Walk us through an engagement that demonstrates the barriers or blockades to effectively carrying out racial equity work.
  • What are signs of an organization’s readiness to engage internally in racial equity work? 
  • How are we supporting people to stay focused and sustain their efforts over time?

How can funders support their grantees’ racial justice and racial equity work?

  • What would you like funders to know about the future of racial equity work and the role they can play in it?
  • What types of support has your organization received that has been most useful to meet this moment? 

How can people prepare themselves for this work?

  • What does it take from us as practitioners to design and facilitate this kind of work? What kinds of skills, attitudes, and practices do we need to cultivate?
  • What does it take from leaders and staff in organizations? How does that differ for BIPOC folks and white folks? How does it differ for folks from different generations, genders, and other identities?

What other juicy questions are emerging as you work toward racial justice and racial equity?

We will dig into our experiences and responses to these questions in other posts throughout the year. Stay tuned!

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February 21, 2023

How Things Could Get Better

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve always been drawn to complexity – messy problems that overlap without clear boundaries or tidy solutions. The kind of issues for which many of us long for a straightforward solution. The kind of issues that many people rush to oversimplify in their quest for a solution. Racism is one of those issues. Here are just a few who’ve shone a light on the need to think and act comprehensively.

  • Reflecting on lessons from the 1960s, Audrey Lorde reminded us that “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” She was reflecting specifically on the intersections of racism and sexism, and also on the fact that our current struggles for justice are built upon the work of those who came before us.
  • Dr. King organized against the triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism, declaring that “the promise of a Great Society was shipwrecked off the coast of Asia … I intend to keep these issues mixed because they are mixed. Somewhere we must see that justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Building on Dr. King’s legacy, the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is calling for a comprehensive, multi-issue Third Reconstruction that addresses not only racism, poverty, and militarism, but also the failure to care for people and the planet, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.
  • In her 2017 book No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, Naomi Klein stated “It is becoming possible to see a genuine path forward – new political formations that, from their inception, will marry the fight for economic fairness with a deep analysis of how racism and misogyny are used as potent tools to enforce a system that further enriches the already obscenely wealthy on the back of both people and the planet. …[formations that are] knitting together a multiracial and intergenerational coalition bound by a common transformational project.

How does this matter for the work we do at IISC every day? I can see a few lessons and am curious about what else you see.

We can do more to help people explore how their central issues and concerns are inextricably linked to other issues and concerns, so that they can see more clearly the opportunities for partnership and solidarity. In the spirit of practicing net-work, we can help people understand how their work can be better leveraged if connected with others in the wider ecosystem.

We can do more to help people focus on building power through that partnership and solidarity – the kind of power that is necessary to meet the forces that hold the current social, political, and economic arrangements in place. We can focus more attention on what it would take to change those arrangements, even as we support people to strategize about how to survive and even thrive within those arrangements. We can remind ourselves to think and act more like organizers and less like administrators because we are, in fact, working to build the power necessary to birth a more just society.

We can do more to help people use their awareness of their own identities, particularly the identities that put them at the margins of society, to expand their consciousness and their circle of moral concern. As they say in the Poor People’s Campaign, “Everybody in. Nobody out.” We can encourage people to build relationships and learn from movements and leaders in other sectors, other countries, and from other identities. We can stand up against efforts to restrict what books we and our children can read and what pieces of our history can be taught.

And, in the face of such enormous questions and pressing needs, we can continue to encourage people to slow down, truly see one another, and find beauty and joy in the midst of struggle. We can celebrate the moments when we manage to weave together a network of both likely and unlikely partners, moments where we achieve small and large victories in our individual and shared work, and moments when we amplify ways in which justice, peace, and love manifest in our daily lives and work.

What does the path forward look like to you? How are you helping others to find a path through complexity and towards connection?

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February 2, 2023

IISC is Trying a Four-Day Work Week! (Updated)

In June of 2022, IISC decided to experiment with a four-day work week. First, it was just for the summer. Then we extended it into the fall. Eventually, after careful review of its impacts on multiple levels, we decided to make it permanent.

Here is the original post about this decision, which provides important context.

For years, our visionary president, Kelly Bates, dreamed of implementing a four-day work week at IISC. But it wasn’t until Covid broke open every preconception we had about work that it actually seemed possible.  While Covid has led to a lot of heartbreak, it has also given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reimagine our work, from where and when we work to how we manage our time and productivity and more. And so…we are trying an experiment this summer. From mid-June through August we are implementing a four-day work week at IISC.

Some background to this decision might be useful to share. 

During Covid we went fully remote as an organization, as did so many others. And eventually, as we grappled with the impact of the pandemic on our work and personal lives, we implemented monthly restoration days (one Friday off each month) and started ending the workday on Fridays at 2 p.m. (essentially giving staff a 37-hour work week). These interim steps made a four-day work week experiment seem possible.

Before taking this step, we took a look around and learned from a lot of other organizations who have done this and we talked extensively with our staff. We learned that four-day work weeks are not a perfect solution to all that challenges us and that sometimes people will still work some on Fridays. But we also learned that a four-day work week can make the work/life balance significantly more manageable; multiple staff from other organizations that had implemented it  shared that they’d not now have it any other way.

Another stop on this journey has been a simplification of our goals here at IISC to our intention to become sustainable, whole, and purposeful. Trying out a four-day work week is just one of the steps we are taking in pursuit of these goals.  A four-day work week will require us to be more purposeful and intentional with our time and, ultimately, we hope that it means our staff who work diligently for racial justice will feel their work is more sustainable and that they are better able to show up as whole people. 

We enter into this experiment with a lot of questions. Will it reduce stress or cause more? Will we be able to get our work done by getting better at prioritizing how we use our work time?  Will it impact our finances? We are also entering into this experiment with a sense of gratitude for the out-of-the-box thinking it has taken to get us here, and with the hope that this change will better support our staff as vibrant humans who are living, being, and working in myriad ways to make the world a better place – within IISC and beyond.

The myth of the nonprofit sector is that we achieve our mission and creativity through a 9-5 workday. And if we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that we all need to be better supported to live into our full potential. This policy change is in deep alignment with our values of love, networks, and racial justice and we are excited to launch an experiment that challenges us to live out these values in new ways. 

Maybe some of you are already doing this, or will soon join us? If so, let us know how things are working out – you can use the comment section below. And check out this TedTalk with Juliet Schor discussing the value of the four-day work week – from retention of employees to enhanced productivity and overall wellness for people and families. 

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December 13, 2022

Five Calls-to Action from the 2022 Facing Race Conference

What happens when thousands of racial justice leaders and practitioners come together after a pandemic? So much power and knowledge-sharing – and plenty of dancing and hugs, and even a few martinis!

At the 2022 national Facing Race Conference in Arizona, sponsored by Race Forward, participants were graced with gratitude for their work for racial justice, invited to be even bolder in our approaches, and instructed to avoid internal implosions at a time in which our organizations and the movement are needed the most. 

I heard five important calls-to-action:

  1. Backlash Means We’re Winning. Keep Going!

We’re winning! The number of people of color leading and pushing change in institutions is at its highest levels. We see movement wins such as the growing people of color electorate and the halt of the Keystone pipeline. The use of the word “systemic racism” is now commonplace. We were encouraged to keep pressing forward and harder to break through on our biggest ideas. Opening plenary speakers said, “Fight for your impossible idea… and let us dream and fail.”

  1. Get out of Isolation. It’s Time for Reconnection!

We’ve become accustomed to quarantine and staying close to home but we were encouraged to move out of our comfort zones. Specifically, we were reminded to talk to people at their doors and to bring them back into protests and visible organizing. One speaker said, “we have to retrain people, including ourselves, to interact again, especially in person and in public.” At IISC, our mission is creating skills for collaboration and interaction. We’re exploring how we can enter and hold physical spaces with care while still centering those at risk from COVID through an equity and disability access lens.   

  1. Don’t Underestimate White Nationalism. Expose and Bring it Down!

As distinct from the ideology of white supremacy, white nationalism is coordinated and direct action fueled by hatred and violence. Organization-building to support white racist and anti-semetic attacks and violence is on the rise and getting very sophisticated. From Boston to Michigan and Florida, leaders pointed to overt and well-organized actions in their communities from white nationalist organizations. They encouraged us to work with community organizations, government leaders, and neighbors to develop strategies to prevent their inroads and to frame messaging to drown out their discourse. 

  1. Stop Internal Organizational Implosions. Build Organizations on Soul Work! 

We heard a loud and clear call for each person inside an organization to take responsibility for extinguishing the internal fights we are waging against each other so we can focus on the external fights for justice. No organization, person, or leader is perfect so we can’t cast each other to the curb in punitive and harmful ways, stay in victimization, attack each other, and fall into gossip. They asked us to build our organizations so people can do their soul work and be liberated to do work with joy and happiness.

  1. Move Forward. Live into Possibility!

I was struck that you barely heard the name “Trump” around the conference. The focus was on moving and organizing for what we want and imagine. Not that we don’t pay attention to the war on our democracy and progressive values but that we go in the direction of creating even more conditions for change and living good personal lives as we do it. IISC held a workshop at the conference on fighting the return of the old normal by envisioning and leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation. We produced a resource guide to help you and other organizations do that while attending to the current challenges before us. Check it out.    

In summary, we have power, we’re winning, and we need to reconnect and get our own house in order. Now that’s a push we at IISC appreciated and definitely needed, and maybe you feel that way, as well. We hope to see you at the next Facing Race conference in 2024.

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December 13, 2022

Let’s Fight the Return of the Old Normal: IISC’s New Guidebook to Designing a Better Future

IISC was thrilled to host a workshop at the Facing Race Conference 2022 called “Let’s fight the return of the ‘Old Normal!’ – Leading for liberatory systems and racial justice transformation.” 

The workshop was offered on the Institutional and Sector Change track, which “is a home for practitioners from a wide range of sectors wanting to get real about transforming how our institutions operate in order to dismantle structural racism and generate racially equitable outcomes.” 

We created a space where participants could take a breath, experience something new –  a space that was infused with joyful music and where they were surrounded by provocative art and quotes and could imagine a more beautiful future. Here’s a brief workshop description, followed by a link to a resource guide that we hope that you will use and adapt.

Are you fighting the “return to normal”? Unsure about what “new normal” looks like? Marian Wright Edelman taught us that, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So we’re going to spend some time trying to see the new normal together. These past few years have taxed racial justice leaders and organizations in unimaginable ways. Join us for a moment of collective hope. We’ll co-create visions of racial justice in practice, sharing stories that feed our collective imagination. We’ll strategize about leading our organizations and networks out of “old normal” white supremacist systems and practices toward liberation and transformation. We’ll share tools for helping leaders to demand, envision, and build more liberatory and racially just futures. We’ll raise up structural and organizational strategies for creating a new normal of moving from trauma to racial justice transformation in organizations, workplaces and networks. Together we can fight going “back to normal” using the greater strength of both vision and strategy to bend the arc of society to transformative futures.

Check out IISC’s new resource guide that shares some of the prompts, practices, and artwork that were featured in the workshop. Please use the comments function below to let us know how you are using the resources offered here and what you are learning by offering this opportunity to others. We hope the resources are useful in support of your own visioning and your own practice!

We look forward to hearing from you!