Honouring Black Male Facilitators … and publicly sharing my DEI practices
Once again, February is Black History Month and I’m recalling with great joy and appreciation how I was welcomed to the U.S. and supported while in the U.S. by several black male colleagues in particular. I would like to take a moment to honour each of them even though we haven’t spoken for awhile. These colleagues are Michael Wilkinson of Leadership Strategies Inc., Dan Duster with Edward Jones, and Anthony Jackson with the U.S. Forest Service, and Jerry Mings with The Desk Consulting Group Inc.
And then I offer, very humbly, a set of practices that I’ve been enacting related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work (i.e., DEI or some prefer to put Equity first now so EDI). Thanks to Renee Rubin Ross of The Ross Collective who offered her own EDI principles to a group of us first and got my thinking started. Her principles are in her blog here and also shared below.
But first a tribute to these amazing black friends and colleagues.
Michael and I met through the IAF. I first interacted more closely with Michael around a brilliant program proposal that he had come up with to expand the IAF certification program. At the time, I was the professional development coordinator in charge of the Certified Professional Certification (CPF) program. Michael had been an early pioneer of certification efforts and foresaw a need for people to have a higher level of certification. Unfortunately, his proposal was seen unfairly by many facilitators in the association. I had the pleasure and privilege of talking to Michael several times as we tried to navigate bringing in a second-tier program. Michael, you were always kind and patient with me. At subsequent IAF conferences, you were always welcoming and authentic with me. As a new immigrant to the U.S., I was unsure of myself in many respects. You saw me as clearly competent. For many years afterwards, I had the honour of working on several complex facilitation jobs with your company that were game changing for me. I have fond memories of sitting with you on a bus as we traveled to a conference venue and hearing how you were thinking about the future development of your company. Look for a follow-up video between me and Michael soon. You can read more about Michael here.
P.S. Michael has one of the largest independent facilitation and training companies in the U.S. and possibly the world, Leadership Strategies Inc. and has published several stellar books on facilitation.
I first met Dan Duster at a Technology of Participation (ToP) conference through some mutual contacts in Chicago. Dan was an active ToP facilitator and trainer for many years. I think for a while we were even part of a mastermind. But the thing I loved about Dan is that he reached out to me quite frequently. It was, “Hey Barb, how are you doing?”. Unfortunately, I was so caught up with my business, and my unaware racism, that I didn’t always make the time to respond and I’m so sorry, Dan. I had the feeling you were looking out for me and it always made me feel better when you did. Thank you, Dan for keeping me in your heart and even inviting me to your annual summer celebrations in Chicago. I wish I had taken you up on them. Find Dan here. Look for a follow-up video between me and Dan soon.
P.S. I know Dan well enough to say that he’s likely a fantastic financial advisor now and if I was still the U.S. I’d look him up to be my financial advisor.
Anthony and I met at a mediator conference in Portland. There’s definitely a theme here, isn’t there? I meet all the best people at PD conferences. I remember being very impressed with Anthony because he was so humble. He clearly had a huge amount of competence with his job at Bonneville Power Administration when I met him. He was in charge of mediation and employee conflict at that time. We got to work together in our first diversity cohort starting in 2009 when he honored me with agreeing to be part of this learning cohort. He even brought along his brilliant wife, Sandra Jackson who now is a stellar facilitator and mediator in her own right. You can find out more about this project here. The times you and I had, Anthony, facilitating some difficult client projects together are memorable. I suspect the conflict resolution work you do now with the U.S. Forest Service has got to be the best that anyone could provide. They are so lucky to have you. Find Anthony here.
P.S. Anthony has been a volunteer facilitator each month in Portland, Oregon, USA, for over a decade. The website is: racetalkspdx.com.
Jerry (Ethan) Mings
I met Jerry even before I immigrated to the U.S. in 2002. Jerry is based in Ontario, Canada. Throughout my almost 20 years in the U.S., Jerry has unfailingly reached out to me. In particular, he provided me with suggestions around investigating and navigating new technical platforms. He frequently offered to support me and improve my business efficiency through e.g., Mindmapping software, Evernote, etc. before anyone else was using it much. Jerry – you are really always on the leading edge of things. You are a social media guru in my humble opinion. I like that we got to be in several ICA Associates Canada meetings and collaborate on projects together. We also worked on a few IAF certification events where you were the process manager. You were always very broad-seeing and fair. Jerry, I remain deeply impressed by you, your wry sense of humour and how you are so strategic and generous. Thank you for making my life and business easier on many occasions. You can find more about Jerry (Ethan) here.
P.S. Jerry was the manager of the first ever CPF online certification event last year where I participated as an assessor. He handled it like he had been doing it this way for decades!
Ten Draft Practices of a White Facilitator Trying to Create Meaningful BIPOC Partnerships
Also in honour of Black History Month, I’d like to share what has worked for me in terms of building what I hope have been deeply trusting and mutually beneficial relationships with BIPOC colleagues. As noted above, a list of principles was originally developed by Renee Ruben Ross of The Ross Collective. You can find her original principles below and also in her blog. She is one of five co-collaborators (including me) co-presenting at the upcoming ToP Annual Gathering about the topic of white facilitators creating meaningful and resilient BIPOC partnerships and relationships. I am very grateful to Renee for stimulating my own thinking about building collaborative relationships. Here goes (and yes, it feels scary to share them in writing for the first time):
- Care about all human beings having the same access to respect, dignity, belonging, beauty, safety, nourishment, etc. I see that things are not equitable. I watch and observe how much oppression my BIPOC colleagues and friends face. This stirs me to take time every day to support, nurture and listen to my colleagues that might not have the same power and privilege as I do.
- Acknowledge our whiteness and white patterns are different from those of our BIPOC colleagues. I stay aware that those who are not white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon colonizers, have experienced something completely different from me. I remain open to noticing that what might be assumed to be a protective pattern of my BIPOC friends and colleagues, is merely a response to oppression. I stay curious and when it feels appropriate, ask how a particular situation might be affecting them. I try not to make assumptions about what their reaction is. I notice for example that my Black colleagues may react quite differently to a similar experience than my Indigenous or Asian colleagues.
- Commit to always work with colleagues from the BIPOC community. When you are asked to facilitate or train by a client or team, invite a BIPOC colleague to be an equal partner with you on the job. I realized that this was as much for me as for them. I have benefited greatly from these relationships over several decades.
- Pay BIPOC colleagues what they ask for or more. It seems important to understand that the economic situation might be less favorable to some of my BIPOC colleagues than my own. I ask them what they want to be paid to co-facilitate or co-train with me. In the past, I used to offer them what I felt I could afford. I realize now that this was racist on my part. It seems more equitable to ask what would make it worth their while. If I honestly have a limited budget, I will share what the total budget is and the percentage I would feel comfortable sharing with them. Then I let them negotiate with me if it does not feel equitable. This is still a tricky area for me. I don’t think I’ve got it quite right. My motto is to be as generous as I can.
- Educate yourself about racism and anti-racism continually. Never give up learning and observing. Some of my reading and conversations with other white and BIPOC colleagues has raised my awareness that members of the BIPOC community are continually asked to help us white people “understand” racism. We also ask them to educate us about being anti-racist.
- Build relationships before asking them to join your team or organization. We ask BIPOC colleagues to join our primarily white groups so that we can appear more diverse. All of my BIPOC colleagues are extremely busy and have so many demands on them from their own families and communities as well as their white friends and colleagues. I would say don’t ask someone to join your committee, organization or training team just because you want to be more diverse. Build a relationship first. Then, find out whether this might be a gift to them and only ask them if you sense it would be a beautiful opportunity.
- Notice defensiveness when it arises and replace it with curiosity. Accept that people may criticize you for your racism. Ask them to say more if they’re willing. Ponder it. Reflect on it. Read about it. Cry about it. Rant about it. But, not with any colleague from the BIPOC community. Do your own interpersonal work and then figure out what to change.
- Know when internalized racism is at play and do your best to not encourage it. You will experience and observe BIPOC community members being oppressive with each other. This happens because there is no other safe place for them to express their distress. If they do it with a white person, they might lose their job or an important opportunity. Figure out how to not add to what some call “internalized oppression” (i.e., taking out their anger and frustration on their own group versus those who have oppressed them).
- Enroll several BIPOC colleagues into the same project versus tokenism and overloading. Sometimes we think we’ll just ask the one BIPOC person we know a little bit to join our exclusively white team or organization. This is not a good idea. Try to bring on several BIPOC members simultaneously so they do not feel tokenized. This will create some safety for them to not be the only BIPOC member. It will also enrich the predominately white group immeasurably with new perspectives and thinking.
- Know that you are on a deep, demanding learning journey. It will not always go well. Be willing to be uncomfortable. And for gosh sakes, don’t be over-sensitive, i.e., don’t practice white fragility. If you are not familiar with this concept by Robin DiAngelo, Look it up here.
And here are Renee’s principles as noted above. Thank you, Renee.
The ultimate goal of my work is building a more just and equitable society for people of all racial backgrounds, especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). I center that in my work. I acknowledge the fear, shame or guilt that white people will (and probably should) feel as we explore our part in creating and maintaining inequities. But ultimately, “the work” is not about those feelings – it’s about moving towards equity together.
If I’m in a group of people of diverse racial backgrounds, I name race in an open, honest way. Early on in the conversation, I say that I identify as a white facilitator or trainer. I do this for a specific reason – that there’s research that when race isn’t acknowledged, BIPOC may feel that that part of their identity is not seen. (A lot more on this here.)
If I’m leading a conversation about racial equity for a group that has white people and BIPOC, I will only do this as part of a cross-race team. I don’t believe that I have the lived experience to “teach” People of Color about racism or deeply hold the experiences of BIPOC around racism and inequities.
We’re each on a journey towards anti-racism. I may wish that you as a white person were further on your journey. But to the best of my ability, I bring curiosity and compassion to your journey rather than judgement. My goal leading these conversations is to build safety for all. Only when we feel safe are we able to be open to new perspectives, to grow and to change.
As a white person, I’m responsible for my own learning. I’m not depending on BIPOC to teach me about racism or racial identity. I do learn a lot from colleagues who are BIPOC. And I also spend a lot of my time learning on my own, through books, articles, movies, podcasts or social media.
My goal is not to be defensive or reactive. At different times, I have been “called out” by people from different identities. When this happens, I slow down and seek to understand the concern and the stories that this individual might be holding.
After leading many of these conversations, I know that racial identity does not correspond to individual attitudes. I have encountered BIPOC who hold prejudicial views towards others or shared that they did not want to focus on race. I have encountered white people who are deeply connected to racial justice. I stay open minded to the mysterious diversity of humans.