Michigan Nonprofit Association Launches Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort


In 2020, following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and many others, white allies across the United States have asked how they can join the fight for racial justice and justice. equity.

As COVID-19 exposes and intensifies systems of racism, many nonprofit leaders are addressing these inequalities by working toward deep organizational change. They are re-examining their missions and values, their governance and even themselves in an effort to better represent and serve their communities.

In response to requests for anti-racism resources and training, the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) is launching a deep dive for white nonprofit leaders on how to move from alliance to action, starting January 21.

The offer was sparked by Joan Gustafson, MNA’s external affairs manager, and a course she took at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) about a year ago.

“Following George Floyd, I intended to not only increase my awareness, but also learn to do something about it,” Gustafson explains. “It’s good to demonstrate and to be there, but after what? This [class] is something white people can do to take the lead and hold us accountable to be more proactive in this fight.Joan Gustafson

The GVSU Institute for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion class was comprised of a cohort of white women, aimed to help them identify systems of oppression, examine personal biases and behaviors and to play an active role in disrupting white supremacy. The group was led by Deanna Rolffs, of Design Group International and Marlene Kowalski-Braun, Ph.D., GVSU associate vice president for student inclusion and support.

“It’s about inviting people to sit in a place as learners,” says Kowalski-Braun. “In our professional lives, and as adults, we often have this expectation of expertise all the time. It’s rare, but also important, that we’re invited into spaces to ask tough questions or be curious.

As class leaders, she and Rolffs also learn, she says. The two work closely with BIPOC advisory boards to vet course content, center color voices in course material, and hold each other accountable for learning outcomes.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we want to walk alongside people and do the hard work,” Rolffs says. “It’s about moving the workforce. While it is essential to center the voices of the people of BIPOC, we also know that many have said, “Take responsibility, you have the most privilege in this situation, work for racial equity yourselves”.

The brave and open conversations of the cohort made Gustafson consider her own past behaviors, moments, or experiences that she had barely noticed before. “As a white person, you really have the luxury of ignoring the experiences of blacks and browns in this country,” she says. “Very few of us would call themselves racists, but there are subtle things we do or say, and we’re not even aware of the harm we’re causing.”

Since taking the course, she’s made an effort to listen deeply to others, she says, and doesn’t try to explain away or cover up any microaggressions her colleagues or friends are experiencing. She also looked for opportunities to continue what she learns. Seeking to challenge her colleagues through a space of honesty, support and encouragement, Gustafson brought the cohort back to MNA and invited anyone who identifies as white women to join her in the material.

“We have established a cadence of meetings each month to read and reflect on books, articles and research papers on racism,” says new President and CEO Kelley Kuhn, to share stories and experiences and learn from each other.

Now, the organization offers the Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort to nonprofit leaders, members and non-members, putting its values ​​of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

“We are committed to breaking down barriers for marginalized communities across the state and influencing change,” Kuhn says, “[This] starts with knowing and understanding the existing problems.

“The Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort is important because many nonprofit leaders, including our members, have asked for tools and resources to understand a major issue, systematic racism,” she says. “This offering creates a structured space for those who identify as white to engage in deep and meaningful conversations about how to put their ally into action.”

From a safe space to a brave space

While some assume the idea of ​​white consciousness is rooted in shame and guilt, instructors Rolffs and Kowalski-Braun say the course is not about blame.

“This is an opportunity for white leaders to better understand their whiteness, deconstruct it, and work for racial equity,” Rolffs says. “Although there are different levels of discomfort in this work, people can stay whole because that’s the point, for people to feel empowered and empowered to change oppression and racism. .”

Brent Taylor, senior director of operations and strategy at Early Childhood Investment Corporation, is looking for that advice. His nonprofit organization works to improve access and equity to quality early childhood care and education. Systemic racism plays a role in the communities served by ECIC, he says, creating inequities in access and affordability.

“I am increasingly convinced that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. There is no middle ground,” he says. “It’s easy for many of us to fall back on good intentions, but my goal is to move past that. I think educating myself and being able to have real, candid conversations with others in the learning space and people with expertise in this area is the way to go.

He admits he’s a bit nervous about how he’ll present himself in the group and hopes he can get comfortable enough to risk asking “the stupid question”.

“I’m still at a stage in my evolution where there are a lot of racism issues that I just don’t understand,” he says, “or I haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed through my community, where I was raised, or my career so far.

It’s not uncommon, Kowalski-Braun says, and it’s part of the motivation for the job.

“Most of us aren’t deeply educated in these subjects. We don’t do a great job teaching K-12,” she says, “and our higher education doesn’t often create challenges. space and language for that either.As organizations really want to welcome people, they don’t always have the tools they need.

Working with a small group of 15 participants, spacing out classes to allow time for reflection and building relationships, sharing with the group their own mistakes in this area are ways the team seeks to build trust and vulnerability within the cohort. People also create this space for each other, she says.

Facilitators encourage participants to really move from the idea of ​​a ‘safe space’ to a courageous space. By setting aside the security that comes with privilege and allowing yourself to share genuinely and even erroneously, Rolffs says deeper learning can occur.

The program for this deep learning has been reviewed by several BIPOC advisory boards over the past two years, she says, and recently by three women of color who work at MNA and are willing to give honest and open feedback. Facilitators will continue to meet with the MNA Advisory Board throughout the series to share the class journey, hear ideas, and evaluate results.

“Because we don’t have the lived experience, it’s our responsibility to sit as both learners and teachers,” says Kowalski-Braun, “to keep our agendas loose and hear from our partners accountability what their hopes are, what knowledge they want to share, and how we might do things differently in the future.

For participants, facilitators, and counselors, the MNA cohort involves a lot of outspokenness, humility, and courage. The result, Taylor says, will hopefully be a path to understanding and meaningful action, both personally and professionally.

“I want to become a person who can more easily recognize where inequalities exist,” he says, “both within my organization in terms of culture and outside with the work we do, and be able to react to these things based on the knowledge and experience I have gained through trainings of this nature.

Whether you’re a nonprofit leader who’s been doing anti-racism work for years or you’re at the start of this journey and aren’t quite sure where to start, this is the place for you, Rolffs says.

“We view this work as a labor of love because we know people of color have trusted us enough to share their reality, and we white people can travel the world without deeply knowing the reality of people of color. We think most people do the best they can and just don’t know what to do next.

Registration is still open for the Anti-Racism Accountability and Action cohort starting January 21. This entry is part of our Non-profit journal project, an initiative inviting leaders of nonprofit organizations in Metro Detroit to share their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, Climate change issues and more affect their work – and how they respond. This series is made possible through the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.


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