The Need for Conversation
The Ann Martin Center is a large organization that provides psychotherapy services, educational support, and parent education to underserved residents in the Oakland area. The Center works directly in the community and at their clinic, hosting lectures, psychotherapy groups, and workshops. The 75-member staff is mostly white, serving clients who are mostly of color.
Clinic Director Lober sited two main reasons for their year-long diversity initiative.
1. Conversations about systemic racism and white privilege were needed to bridge the gap between white staff members' abstract knowledge of institutional racism and the reality of their day-to-day work.
World Trust workshop facilitator Dia Penning, speaking about her diversity activities with the Ann Martin Center, reiterates this point: "People believe they are not affected. When they are able to make that leap, they feel some shame and 'yuckiness' realizing they are actually a part of the system they have only really thought about on an intellectual level. They begin to physically feel something that was only an abstract notion, and start to recognize that taking it further is the only way to lead to healing."
2. Lober realized that she also needed to make a conscious effort to engage in some community building efforts among the counselors and other staff members at the Center.
"A few people of color in our program were talking about their experience of feeling different and being identified with clients," Lober explains. "They wanted a place to talk about their experience of micro-oppression."
Although the people of color on the staff initially formed a coalition group to ensure a safe place for them to discuss their experiences, Lober felt it was crucial to raise everyone's awareness and bring the whole staff to the table. She engaged World Trust not only to help get the conversation started but to assist in adjusting the discourse along the way. So far, Ann Martin Center has held three diversity workshops; they are about halfway through their year-long diversity initiative.
How Things Have Progressed Thus Far
When asked how things were going so far, Lober paused a moment for reflection. "There was more conflict and more sensitivity," she said, choosing her words carefully. "Staff members of color are getting upset about language acts -- they are saying that it doesn't feel safe. White staff members, on the other hand, are coming up against blind spots due to a premature sense of their awareness."
Lober describes how one member became "a lightning rod" when she denied using her white privilege because she was aware of systemic racism. This statement resulted in strong negative reactions from the staff members of color; subsequently, white staff members requested their own identity group to process issues.
A Common Challenge
In "Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity," Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk confirm that experience at Ann Martin Center is common when people engage in open discussion about race for the first time. "The default setting is for [systemic racism] to be invisible," they point out. "As a result of all this newness, plus discomfort with the emotions arising from their colleagues and even within themselves, whites often will advocate for even more strict boundaries around personal sharing and emotion when it gets too heated for their comfort."
People of color, on the other hand, "have expressed fear that they will face harsh consequences for speaking truth -- further marginalization, loss of credibility, or something worse."
The Road Ahead
Understanding that their staff members' reactions are an inevitable part of the process, the Center is committed moving the initiative forward. World Trust is helping in the following ways:
- Providing tools at each diversity workshop to let individuals feel "comfortable with the discomfort of the situation."
- Engaging in ongoing strategic discussion with Lober and other administrators about how to move the conversation forward.
- Developing a long-term approach to conversations about race that are specifically tailored to meet Ann Martin's needs.
We have a recognition that this work is "hard, deep, and pervasive," Lober says. "We are excited about what lies ahead."
At World Trust, our objective is to provide the catalyst for authentic discussions about race. Although many of our clients opt to schedule a one-time screening of one of our training videos followed by a diversity workshop, we also engage in ongoing projects with organizations, helping them to develop and implement strategies for achieving their goals of achieving greater understanding about systemic racism.
World Trust creates diversity videos that provide groups and individuals with the context needed to unpack difficult concepts about race and understand them by using clear anecdotes and situations. To request a facilitated diversity workshop or to learn how we can help your institution achieve its diversity goals, contact us here.