Vulnerability and our journey to become an anti-racist organization
Origin of the Journey
On Juneteenth, CT3 made a commitment to become a leading anti-racist organization. Soon after, our seven-person anti-racism (AR) committee set out to actualize that commitment. Referring to the work of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and other experts, our team agreed that to be an anti-racist is to actively take risks to:
- Constantly question and evaluate race-based oppression.
- Deconstruct the personal and structural behaviors, systems, and policies that support oppression.
- Build equitable replacements that create a more racially-just world.
I’d like to share the heart journey that our exceptional and diverse AR committee is taking. I believe that this process is harnessing the best of who we are as an organization, and that our experience models transformational work to become an anti-racist organization. At its root, our journey is driven by a commitment to vulnerability.
For context, I’m a white woman. Our AR committee includes me and four Black colleagues, one Asian colleague, and one other white colleague. Of our entire company of 24 team members, 48 percent are Black, 60 percent are people of color, and 65 percent are women.
For our team, vulnerability has meant staying open even when we feel threatened and having faith that it will be alright to be brave. We decided to create a space that would be brave enough for us to be vulnerable, rather than safe, which might serve to protect white fragility.
Our starting point was the murder of George Floyd. The pain it evoked was more acute for the Black people on our team who viewed it as another episode in the ongoing trauma they experience. For white folks, it evoked empathetic outrage.
Instead of shying away from the pain, we faced our pain, examined it, and responded in different ways. A number of our colleagues (Ronardo’s response, Meaghan’s response, Richard’s response, Kristyn’s response, and mine) wrote about their perspectives in our blog. In this spirit, our founder and former CEO, a white woman, left her leadership role and the promotion of our next CEO, a Black woman, has been supporting our company to more quickly align with its new commitment to anti-racism.
Next, the AR committee brought this work to the larger team. Some of our activities included:
- Exploring our lived experiences with racism and how racism has manifested differently depending on our racial identities.
- Holding weekly AR committee planning sessions, small and large group activities with the entire team, individual follow-up with team members as needed, and creating opportunities for folks to reach out to our committee.
- Conducting a series of trainings on confronting racist scenarios in the schools we serve, including role plays.
Discussing these experiences surfaced uncomfortable feelings for all of us. Our Black colleagues confessed to feeling devalued and having to work harder and achieve more than white counterparts, both professionally and personally. Not coincidentally, three times as many of our BIPOC colleagues hold PhDs or EdDs than our white counterparts. In one reflection, a Black colleague shared the following illuminating reflection:
“This space allowed me to share parts of my story that are the most painful to my existence. I shared (and got emotional) about how I was discriminated against when purchasing my condo in Chicago. Ultimately, I had to have a white friend view properties for me and that was the only offer that was accepted regardless of me being the highest bidder for multiple properties. There is no — and would have been no other forum — for me to share that experience and the anxiety I have around buying properties. I’m hyper-aware that people like me are not welcome in various spaces, now evidenced by people looking in my windows to challenge/question how I am here.”
Our white colleagues felt uncomfortable about benefiting in the workplace and larger society because of race and guilty about not actively disrupting racist systems. I myself had the following insight:
“I used to consider myself ‘woke’. However, as I learn more and look more closely, I continue to find ways that I have operated in a ‘white is right’ paradigm. For example, I can clearly identify instances when I’ve engaged in cultural appropriation, white saviorism, and interrupting my Black colleagues, among others. This team, whom I love, has showed me how to be clearer in my conversations about racism. If I encounter someone arguing with me about the existence of white supremacy or systematic racism, I have language now, “the lived experience of Black people that I love is non-negotiable.”
Engaging in Study
These conversations led us to realize that we needed to learn more about racist history/policy and the origins of white supremacy. Thus, we began a collective dive into American history — the whole history — which is quite different from the history than most of us were taught in school. Resources included, among others, Jeffery Robinson’s work on racism in America and the New York Times’ 1619 podcast. As colleagues continue self-directed study, this collective and individual engagement is a critical step in our journey.
Gradually, this heart journey (vulnerability, discomfort, conversations, lived experiences, study) enabled us to begin more concrete work. Together we began to examine the ways that racist policy (e.g., redlining) and events (e.g., shootings of unarmed Black people), have, and continue to impact education. Specifically, we’re examining the many ways that current racist policy in schools have come to be, and continue to be reinforced or upheld. Examples include tracking, disproportionate discipline, and Black males being hired for behavior roles over instructional roles.
Enhanced by our new, shared understanding of America’s racist history and the lived experiences of BIPOC teammates, our team began to see even more clearly how white superiority is embedded in everything about our culture, and how color blindness, cultural appropriation, unconscious bias, and other forms of racism negatively impact BIPOC. With this clear lens and shared starting point, we could begin the important conversations about how to address these issues.
The process has been risky for us all in different ways, depending on conflict style, racial identity, and personality, but we’ve all allowed ourselves to be guided by the incredible body of work by anti-racist leaders. For example, we adhere to Bettina Love’s assertion that anti-racism must involve taking a risk (particularly for white co-conspirators), and keep ourselves honest in reminding ourselves of Kendi’s assertion that the heartbeat of racism is denial.
Sustaining the Effort
After nearly six months of striving to be vulnerable and courageous together, our small committee and larger team have not betrayed one another. We’ve surged into a generative space where all voices are heard, and we are beginning to fulfill our objective as a committee and as an organization.
The feedback we collect after sessions is increasingly more positive and we have created the opportunity for the larger team to do deeper work. This includes: reflections and research in communities we serve and work; role playing scenarios that involve racial themes and call on anti-racist advocacy; critically analyzing our own experiences; and engaging in broader dialogue with our partners.
When I reflect on the vulnerability that has defined our work, I’m reminded of a powerful passage from Brené Brown:
“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.
When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’
When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”
We want to protect our brave space and help create more brave spaces to discuss and confront racism in schools and simultaneously, we want to protect Black and brown students from oppression in schools. Our mission at CT3 has always been to transform the quality and culture of education for disenfranchised youth, and our vow to be anti-racist educators means we must do this in an even more radical way than we have before.
As we continue to engage in this work, I’m more grateful than ever to be a part of this amazing team, and I’m proud to be part of helping create brave spaces where we can be seen and facilitate healing from racial injustice.
We’re committed to share our ongoing and relentless journey. Stay connected; we’ll continue to share celebrations, lessons learned, protocols we have developed for examining, dismantling, and replacing racist policies in schools, curated resources, as well as our internal and external anti-racist programming. We will also invite you to collaborate as we design equitable replacement policy and behaviors to co-create a more racially-just world.
Join us for our monthly CT3 Cares Coffee & Conversations, the third Thursday of every month, where we discuss different aspects of AR and the challenges and resiliency shared across the country with our partners and colleagues.
By Leah Pearson, Associate, CT3
CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities.