Race: What We’ve Learned So Far

“…feeling at a heartfelt level that everybody is like, ‘we’re all in.’ There is no exit strategy. This has now become a part of how we think and how we live. It’s not just here at CICF, this is the way we live our life.”
—Pamela Ross


CICF is serious about creating equitable opportunity for everyone in Central Indiana to reach their full potential, and we know race plays a profound role in access to opportunity. Becoming an anti-racist organization and building lasting impact starts with open, honest dialogue, and that’s what CICF has been working on internally for the past two years. In this episode of For Good, four staff members open up about their personal and professional journeys to understanding systemic racism and how the foundation is continuously learning and preparing for the work ahead.

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Transcript of episode available below.

WHO YOU’RE LISTENING TO
  • Tamara Winfrey-Harris – vice-president of community leadership & effective philanthropy at CICF
  • Pamela Ross –vice-president of opportunity, equity & inclusion at CICF
  • Jeanie Andes –director of human resources at CICF
  • Ben Snyder  –manager of marketing & communications at CICF
DISCOVER MORE

You’re listening to, For Good. Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose and progress in Central Indiana. At CICF we believe in creating a community where everyone can reach their full potential—no matter their place, race or identity. This is our community and these are your stories.

TAMARA: I’m Tamara Winfrey Harris, vice president for community leadership and effective philanthropy at Central Indiana Community Foundation. And I am here today at one of my favorite spots. We’re at the Coat Check Coffee at the Athenaeum on Mass Ave. So, I’m with several of my colleagues from CICF and we want to give you a window on a really interesting experience that we’ve been having for almost two years now. As you may have heard, our foundation’s new mission is to make this a community where every individual has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter their place, race or identity.

And it means we’ve been on a really interesting journey both organizationally as well as professionally. And we want to take some time to talk about it with each other today. So before we dive into the good stuff, can everyone introduce themselves and kind of tell the audience what you do at CICF? Why don’t we start with Ben who is the official voice of For Good?

BEN: Hello. I am Ben Snyder and I am the marketing and communications manager here at CICF.

JEANIE: Hi, this is Jeanie Andes and I’m the director of human resources.

PAMELA: Hello, I’m Pamela Ross. I’m the vice president of opportunity, equity and inclusion.

TAMARA: So, I was thinking maybe we should start at the very beginning. One of the first things that I experienced when I came to CICF in 2016 was a two-day workshop called undoing racism put on by child advocates. And I think it was the start of our journey thinking about equity. Jeanie, you were here at the time, can you give us a window into why we sent staff to that workshop?

JEANIE:  So, it kind of started out, we had a couple members on staff, one in donor services and one in actually community leadership who had been through the workshop. One of them a couple of times. And some of that feedback started coming to leadership about—‘hey this is really good. We really should explore this and send staff to it.’ And so, we said, ‘hey, let’s get started.’ And so, we rather quickly kind of started sending groups of like six to eight staff members at a time in a workshop. And you and I were in one of the first ones. And Tamara had actually been with us for about five minutes. And when we made her go into this deep immersive, two-day workshop. And we, our group I remember were just totally in awe and inspired and concerned and all kinds of emotions all over the place when we came out of that workshop.

And it was incredibly meaningful to me personally and many other staff shared that at the same time. So, we decided to keep it going. And so, we now all staff have been through.

TAMARA: As well as most of the CICF board, if I’m not mistaken.

JEANIE:  Correct, yeah.

TAMARA: So as an African American woman, throughout my career I’ve been to a lot of different diversity trainings. But I have to say, sitting through that two-day workshop, I was shocked. I was shocked at how frank the workshop leaders were about institutional racism and what it really means. They didn’t hold back. I was shocked and shocked in a good way, a positive way. Ben, when you went through, what was your experience? What did you think?

BEN: One of the big things that hit me was it was the first time that I actually thought about what it was like to be white. And what being white means in this country. As a white guy I just kind of go throughout life kind of as the default. And I never really had given it much thought. And it just really kind of held a mirror up and was just like, this is what it is. And the historic context was huge. That they offered this education of our history as a country and how race played into all of that. A very unfiltered education of our country’s history that is left out in our education system for sure.

TAMARA: Pam, what about you? You started not long after me?

PAMELA: So, for me, it was really a difficult experience really. I think that there was a lot of anxiousness that I already had because there was so much conversation about what we were planning to do as it relates to equity. And as all of you know, working in the community for 25 plus years. So, being at—for lack of a better way to—ground zero in the work that we were talking about, it was kind of like ‘are we really for real about this?’ And also, as I’ve said before, I’m not brand new to the work field. So therefore, it’s like, what are we doing talking about race at work? What’s going to come from that exactly? And can I trust that?

So, it was pretty awesome to have a discussion with Brian Payne our CEO. And see that we were really genuine about it. And saw that it was more than just checking off the box of everybody goes through Undoing Racism, but we really have a really genuine and framed conversation. And even though the conversations were hard, including after each workshop, the participants would go through a debriefing. That cohort, along with everyone else who had been through it before, was invited. So, we were really creating a community of staff that were willing, although feeling unable at times, to have that kind of discussion. So, I think that again, if I’m just being really honest and truthful—as typically you all know I will be—I went through that being guarded. And so, I think that I could definitely benefit from going through it again to be more of a participant, versus looking around to see what is this about?

Like, ‘Is it okay for me to be angry?’ ‘I have other people here that I work with.’ ‘I don’t really know them. I just started.’ It was just, it’s kind of an out-of-body, a little bit of a surreal experience, but definitely glad that we incorporate that into our culture and a part of our hiring process.

TAMARA: What I’ve really appreciated over the months is—and you’ve done a great job, Pam, of pointing out that talking about race in the workplace is not just uncomfortable for white colleagues because it’s easy for people to assume because of the history of racism and how it’s played out in America and the way systemic racism works that it’s white people that are going to feel most uncomfortable. But those of us who are African American and other people of color on staff, it’s not easy for us either. Because everything we’re trained implicitly and explicitly to do is to blend in when you’re in the workplace. And to not talk about some of these hard topics. Because very often, there are consequences for talking about hard topics. So, I really appreciate what Pam has done to keep that top of mind so that people don’t forget that.

PAMELA: Sure, yeah. I appreciate you saying that. I think that that was one of the things that I felt compelled to say in my debriefing after we had gone through it was, because there had been tears before. There had been hard feelings. I hadn’t been in those sessions because I hadn’t gone through it yet. But to then still see that some of that was going on, I felt like it needed to be put on the table—that really it’s the people of color at the table who are also vulnerable. So do not forget that we too do sit here. That program is not intended to make anyone a victim, but create an understanding and awareness for everybody.

TAMARA: I was looking at you, Jeanie and I’m wondering, so you’re HR. How do you, in your position, juggle this? Because it’s a sensitive issue for a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.

JEANIE:  I would say in the beginning, it was much harder because I’m two years along on this journey, farther than I was when I started. And like all of you, that first initial exposure to all of the history that I had been so blind to, for lack of a better term, was just dumbfounding. And I’ve come a long way. And I personally have spent a lot of time reading up and educating myself— several books. I go to lots of educational session that we have and stuff in the community and all of that. Just because the more knowledge . . . knowledge is power. And the more knowledge you have, the more comfortable you feel in your own skin, and how you can then speak to white people or black people about race in the workplace.

And I now feel way more comfortable than I ever used to. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert by any stretch. But I am much more comfortable and now start out every conversation with candidates that we interview: ‘look, you need to understand, if you come to work with us, you have to know that this is a really big deal for us. We’ve changed our mission. It’s incredibly important. It’s part of the fabric and DNA of who we are going forward. And we intend to foster that and learn more of that as we go. And so while we’ve all been conditioned to not talk about race in the workplace, we do it very frankly and openly here and honestly. And you need to know that going in. And if you’re not comfortable with that, you should know that now.’

TAMARA: One of the important things that has happened after we established our new mission, and after we went to Undoing Racism, is we got a brand-new vice president of opportunity, equity and inclusion and that would be Pamela Ross. Which is wonderful and which speaks—I think—to the organization’s commitment to doing something about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. And that the fact that more and more the chances of you doing better than your parents are growing slimmer. And we know in addition to all over the country, but also right here in Central Indiana—that if you’re born poor in Indianapolis, you are likely to stay there. We know that race plays a profound role in whether or not you’ll have access to opportunity.

So in addition to having wonderful Pam, we also developed a group call the U.R. Conscious Committee, which was made up of employees who really felt it was important for us—not to just talk about opportunity—but also to explicitly talk about race and have that be a part of not just our mission, but our strategic plan for the next five years. And Ben, you were one of the first employees to say, yes, to raise your hand and say ‘yeah, I want to be a part of this.’ So why? Why was that important to you?

BEN: I was really taken aback by the information and the education that was provided to us through the workshop. And from just having conversations­—sometimes very candid conversations—in the office with one another about race, our work in the community and our commitment to making it a better place. And the education in these conversations that we were having really changed how I felt individually and professionally about race and what we’re doing. And I just felt it was very important that as an organization and as a collection of individuals that are committed to a community, that we continue to have these conversations so that we can grow and then share that and let that grow into the community. And I just felt like it was a priority to help be a part of the organization that drives this forward and out into our community.

TAMARA: So, I think the education piece of what we’ve done with that internal committee has been one of the most powerful parts of what we’ve done. I think every other month, just about every other month…

JEANIE:  We had six last year.

BEN: Yeah.

TAMARA: We had a different educational opportunity. We have done implicit bias training with Peace Learning Center. We have watched the documentary White Like Me. We’ve watched the documentary 13th with Ava DuVernay, and we brought in some local organizations that work in criminal justice to talk about what’s going on here in Indianapolis. Now, with Pam’s new role, we are all—we all report to her, our committee. She’s our committee boss, our fearless leader. So in addition to education, what is the role of the U.R. Conscious Committee?

PAMELA: I think it’s exactly the title. We are the consciousness, we’re the accountability voice internally that comes from several different departments that ensures again that we do not do this as a project or for a minute because it’s a trend. Because everyone is talking about equity. Because we all want to be a part of something that’s right now. This has to be something that goes on forever, because we’ve been in it forever. And so, I think that as we continue to grow, it started organically, we are our own CICF internal organizers that we now work together to make sure that within each department, we’re seeing policies, we’re seeing cultural change. Each person from the committee, the more that we talk, the more that we grow, part of the role is to make sure that you continue to be that voice in your department.

So, within marketing, that you are talking about this, this issue of race and equity and inclusion and opportunity. But really in order for us to really be the institution that walks the walk. I said from the beginning and will continue to say that we have to first be that inside. Because you can’t be the only voice in an institution and think that things like this are going to actually change.

TAMARA: Well, what’s your response to people—and I know we’ve heard it before—so they get the opportunity piece, they get some of the things that we’re going to do under our new mission. For instance, they get economic mobility. They understand tackling food insecurity. They understand maybe the gap in education outcomes. They see very clearly how you make a dent there. But then we get to dismantling institutional racism and they’re like, ‘I don’t think if that hasn’t been solved in the last 100, 400 years, you’re going to knock that out in the next five.’ So what is your response to that, anyone?

BEN: The conversation that I often find myself having is —I use the metaphor of you have a boat and it’s taking on water. You can look at just getting the water out of the boat, but until you fix that leak, you’re going to continuously be getting that water out of the boat. So, I think our commitment to taking on institutionalized racism and systemic problems is fixing that hole in the boat. While we’re—yes, also addressing the water in the boat—but we’re taking on the source of the problem and the symptom of the problem at the same time.

JEANIE: We all understand that there’s no way we are going to dismantle institutional racism in a five-year strategic plan. But you can never start to move that needle if you don’t start to move that needle. And I think we all—I know leadership for sure thinks of this as a forever thing for us. This is a generational commitment. We know that we are not going to do that, but we do have to measure something in that five-year period that we’re going to start to work on.

TAMARA: I think Jeanie was with me when our executive team, we locked ourselves away for a weekend on a retreat. And we talked a lot about this. We can look at the symptoms of inequity, but if we know that race plays a profound role in whether or not you’ll have access to opportunity, we can’t just look at something like wage inequality, but then not look at the thing that we’re saying causes some of it.

JEANIE: Yes.

TAMARA: We also know that this is a generational effort. This is not a five-year effort.

BEN: Absolutely.

TAMARA: This is the start of an effort. And one of the reasons that Pam is so focused on doing internal work is because we need to fix our systems and the way we work and the way we think as a more than a century-old institution so that this stuff becomes embedded in our work. And so, when all of us here are gone, this equitable anti-racist thinking kind of continues. Am I right, Pam? Or am I right?

PAMELA:    Always, you’re always right.

TAMARA: Yes.

JEANIE:  I saw that $5 going under the table…

PAMELA:  [laughing] Right, right. She still owes me more under the table. So yeah, I absolutely. . . you said it perfectly, Tamara.

So, I think also what’s really key, is that when you’re talking about when we first, when the decision was first made amongst the leadership staff of the fact that yes, we will go ahead and explicitly say we are going to have a focus of race. Is that it was also important because the community that we want to know that we are with, needs to also not hear us just say ‘we’re fighting poverty.’ Who is actually in poverty? Who is having issues of being chronically homelessness?

I can tell you that the excitement that we have in the community in general is wonderful. But in talking to communities of color, especially the black community, they’re very hopeful because we were bold enough to say you’re not trying to just mix this in in a conversation. You’re willing to say, yes, there are many inequities. But when you look at most of those inequities, who’s at the bottom? There’re great disparities and that has to become a part of the conversation. We cannot be afraid to talk about who is actually a part of these statistics. We have to be willing to say we’re paying attention. And I think that that was a big important part for me in saying that I would like to be in this role, is that I knew that we were going to be very genuine and humble and be willing to listen to the people who we are saying we want to support.

TAMARA: We are all sitting around this table. We all have intersected identities just like everyone else does. I wonder if this work that we’ve been doing, has made any of you kind of more aware of your privileges and the ways that you’re marginalized and how they work together personally. Jeanie?

JEANIE:  Absolutely. Absolutely. I see things I never knew were there before. And then feel like a complete idiot because I didn’t see them before. But I’m learning to get over that and deal with that this is a systemic issue. It has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years. And the people in power have kept that in play for a very, very long time. And so I see it now in movies—heartfelt movies that I loved when I was a kid. And I look back at that now and I’m like, ‘oh wow, there’s a whole ‘nother underlying tone to that story that I never even knew was there.’

I see it every day in things that happen that I just wasn’t aware of before. And I have found this journey incredibly eye-opening and inspiring and I want to continue to do all I can to move that needle the other direction because the inequity and unfairness of it is just heartbreaking to me.

TAMARA: It’s made me think a lot about class because I’m an African American. I’m a black woman. But I also was raised middle class. And I work at a foundation as an executive. And I have an education and for all of the ways that racially and through gender I may be disadvantaged, there are a lot of ways that I’m advantaged too, and it’s made me conscious of that.

BEN: Yeah, the intersectionality I think is a really powerful tool. It just brings a level of empathy. As a gay man growing up in Indiana in a pretty working class, blue-collar family, I get it. But I don’t get it exactly. Coming from working class and being white—and being in a primarily white community where I heard a lot of the arguments about ‘oh, we’re white and how is it that we’re privileged if we’re working so hard and we’re so poor and we’re so beaten up?’ And I heard that, and I never quite ‘heard it’ at the same time. But going through this and having these conversations, it clicked. And I was like, okay it’s not … these conversations were not saying that if you’re white, you had an easy life.

The conversation now is just acknowledging that your difficulties and your hurdles are not because you are white. Whereas, people of color or people of other marginalized communities … And I can speak to this personally as a gay man, some of the difficulties that we have are because we are part of these marginalized communities. And there are extra hurdles in front of us that are not there for everybody. And just acknowledging what those hurdles are and seeing the hurdles that may be in front of us individually. We can empathize the hurdles that other people have. And we can see them. And we can help each other. And I think that’s what it’s all about.

TAMARA: Pam, what’s been the most meaningful? Can you single out one thing about this experience that has been the most meaningful?

PAMELA: As Jeanie and Ben were talking, and listening to you as well, I really appreciated a moment at one of our executive leadership meetings recently where when Bob Hoffman, who is a consultant that we’ve worked with now for the past year and a half…or at least a year?

JEANIE: Yeah.

PAMELA: Who is from Maryland, who comes in and speaks very frankly about race. Especially the black race. Really, he says that’s what he is focused on. But he has really challenged us with really moving forward what we learn from Undoing Racism, even to the degree of letting us know that a two-day workshop, we don’t really know anything. So, you may think that that was big, but it was something. But it wasn’t big.

JEANIE: You have a very real, real conversation with Bob.

PAMELA: Yeah, he challenges us and that has shaken us up as well. But I would say that in that meeting with Bob, when we all shared where we have gone, or where we are now from the time we went through Undoing Racism workshops to now, and he says it was planned that I was last. But in that, every single person on our leadership team shared where they are. And as each person spoke, I became very, very emotionally moved. And I didn’t expect that because—especially at work—I have certain rules at work and that’s one of them. You do not cry. So, I did not cry, but I felt emotionally moved because—again, after being in the community for so long—it really was a powerful moment for me to see, other than Tamara and myself, a table of powerful people, with very powerful gate-keeping abilities to be leaning into this in a way that I felt was very genuine.

At that moment, I felt like there is really hope. There is really hope that we can do something here. And I am a part of something where we can do something. Now let alone at the staff level—but we’re talking about leaders, those who run departments. Our CEO saying this is the rawness of where I am with this. And definitely feeling at a heartfelt level, that everybody is like, ‘we’re all in.’ There is no exit strategy. This has now become a part of how we think, how we live. It’s not just here at CICF. This is the way we live our life. And so, at this juncture, and knowing the power of foundations and having it as a part of my career path and desired for so long, that really was extreme.

At whatever point I’m not at CICF, that will always be a moment that I remember. That was the most powerful—as far as my job and the work that we’re doing.

TAMARA: I think you’re right, all of these experiences have been very powerful for me. And I think if I was giving advice to another organization or to other people that want to take this journey, it would be not to be afraid. Because I think every—race is so, so polarizing. As is the conversation of equity right now. But we’re doing it. And it wasn’t easy. It was incredibly messy. We had a discussion scheduled the day after the election, the 2016 election. Which was also very polarizing. But we did it. And we talked, and we didn’t all agree. And we somehow found a way to move forward and come out on the other side.

Now in order to do that, you have to be very thoughtful. And you have to plan and be strategic. But it can happen, and it can happen in a workplace. And it can happen in Indiana. And there are a lot of reasons why people wouldn’t think that would be so. Jeanie, if you were giving advice, what would it be?

JEANIE:  I would say take in everything and just remember to always be respectful and thoughtful of everyone involved. And know that everyone is at a different point on the scale. And we’re accepting of that as long as you’re in. As long as you’re in the boat, you don’t have to be at a different level on the boat. You don’t have to be throwing out more water than anybody else. You can be at different places, as long as you’re on the boat.

TAMARA: Ben?

BEN: I would say being humble. And that’s something that we’ve said a lot. And I think that’s key. And when we’re having these conversations, it’s that we don’t know everything. We know a lot of people who know a little bit and the more conversations we have, we can know more.

And just acknowledging the size of what we’re taking on. And there was a podcast that they had said this, and it just stuck with me: ‘We’re trying to create something that has never existed.’ That is huge. And I think that humbleness, that is something that we have to just kind of hold onto and realize we’re not going to undo this by the end of the year or the end of this strategic plan.

JEANIE:  In our lifetimes maybe.

BEN: In our lifetimes, exactly. Because it took a lot of lifetimes to create this. So, I think just being humble is key.

TAMARA: Pam?

PAMELA: Sure. So I definitely agree with Jeanie and Ben. And I think again, going back to a point that I think I’ve tried to continue to say is you have to be authentic. People can see BS when it is BS, especially if you’ve been living it. And enough people have tried to serve it up to you. So, the thing is that continuously being authentic from a standpoint of being authentically right—or wrong—but be present in it. And do not try to serve up things that are nothing more than words.

TAMARA: I just want to thank everyone for being here with me today. This is so, so important. And I am very proud to be a part of the team. I want to thank everyone who’s listening for spending time with us. And thank you to Coat Check Coffee at the athenaeum. Thank you.

PAMELA: Thank you, Tamara.

JEANIE: Thank you.

BEN: Thank you.

For more information about the topics discussed today, visit cicf.org. For Good is brought to you by Central Indiana Community Foundation in partnership with WFYI Public Media. We hope you’ll subscribe to For Good on your favorite podcast app. And while you’re there, don’t forget to leave us a review.

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Very interesting. thank you for sharing.

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