Reflections on REI’s Two-Day Racial Equity Workshop

“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

In November, the Next Stage team participated in the Racial Equity Institute’s two-day Phase 1 training designed to “develop the capacity of participants to better understand racism in its institutional and structural forms.” The workshop was hosted in Charlotte by Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, a collaborative leadership group working to reduce disproportionality and disparate outcomes for children and families of color.

The following are reflections from our team members:

Caylin Haldeman, Director, CULTIVATE

For two full workdays, I put my email vacation responder up and sat alongside my colleagues at Next Stage and Charlotteans from all corners of our community — representing local universities, hospitals, the City, philanthropic institutions and more — in an uncomfortable chair in a chilly room at Hope Haven’s North Tryon campus. We were gathered for the Racial Equity Workshop, hosted by local collaborative Race Matters for Juvenile Justice and facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute, located out of Greensboro, NC.

It feels cheap to say that this was a powerful experience. Growing up in a Quaker learning environment, social justice and equity were concepts that showed up consistently through my studies and in discussion both at home and in the classroom. I fell into the nonprofit sector through volunteer work that was part of a class I took my junior year of high school exploring race and poverty in Philadelphia, PA. But it didn’t take long to realize how much more I have to learn — and frankly, how much I have to unlearn as well.

The work of creating racially equitable organizations and systems starts with having a full understanding of our country’s cultural and historic roots and a common vocabulary with established definitions for key concepts — for example: race, prejudice, racism, white supremacy, systems, social and institutional power. But it can’t end there.

We need to recognize the social and institutional power present in the inherent dynamic of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, and our role in that inequitable system. I look forward to continuing to dialogue with the Next Stage team about how we can incorporate an equity lens into the work with do with nonprofits every day — and how we can participate locally to dismantle racism’s hold on our community.

Taylor Gardner, Client Coordinator

Why should we end racism?

It’s not a question you hear often. Instead, you hear questions like, “is racism still going on in 2019” or “how can we stop racism?” I thought it was interesting that the folks over at REI started with a simple, yet important question, why?

In November, I had the pleasure of joining the Next Stage team for a two-day workshop hosted by the Racial Equity Institute. In the past, I have been a part of workshops like these, so I sort of knew what to expect. However, even though I thought I knew what racism was and how the majority of the systems in this country are set up, this workshop opened my eyes to so much more. They did an awesome job of using history to shape the conversation.

As a black woman, I am often asked to forget the past, because it didn’t happen to me or my parents. However, this workshop proved that in order to make changes in the future, we have to address the past first. It also proved that things are easier to understand when you are all speaking the same language. It is easy to take into account your personal experience when thinking about racism and using that to inform your actions or attitude towards it. But, if you start with history and are in a room with people who all have the same information as you do, it is easier to come up with solutions and remain hopeful that one day things will change.

We all know or at least have an idea about racism in this country. But, something I personally never thought about was how it came to be in the first place or how it impacts all other aspects of life. I’ve heard and seen racism in the workplace or education, but what about in the financial industry, social services, or within nonprofits? Unfortunately, the truth is it is present in all systems and isn’t just Black and White. It is an issue that started with greed and has generational effects.

While racism is a big problem to face, I appreciate organizations like REI who are spreading unbiased information to help solve the issue. I am eager to see how we at Next Stage will use this information to impact our community and work.

Janet Ervin, Consultant

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is the quote that kept coming to mind as I sat through the workshop. I’ve always loved history and would have considered myself well-versed in both US and NC history… until I realized how much I don’t know because I had never encountered it before. Viewing the development of our country and public policy through a racial lens was sobering, humbling and eye-opening.

I have worked recently with an organization that help entrepreneurs in under-resourced communities and we’ve talked a lot about the impact of generational wealth, segregation in neighborhoods and more. And while I’ve understood these concepts on an intellectual level, the history and economics lesson in the workshop gave me the context to really ‘get’ how and why we got here – and the importance of dismantling the systems that make opportunity less accessible for people of color.

So much of the history in this workshop isn’t taught in school and it helped drive home the ways that we perpetuate policy and systems that have real-life consequences for people. Understanding the systems would help us better name the inequities and acknowledge the ways we benefit – so we won’t be condemned to the mistakes of our past.

On a personal level, I plan to take action by tackling a long reading list (starting with A People’s History of the United States) so I can better understand the policies that got us here and to consider the ways I can create more equity in my own work and life.

Tanya Varanelli, Project Manager

It’s going to take some time to fully unpack everything I learned and unlearned at this workshop. Starting with the “facts” from historical events and understanding how Americans have internalized the narrative we have been told. To me, this workshop was about learning the truth, being open to a new narrative, and having the hope and desire for change.

Knowing that race is a major predictor of outcomes should change how we systematically serve our community and use our voice. This workshop was a catalyst for understanding the true impact that race has our systems and what I can do as an activist for change. I am grateful to be able to participate in this powerful workshop with my coworkers and others in our community dedicated to increasing opportunity for all.

Josh Jacobson, Managing Director

Have you ever had to describe something profound to someone and feel you don’t have a suitable vocabulary? That’s how I feel right now. I was substantially impacted by REI’s Phase 1 training, and not a day goes by since that I haven’t reflected on what we learned.

Much of the workshop is a history lesson, beginning with colonists reaching Virginia and founding the Jamestown Colony in 1607. The workshop facilitators nimbly took us through the highlights (but really lowlights) of policymaking that has reinforced current systemic racial inequities. It was a stunning narrative I had never heard and will be forever changed by hearing.

At our recent staff retreat following this workshop we affirmed our passionate desire to bring a racial equity lens to our firm’s work, both internally and externally. I am personally pursuing a pledge I made that day to be an antiracist. I oppose racism, and to do that effectively, we change systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes. I am at the beginning of this journey but I am filled with purpose.


To learn more about Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, the Racial Equity Institute, or how your team can participate in an upcoming workshop, check out their website for more information.

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