As part of my coaching program, we were given the assignment to describe a watershed moment in our lives, an experience where there was a noticeable distinction between who we were before and after. I knew right away what I needed to write about.
Back in 2005, I was a graduate student in my mid-20s getting my master’s degree in counseling and decided to leave the daunting Racial-Cultural Counseling Laboratory requirement for the summer session when I had more time to devote to the course. Friends who had already taken the class that students nicknamed Race Lab, talked about how intense it was and how often they cried. I’m not just talking about tearing up in the privacy of their apartment, but legit sobbing during class. The professor had a reputation for being tough and there was a lot of work involved beyond the classroom. I was terrified of what I was about to walk into.
Since I was attending graduate school in New York City, I was in classes with students who represented diverse backgrounds, but I had never really given much thought to my own racial identity. As a white person who had grown up in the suburbs of Dallas and attended private schools my entire life, it just hadn’t really come up because I was interacting mostly with people – classmates, teachers, neighbors – who looked like me. When I started the class, I remember being confused by the question about my own racial identity, but I knew better than to raise my hand to say that I wasn’t sure I even had one. Over the six weeks of the immersive course, through provocative readings, uncomfortable conversations with classmates, and difficult self-reflections, I began to face the realities about myself and what it means to be white in this country. I started recognizing the immense white privilege from which I had benefitted and continue to benefit in ways too numerous to count.
It was painful to acknowledge that the meritocracy I had been brought up to believe in was really a sham, that a good work ethic wasn’t really the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots,” and that I had contributed, albeit unwittingly, to the perpetuation of white supremacy over the years. This awareness altered my sense of self and threw my whole universe off of its axis. It made me feel guilty. It made me feel sad. It made me feel angry. But, once I saw how systematic and systemic racism was, I couldn’t unsee it.
I can confidently say that Race Lab forever changed me and my professional trajectory. Since that summer, I have been passionate about contributing to communities where I could use my privilege to affect change. I served as a college counselor in public high schools in New York City and Atlanta, and for more than a decade, I worked at a scholarship organization committed to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students with financial need.
Although I was engaged in the work of creating access to educational opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds, when tensions arose in the summer of 2020 after a series of highly-publicized murders of black people at the hands of the police, I had to reckon with myself that I may very well be an ally, but I was far from being an accomplice. In other words, I supported the idea of Black Lives Matter and racial justice on a theoretical level, but I hadn't really put "skin in the game" (pun intended) to speak up and speak out when there was a perceived risk to my power, position, or purse. This was a hard truth to face, but also made it clear to me that I needed to do more than read books about white fragility, attend DEI workshops, and follow anti-racist thought leaders on social media. A few months later, I left my job to start a coaching and facilitation practice that supports mission-driven individuals, leaders, and teams to elevate professional impact and enhance personal fulfillment.
When I launched One Eleven Leadership, I built into my business plan that I would take on a number of pro bono and pay-what-you-can clients each quarter to lean into my values around equity and inclusion. As I planned out my marketing strategy, I decided that at least one of my social media posts each week would be dedicated to a topic related to anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or belonging. I also made a commitment to donate a portion of my income to the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization dedicated to “ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” In addition to getting more involved in my local public school system and serving on the Equity Task Force, those were just a few concrete examples of how I could use my platform and privilege to raise awareness while also living and working in alignment with my values.
Addressing systemic inequities in our society and striving towards an anti-racist mindset has become an integral part of my ongoing journey. I've come a long way since those early days in Race Lab, but my racial identity is something I continue to grapple with, educate myself on, and engage in with anyone who is interested (and sometimes even when they're not). The work is exhausting, disheartening, and overwhelming because the more you know, the more you see, but it’s also freeing, meaningful, and worthwhile. Most importantly, it’s something I talk about openly with my young children in the hopes that they won’t need to take as long as I did to have the same watershed moment.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.