This post was authored by Lydia Nylander, of the U.S. Department of Justice, who attended EPIP’s People of Color Network Gathering last month.
For me, November in Boston usually generates thoughts of unconscionable temperatures and an abrupt introduction to hypothermia. However, I can only feel that the unseasonable warm weather that greeted me at the EPIP People of Color Network (PCN) Gathering was a sign of how unorthodox my time at this session would turn out to be.
Gatherings always fill me with excited trepidation, aside from meeting peers who approach this work with the same sense of palpable vigor and determination, there is also the real mission of capturing the essence of shared experiences and developing a roadmap to effectively applying new strategies at home.
PCN not only fostered an environment of learning and collaboration, but forced me to test the assumptions about the places, spaces and roles that people of color play in social justice advocacy. Specific sessions on race as a social construct and sharing our first reckoning with race were powerful takeaways in realizing the dream of true participatory philanthropy.
The two days were filled with many lightning bolts and ah-ha moments. However, the following became my three major takeaways as I work to infuse these themes and EPIP teachings into my work in the field.
The assumption of monolithic thinking
As we engage in the important work of harnessing social impact, we as practitioners must be reminded of the need to support the inherent right to be an individual. With the zeal to be organized and strategic, coalitions and affinity groups seem a natural and positive development. However the sometimes disparate, always unique, perspectives of people of color are pivotal in reflecting the field we feel such passion for. The danger of assuming monolithic thinking has real consequences, whether a perceived lack of buy-in, miscommunication and mistrust and the escalation of silos and entrenchment that stalls progress. EPIP PCN identified the pitfalls to making presumptions that fellow practitioners will and must agree on fundamental policy issues. The work we do is enriched when we acknowledge and affirm different perspectives irrespective of how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be.
Surrounding yourself with inspiring leaders
Visualizing a defined role in philanthropy can be daunting. It can be hard to mesh the impact you know is possible with professional opportunity and career development. However EPIP PCN was an important reminder that despite uncertainty and frustration, true inspiration has no expiry date. As practitioners, our fears, aspirations, stories and experience can often mimic those for which we advocate. After a day discussing the insidiousness of implicit bias, and pondering how data, statistics and research can effectively counter this prevailing wind, the EPIP PCN evening reception and salon gave participants a wonderful insight into the opportunities and challenges faced by philanthropic senior leadership. Mr. Javier Torres and Ms. Karla Nicholson provided gripping anecdotes and shared perspectives with eloquence and candor. Their courage in sharing their thoughts in such an intimate way, bolstered my vigor to approach my work, professional and personal roles strategically but authentically.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The majority of day two was spent applying the theoretical and anecdotal. Creating self-imposed matching orders to be more efficient and strategic, identifying audiences and stakeholders we need to engage and creating accountability and ownership of our professional journey. I was encouraged to hear the ideas of my fellow EPIP members and the connections and fellowship developed during the gathering continue to be front of mind as I plan my professional goals for 2014 and on. I left Boston encouraged, doggedly tenacious and appreciative. Thanks for all the thought and time that went into putting together a stellar two days!
Ms. Lydia Nylander is a born and bred Londoner who uprooted and moved to Washington DC, over a decade ago. Lydia gained her Bachelors of Law at the University of London and has a Masters in International and Comparative Law from the George Washington University Law School. Since arriving in the US, Lydia has worked in various capacities in the non-profit and public policy arena. Prior to joining the Justice Department monitoring and compliance wing, Lydia was Director of Grants Management and Resource Development at the National Association of Consumer Advocates – the nation’s leading consumer advocacy organization. In this capacity, she oversaw the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance, $15 million dollar foreclosure defense project which provided legal representation to families facing foreclosure due to abusive subprime mortgages. She moved to the US as the first stop in her quest to crisscross the world, living and working globally.