This post was written by Katy Sauer, Aligned Impact Fellow, with contributions from Senior Consultant, Katy Bourgeois.
How do nonprofit leaders begin to cultivate cultural competency? According to diversity consultant and Mission Driven 2017 speaker, DeWayne Street, it all starts with the individual. As the owner of Midway Diversity Solutions, Vice President of Workforce Advancement at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, and a proud educator, DeWayne is no stranger to cultural competency.
At Mission Driven, Dwayne drew in his audience with a gripping poem, “The Cold Within” by James Patrick Kinney, which illustrates the dangerous deadlock created when members of one social group are blinded by differences, losing their ability to see members of another group as individuals.
The poem describes six people gathered around a dying fire; they choose to hold tight to their individual sticks of firewood and risk freezing rather than contribute to the fire and share with someone of another color, religion or income. The poem ends:
Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.
With this poem fresh in our minds, DeWayne walked us through recent political protest footage reflecting the same fear, anger and isolation portrayed in Patrick Kinney’s poem. The parallels were uncanny. As DeWayne mentioned in his previous Power of Good Blog post, Let America Be America Again:
“The forces of history, economic angst, and the shifting demographics have all coalesced to produce the current state of increased marginalization and fear.”
As nonprofit professionals, we make a daily choice to either feel safe inside our ideological bubbles or engage with adversity to make a difference. When it comes to creating a culturally competent country, the choice is no different. DeWayne provided us with actions we can take to hold ourselves and others accountable for cultivating cultural competency:
Social change comes from within. Asking our teams to hold ourselves accountable to these practices are the first steps toward repairing broken relationships within our country. Dwayne challenges us to take these initial steps to create the change our mission hopes to achieve, and to work together to beat “the cold within”.
As our nation struggles to truly be a place where all citizens are valued and respected, each of us must be willing to examine and confront our own biases.
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