Vondaris “Von” Gordon
Youth Engagement Manager
The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
Moving Past Conversations: Challenging Nonprofits and Philanthropy to Deal with Race
“Understanding is the greatest thing in the world,” said Mr. Sherman Norwood. In middle school woodshop, learning the value of measuring twice and cutting once was critical – especially if one goal is to leave enough wood for the next class to make their oven-rack pullers.
Mr. Norwood wanted us to assess our needs precisely and repeatedly so that when we engaged with our work, we would get it right, not be wasteful, and produce something for which we could be proud. It was not the measure twice, cut once rule, that he wanted us to take from his class, but the principle that understanding and commitment was critical to input, process, and outcome.
In my professional community, we call ourselves capacity builders, consultants, and strategists. We prioritize sincere dialogue and collaboration in our work. Our goal is to have our work lead to community self-determination, understanding of agency, and collective action.
Right now, an examination of race, racism, and white supremacy is underway. For many, it is a deeper dive than ever before; for others, it will feel too familiar. Reader, you, your organizations, and your families should seize this opportunity as well. There are research and scholarship that will help lead the way. Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Camara Phyllis Jones, and Derrick Bell bring unique perspectives and valuable insights. I hope this moment leads to the transformation and renewal of your mission, a rejection of supremacist ideology, and a commitment to reject oppressive systems. It is not always easy or comfortable, but it is necessary.
In organizations, the challenge is in looking around the table at staff meetings to see who is absent. What richness and diversity of thought are missing due to the practices and policies of the past? We all must make the invisible visible and the muted heard.
Taking our cue from Mr. Norwood, we must make honest assessments of who and what we are and where we want to go together. What changes must we incorporate to move forward? Measuring is the work before the work. The quality and impact of the cut and the finish will hinge on our understanding and integrity. The dialogue is the teacher, providing us with the ability to establish equity, to heal generations of trauma, and to create a sustainable model for how to deal with race.