MNA Launches Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort

The past two years have laid the racial inequities that persist in our nation to bare. Throughout the pandemic and following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, MNA knew that we had to double down on our work to address racial inequality. Now more than ever before, we are committed to confronting ingrained systemic racism with action.

As nonprofit leaders committed to advancing the public good, many of us have been grappling with what we could be doing to ensure all members of our communities have equal opportunities and equitable outcomes. We are asking the question, “How can we be better?”, reexamining our mission statements, and taking a closer look at our values. To help nonprofit leaders back up their statements of solidarity with action, MNA is offering an upcoming Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort.

Continued Learning

While MNA has long prioritized the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ), our new cohort stemmed from a Grand Valley State University course. With the events of the past few years, Joan Gustafson, our External Affairs Officer, wanted to act. After learning about GVSU’s class from a friend, she signed up in order to be more intentional in her work. “It’s not good enough to just have awareness,” she said. “The first step is understanding your privilege and being aware of it, the next step is holding yourself accountable in meaningful ways.”

The course consisted of a cohort of white women, aimed at helping them realize their biases and role in racist systems. It challenged participants to reflect, discuss, and grow in their racial equity work for a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be anti-racist. “We talked a lot about how none of us would think we’re racist, but we don’t always know the harm we’re actually having and the biases we have,” Gustafson said.

At the end of the GVSU course, the women were asked how they would take what they learned forward. Gustafson had already noticed an impact on her own life, but she wanted to take more action. “I was thinking about what I could do to not only continue my own learning, but how I could continue my actions,” she said. “I thought about my friends, family, and colleagues, and what those of us at MNA could do.”

Gustafson brought back the cohort to MNA, creating a series of meetings with the framework from the GVSU program. All of our staff members who identified as white women were invited to participate, and each one signed up. “Everyone was really excited to participate,” Gustafson said. “We were all committed to engaging in more conversations about what we could do to prioritize MNA’s DEIJ work.”

With the same articles and readings from the GVSU course, our staff engaged in a months-long conversation on privilege, systemic oppression, intent, impact, and allyship. “It was great to be given the time at MNA to devote to learning,” said Sarah Pinder, MNA Engagement Director. “We were able to use that time to discuss what we were reading and reflecting on, and work through all of that with trusted colleagues.”

The value of the cohort to our staff was immediate, and they all found themselves thinking more about the topics and continuing their learning outside of the designated sessions. “It was something that I had never been forced to step back and think about,” Beckie Hawes-Baggett, MNA Finance and Operations Officer, said. “I carried what we talked about week after week with me - I sought out more books and podcasts to keep learning.”

Allyship into Action

Each of our staff members felt like the cohort made a significant and positive impact on not just their personal lives, but also the way they view and execute their work at MNA. “As the Relationship Manager, I’m talking to a lot of people in the nonprofit sector - current members, potential members, everyone,” Caleigh Noonan said. “This helped me more fully understand that everyone may be coming to us at different points in their lives, from different backgrounds and lived experiences, and how to recognize the impact that may have.”

While she’s behind-the-scenes at MNA, Hawes-Baggett said the cohort helped her dig deeper into how she could make a difference in the operations world. “I started to look at things differently - how we were operating, and who we were lifting up,” she said. “We’ve made an intentional effort to support more BIPOC vendors, make sure our contracts are inclusive, and that our job listings are open to all talent.”

Incoming President and CEO Kelley Kuhn noted the importance of fully living MNA’s values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice to our work.  “We’re a state association that supports nonprofits, and these nonprofits play a significant role in their communities,” she said. “Because historically marginalized communities have been excluded from things like jobs, education, and healthcare, nonprofits have stepped up to fill these gaps. Now more than ever, it’s critically important for MNA to champion these organizations who champion the people they serve.”

Moving Forward

With the impact and success of the cohort for our staff, MNA decided to open up the programming for nonprofit leaders around the state and created the Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort. “We were approached by so many white nonprofit leaders asking, ‘what can we do?’,” said Pinder. “Having experienced this cohort ourselves, and with the help of our trusted partners at GVSU, we thought it was a natural fit for the next step.”

This 6-part online series is designed for white people who want to engage in deep, meaningful conversations on how we might put our allyship into action. This will be a brave space to reflect, discuss, and grow in our racial equity work.

To learn more and to sign up for the upcoming Anti-Racism Accountability and Action Cohort, please visit our event page here.