Michigan philanthropy continues to explore and embrace equity within organizations and within the communities foundations serve. As community conveners, community foundations can play a leadership role in elevating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) learning opportunities and conversations.
Barry Community Foundation is leading such efforts in Barry County through its Courageous Conversations.
Courageous Conversations, virtual community conversations centered on DEI, was a three-part series held between Leadership Barry County, a program of the community foundation, Thornapple Arts Council and the Barry County Chamber of Commerce.
Jillian Foster, program officer at Barry Community Foundation and director of Leadership Barry County, said the national reckoning for racial justice in 2020 inspired the creation of Courageous Conversations.
“For Barry County, diversity means something completely different. We’re a pretty homogenous white community and for us, there’s diversity in socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity and sexual identity,” Foster said. “We wanted to look at diversity from a racial lens but also how does having a diverse group in Barry County benefit all of us.”
The first part of the series featured Ken James, chief diversity officer at Muskegon Community College, who discussed the many benefits of diversity in communities. Nearly 60 community members participated in the conversation.
The second conversation was on mental health for teens and adults and the final conversation in the series focused on implicit biases.
Dionardo Pizaña, diversity, equity and inclusion specialist for MSU Extension, discussed implicit biases and provided actionable tools for community members to put into practice in their own lives.
“We talked about real life skills you can use when having these courageous conversations with people and pushing back to make sure they understand that what they’re saying might not be okay. We learned how to use our positional power to stand up for people,” Foster said.
After the sessions, the community foundation conducted surveys asking attendees if they found the session useful or if they had any suggestions to improve the conversations.
“Attendees asked for more of this type of programming. Most people expressed interest in learning more about LGBTQ+ rights, disability inclusion and toxic discourse,” Foster said.
The goal is to continue Courageous Conversations again next fall in a similar format.
This work also inspired Courageous Conversations Continued. These conversations were intended for smaller groups who want to talk about topics that focus on issues that directly impact their community.
“I led the first session on inclusive leadership, which is something near and dear to me. We talked about why it’s important to have inclusive leadership and not have an echo chamber so we’re not missing different points of view,” Foster said. “We’re trying to build a community around people who want to take action in DEI.”
So far, this smaller group has met a couple of times virtually and will continue to do so.
“We received no pushback from our community, and we were nervous about having that pushback. If you offer it and you get people engaged, then they’re going to want to participate,” Foster said. “I know our privilege and power as a community foundation allows us to continue to have this kind of programming, I hope we continue to find this work important. Without diversity, communities aren’t as vibrant.”
Learn more about Leadership Barry County.
Learn more about how the Fremont Area Community Foundation hosted critical community conversations in Newaygo County.