Nov 21, 2022 29 min read

Centering Equity in Coalition Building

 Image of Guest, Kalika Curry, and aquote from transcript

Episode 36, 42 min listen

When you are part of a large coalition, how do you ensure the participants are centering equity in their work? Listen in on this episode as Kalika Curry, of Eastside Pathways, shares how her organization centers equity in all they do and how they align members in their coalition to the same goals. Along the way, we'll discuss targeted universalism and the four dimensions of racism.



Learn more about Eastside Pathways and their work in Washington.

Learn more about StriveTogether and their national network of communities.

Learn more about Courageous Conversations equity training.

Explore the writings and offerings of Claudia Horwitz.

Learn more about systems change and the work of Donella Meadows.


Kalika Curry, Community Impact Manager, with Collective Impact organization Eastside Pathways supports Racial Equity and youth initiatives in East King County. Over the last 15 years Kalika has established her practice as a racial equity adaptive leaders, facilitator, and collective convener to reshape relationships and community. Kalika is also a member of the Right to Breathe Association, founder of Pono Pursuit LLC and a volunteer for several local non-profits. Outside of work Kalika enjoys the arts, yoga, being in nature and spending time with her family.



Ame Sanders 00:11

This is the State of Inclusion Podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better. And we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders. Welcome.

If you’re new to the State of Inclusion podcast, you may not know that we have identified six practices in the Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community. When I learned about the work that today’s guest was doing, I knew it would be a perfect example of the Practice of Coalition Building.

So, listen in as Kalika tells us about how her organization centers equity and inclusion in all they do. But she takes it a step further with a fairly unusual tool, something she calls their equity pledge. This pledge helps to ensure that the partners in their coalition are also aligned around equity and inclusion. Along the way, Kalika will help us to find terms like targeted universalism, and she’ll also talk about four different types of racism and how to address those.

So today, we’re happy to welcome Kalika Curry. She’s a Community Impact Manager with Eastside Pathways, a collective impact organization focused on improving cradle-to-career education opportunities and success for children in the Bellevue, Washington area. Welcome, Kalika. Thanks for joining us.

Kalika Curry 01:48

Thank you for having me. It’s really a pleasure.

Ame Sanders 01:51

Let’s start. Maybe you could just tell the audience a little bit about Eastside pathways and your role there.

-About Eastside Pathways

Kalika Curry 01:57

Yeah, so Eastside Pathways is a collective impact organization, and we serve both Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts amongst about 80 other organizational partners. That includes folks from the nonprofit sector, that includes the medical and private sectors. Also, part of our partnership is a track for individual community members to be partners as well. Our focus is to shift outcomes for young people from cradle to career or birth to age 26.

Really, our focus is at that structural change level, so policy level. We want to make sure that the change and influence we’re having are not person dependent. My role is that Community Impact Manager is supporting our racial equity initiatives from cradle to career birth to 26, as well as our high school, post-secondary, and entering career choice outcomes for the partnership.

Ame Sanders 02:52

Maybe not everybody’s familiar with some of the terms that you use. So, you’ve talked about a collective impact network. I’ve also seen you guys referred to as a backbone organization. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what that means and how that works?

-Terms: Collective Impact & Backbone Organization

Kalika Curry 03:10

Yeah, absolutely. So, the collective impact model came out of the private sector. There were a lot of these big organizations that did not have qualified candidates to fill the roles that they had. Then, they realized that they couldn’t solve for that challenge within their sector. They needed to partner with organizations (for example, the education sector) to address some of those issues. But once they knocked on the door of the education sector, the education sector said this is also a housing issue, and it is a healthcare issue. So, just really realizing that there needed to be a model that called in organizations and leadership from all sectors, all walks of life, to solve for our greatest challenges in community because there are adaptive challenges, right? There are no known solutions for those challenges.

Having a backbone organization is actually one of the conditions–best practices–of a collective impact organization. The role of the backbone is to convene people. It’s to bring folks together, right? So, if we’re expecting all these different organizations and leaders to come to the table, who’s going to help hold that space together? That’s as technical as finding locations and emailing folks and letting them know when and where to be, but it’s also as adaptive as helping manage power dynamics, understanding the pulse of the community and the issues, and how to prioritize those.

Ame Sanders 04:32

Your organization, Eastside Pathways, is also part of a larger national network of organizations called StriveTogether. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that and how you guys work as part of that larger network?

-About StriveTogether Network

Kalika Curry 04:46

Absolutely. So, StriveTogether essentially, is the backbone of all the collective impact organizations across the country. So, they’re coming and telling us where to be and when to be. They’re creating spaces for what we call site-based collective impact organizations to come together, share their best practices, share their challenges, share their a-has, and compare data. So, looking at quantitative and qualitative data. StriveTogether also provides a lot of professional development opportunities. So, partnering with Annie E. Casey Foundation to bring things like results count, results-based facilitation. So, StriveTogether provides that sharing of best practices so we can learn from other partners across the country, as well as those professional development and capacity-building supports.

Ame Sanders 05:32

Let’s talk a little bit about equity now. So, clearly, your role is focused on equity, but one of the things I was most interested to see is that your organization has seemed to center equity as part of your work. Not just your work in your role but your work as your organization. So, maybe you can tell us a little bit about that. How do you define equity? How did that happen? How did you guys shift the focus of the whole organization?

-Equity at Eastside Pathways

Kalika Curry 06:03

Yeah, thank you. I think the heart of Eastside Pathways has always been about improving outcomes for young people. But I think as we’ve aged as an organization, as we’ve increased our collective consciousness or knowledge of what are the deep-rooted issues in our community, and as we integrated adaptive leadership into our practice as an organization, one of the foundational competencies are beliefs within adaptive leadership is the value of multiple perspectives. We’re never going to be able to solve for these adaptive challenges unless we have multiple perspectives at the table. So, I think at an interpersonal level, equity means creating space for listening and being curious to and compassionate to and open to hearing a perspective that conflicts with your own.

At an organizational level, that also looks like having conversations around how each organization’s or sector’s practices are causing these inequitable outcomes. When I think about what equity means, to me, I think we have to talk about equity–if you think about owning something, if you have an asset, you get to benefit from having that asset. Well, there are populations who do not benefit from the ways our structures are currently built.

I think equity also means making interventions or adaptations to our system as it currently exists, so that they can get those benefits from the ways that our systems and practices are currently built. I say that quite loosely, because I think the more intersections we’re looking at, the more challenging it is to really put a pulse on what exactly does that look like. But I’m always telling people, there’s a way this thing is currently set up and there are some folks who are not benefiting from that thing. Being able to adapt it or tweak the way that we’re currently doing it is going to allow them to benefit from the way that this thing is currently set up. So, if we’re talking about the education sector, are all students benefiting from the way that our education sector is currently set up? We know quantitatively and qualitatively that that is not the case.

Ame Sanders 08:09

When you’re talking about equity, do you define it broadly? Inclusive of all groups and differences and cultures? Race, sexual orientation, gender, all of those things?

Kalika Curry 08:21

Yep, absolutely. Yeah, the differential impact is undeniable in this work. When we talk about racial equity, we tend to talk about the Black and brown communities, but we see that those same racialized outcomes have impacts on the whole spectrum of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Ame Sanders 08:40

How did you guys decide to sort of shift your focus? You talked about sort of aging or maturing into it and this notion of adaptive leadership. But how did you integrate it into the work of the organization, and kind of what does that look like? Has it been easy, or has it been hard?

Kalika Curry 08:59

Going back to your question about StriveTogether, one of the things that I’ve been really thankful for is having racialized conversations with networks across the country because it kind of keeps me in check around like, “Okay Kalika, there is a lot to celebrate here, right?” I’m eager for things to progress a lot faster, but I would say Seattle–and we’re well known for this–things are a little bit easier to mobilize here because we don’t have anti-CRT. We have racialized dialogue as a part of our lexicon here. So, I can say, you as a white woman, and me as a Black woman, like if I say those things in the Pacific Northwest, people aren’t falling off their chairs. But in other places across our country, that is not the case. So, it’s really difficult to do equity work if the language, and the naming conventions, are not normalized and socialized within those networks.

So, I think a big part of the legacy of Eastside Pathways is, in the late mid-2000s, we had a racial equity team, and they partnered with Pacific Educational Group to bring the courageous conversation curriculum here to the Pacific Northwest. That started to create some market saturation for having a protocol to talk about race, to talk about inequalities, to talk about the intersectionality of gender, race, economics, and so on and so forth. All of the dimensions of diversity. So, that laid the foundation for Eastside Pathways to really get up off the ground and build some structure. So, the culture was there, but then we needed the structural pieces to ensure that this work wasn’t just a trend or wouldn’t disappear with an individual leader. That’s where our equity pledge really came into play.

-Eastside Pathways Equity Pledge

Ame Sanders 10:38

Yeah. So, I’m really excited about your equity pledge. So, I want to talk a little bit about that. So, it seemed unusual to me. I haven’t seen it, but maybe you’re going to tell me they’re happening all across the country. I don’t know.

Kalika Curry 10:50

I’m going to be a little bit braggadocious. I haven’t seen anything else like it. Now, there might be, but I just haven’t seen it. I will say that the concept of a pledge was a borrowed concept from a partnership in San Antonio. We work closely with them on a lot of different initiatives. At the beginning of COVID, they had asked their partners to sign a pledge to really stand up and deliver and really serve the community as COVID was shining a light on the preexisting issues. So, we borrowed that model from them to say, what is the structure or event that really helps mobilize partners against issues? A pledge was one of those things.

What’s really important about the co-development of our pledge was that we have affinity spaces within Eastside Pathways, a POC-only affinity space and a white affinity space. Those were birthed after the murder of George Floyd. I won’t go too deeply into them, but they’re important because in the absence of those spaces, we would have not had the relationships, the language, and the collective consciousness to build the pledge that we did build.

So, our POC-only group had been meeting for about a year and a half having courageous conversation about the challenges that were happening systemically. I think that’s a really important piece around how our partners were ready to take this leap, because we shifted from–I’ll say, as a woman of color–constantly internalizing racism, to having a space to really realize this is not a me problem. This is a systemic issue, right? If another woman of color working in a different sector or a different organization is also having that problem, and then a male of color working in a different organization is also having that problem, it shifts it from this internalized racism piece to realizing we have a systems issue. This is the impact that it’s having on me and this is how I’m internalizing it.

-Addressing 4 Types of Racism

So, because we already had a group of leaders who are having that depth of conversation, were really racializing conversation and had a deep understanding of how inequities impacted them, then we had the information and relationships and willpower to build this pledge. So, that gets into the first paragraph in our pledge talks about the history of our organization, kind of recaps what I was saying around what was the road that got us to being able to take this leap and then the body of the pledge talks about addressing all four types of racism.

So, the personal: how I’m internalizing my racial identity? Interpersonal: how I’m showing up and my implicit bias towards others. Institutional: how that racism is woven into the structure of my organization. And structural racism.

That is very different, because prior to this pledge, we were just looking externally. We weren’t asking partners commit to looking inside themselves. We weren’t asking them to systemically commit to looking into their relationships. We were mostly talking about systemic racism and occasionally examining and addressing institutional racism. But my practice–and I’ve been doing this since about 2002–one of the things that I found is, if you are not right with yourself, you’re not clear in the ways in which you’ve internalized racism, you’re not going to get very far addressing it externally. So, that was one of the things that for me, it was a non-negotiable in our policy was we needed a space that folks were ready to do that work, because we tend to lean away from the discomfort of that work.

Ame Sanders 14:16

So, there are a couple of things I want to reflect on that you just went through. So first, I love the fact that you emphasize that one of the critical elements to developing this pledge was the relationships that you had been working already and had already built the relationships necessary to allow your organization, your group, that was representing this to move to another level of intention and of purpose with their work. So, that’s really important. I’ve heard that in a number of interviews and people that I’ve talked with–this really strong emphasis on relationships. Because trust is so important in this work as well, and it’s not easy to get into these difficult conversations. So, the other thing that I just wanted to ask you about as well is it seems that your pledge is focused on race more than the broader issue of equity. I just wanted to make sure that I understood that correctly.

Kalika Curry 15:14

Yeah, absolutely. So certainly, the four quadrants personal, interpersonal, can be applied to any sort of “ism,” right? The reason we’re focusing on race is across the country, the inevitable truth is that race definitely does. determines outcomes for kids. So, if you look at our strategic plan, one of the common messages on there is that we want to shift these outcomes for kids. But what’s new to this iteration of Eastside Pathway’s strategic plan is the statement that says, “race will no longer determine outcomes for kids.” So, in order for us to get to that goal, we need to have anti-racist measurement, anti-racist solutions because if we don’t want race to determine outcomes, we have to address race.

Ame Sanders 16:00

Let me just pause for a minute on that and tease that apart. You just told us that the pledge is linked directly towards achieving one of your critical strategic objectives for your organization. So, that’s really important. It isn’t just a statement; it is linked to achieving your overall goals and objectives on the long term for your organization. Did I understand that correctly?

Kalika Curry 16:24

Absolutely. Yeah.

Ame Sanders 16:27

That’s really important. The other question I wanted to ask you about is, so you have you said, maybe 80 partners, or so. It’s a lot to think about. When I researched you guys, I found that continuing as partners with you, part of the requirement is that they agree to this pledge.

-Targeted Universalism in Engaging Partners

Kalika Curry 16:46

Oh, no. This is where things start to get adaptive, right? The idea of targeted universalism. There are different tactics to get different folks to different places versus a universal strategy that says everyone has to get their driver’s license in order to drive, versus folks who qualify for free and reduced lunch based upon their economic status will have access to food assistance programs. That would be a targeted example because we want everybody to have access to food and nourishment. So, our pledge is definitely a targeted strategy. We do ask all Eastside Pathways to sign our partner agreement. There is no fee to be a partner. We do ask all partners who participate in our collaborative action networks to sign and collaborative action network agreement, which says I’m committing to X amount of meetings over a two-year cycle, investing my organization’s time, treasure, and talent.

The racial equity pledge is only a requirement for a racial equity collaborative action network. The reason why it’s a requirement for that space is we need folks who are ready to do that work, right? When we think about a classroom, when we teach to the middle, what ends up happening to the kids who are a little bit further behind, and those who are a little bit further along, right? We’re teaching to the middle. So, this really says folks who are ready to address all four types of racism, this is the room for you. We’re not even saying like, “Well, let’s test you on how much.” We just need your commitment. So, I, as a facilitator, can lean into that. What’s coming up in your racial identity right now? What’s coming up in the way that you’re engaging with this other person right now, because we’ve all made an agreement in that container in those relationships, to be able to have that sort of dialogue.

So, it’s not a requirement for all of our collaborative action networks, just a racial equity collaborative action network. So, in the other spaces, we are definitely looking at data that is disaggregated by race, but it’s not necessarily always going to be a part of the conversation. In that room, we’re beginning with racialized outcomes and then following that thread to look for other intersectionalities and whatnot.

Ame Sanders 18:54

I’m glad you clarified that because I think it’s important to understand how you take a large group like you have and you work with them. How you move them to a point where they are ready to make those kinds of commitments and those kinds of pledges. So, that’s very helpful to see that. Has it been easy to do this?

Kalika Curry 19:16

Yeah. Again, thank goodness for StriveTogether because I’ve been able to hear the challenges of folks who are also committee impact managers across the network. I would say relative to other organizations, it’s been pretty easy. Complex? Absolutely. Lots of legwork, lots of tracking, lots of paperwork? Absolutely. But you know, there’s never been a day where I’m like, “I can’t take this anymore!” It’s encouraging. Our goal was never for 100% of our partners to sign it.

I forgot to mention this group, so let me give them their credit. So, after a POC-only group, over a year and a half of research, and having conversations around the systemic challenges that adults of color were experiencing in our partnership, then we kicked that data and those stories off to our Taskforce. We had an Eastside Pathways Equity Pledge (EP EP) taskforce and that was made up of different genders, race, economic backgrounds, education, backgrounds, sectors, organizations, and we asked those folks, “What do you think you need our partners need in order to take this data and turn it into mobilized change?” They also created a pledge, and they worked really hard to determine what went into that pledge, and what were the performance measures for that pledge. That group said, “If we hit 100%, we have not done our job. This was not an aggressive enough goal if 100% of our partners sign it.” So, we’re actually celebrating that there are some partners who are saying, “No, thank you.” Some of those no thank yous have been, “We already have our own equity pledge.”

Some of those have been this might cause some challenges with our board or funders. We’re not ready to take that leap. Or we don’t have the capacity to have this conversation and get all of our staff internally aligned, so we want to do that work before. Some organizations are like ED signs it and everybody gets in line. Other organizations say, “We want to have that internal alignment with our staff, so we as a collective body can take that leap.”

For folks who are interested, paired with our equity pledge is our equity pledge continuum. The ruler, so to speak, for a continuum is status quo, so things as they currently are, and Northern Star, where race no longer determines outcomes. What you’ll see is as you move across that, the power sharing becomes more broad. So, it starts with just an ED signs it. ED plus board. ED plus board plus staff. ED plus board plus staff plus community members plus young people, right? Because that’s also evidence of being more equitable is bringing more people in and along and sharing power and decision making and information with them. So, I say all that to say that, you know, 100% is not our goal, because we wanted to have an aggressive goal. We wanted to turn up the heat for our partners,

Ame Sanders 22:06

You touched on it already, but maybe you can tell us a little bit about the process you went through to create this. How long did it take? Was it complicated to arrive at this? Obviously, you built on relationships and conversations that have been going on, so we understand that foundation, but talk a little bit about how you managed that part of the process.

-Creating the Equity Pledge

Kalika Curry 22:27

Yeah, I think some of it was very informal, and some of it was highly formal. So, I would say, first of all, there were a couple of events that–I’ll speak for me personally–some events that were a catalyst in my leadership. Right off the bat, when I started working at Eastside Pathways, one of the things that I was constantly knocking on StriveTogether’s door for was, where are there other Black or multiracial women in this leadership position? Because a lot of the training and development I was getting, I had to do a lot of translating. I’d have this, like, sweet, wonderful, six-foot-five white male say to me, like, “Oh, I raised $4.8 million in X amount of days.” And I’m like, that’s great for you as a white male who’s non-threatening, right? But for me, as a Black woman who’s considered angry and aggressive and young and unjust, like there’s so many stories about who I am that become barriers to my leadership.

So, one of the things I found was I really needed a space where I could learn, reflect, and heal with other leaders of color. I kept complaining about it, and then the murder of George Floyd happened, and I was like, “This is now a 911 issue. I need this for my own health and well-being.” That coupled with the fact that when we were doing this research for our strategic plan back in 2018, one of the common strategic goals that we saw in our partners’ plans was the hiring and retention of staff of color.

So, I was thinking if we’re not providing the support spaces for a staff of color, we’re definitely not retaining them. If we’re not creating these spaces, we’re probably not acquiring them because we’re not addressing the fact that a lot of these leaders in East King County are experiencing racial and cultural, and linguistic isolation.

At the time, I was the only staff of color in my office. We’re now majority staff of color. So that discomfort and reoccurring issue, a reoccurring adaptive challenge for me, caused me to get the funding and permission to launch our POC-only space. So, there’s that personal journey, right? Starting with the personal. I needed that space, and I found that other people needed that space. The other thing that was really important in this process was the rules, so to speak. The culture inside of the POC-only space was zero productivity. We’re only going to show up in our personal lives. We can complain about the professional, but we’re not going to solve things for each other. We’re just going to be present with one another. If and when there’s an issue where we’re all having the same problem, (1) sitting in that and going, “Okay, I can let this go. It’s not something wrong with me. This is what I’ve internalized, the story I was telling myself.” Then (2), we could report that finding out to our partners to say, “Hey, partners. Your strategic plan says you want to hire and retain staff of color, but did you know that a lot of staff of color feel fearful to take their PTO? Because the idea that being Black means you have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”

So, being able to identify those things, do the healing work in the small container and then take that finding out to the partners and say, “I’m hearing you say, this is your goal. This is one of the barriers toward that goal. So how are we going to address it?” So, as we continue to compile these re-existing systemic issues impacting staff of color, we then compiled all of that into that continuum I was telling you about. Then, we thought about what structure do we need for our partners so that we can structurally address those challenges that keep coming up. So, that’s how all of this got birthed.

As far as like putting the document together, again, it was our Eastside Pathways Equity Pledge Taskforce. It had board members, staff members, community members, organizational partners, and just asked them, “What sort of structured decision making roles and information flow do you need to create systems change?” They’re like, “Well, we need something to take to our board. We need something to take our ED. We need something to take to our funders.” They even got into the nuts and bolts of what sort of language could we use that was high heat, but not going to back in make someone worried about closing their doors. So, it was a very collaborative, adaptive process. The research through the POC-only group took about a year and a half and then the co-development of the pledge itself took about nine months.

We did a small test or change where we presented it to our board members and asked our board members to sign it. We did research on the signing process. What came up for them as their role as board members and what came up for them as their role as executive directors, or whatever their leadership position was back in their area of influence? Then, we tweaked the pledge based upon that feedback, and then asked our board members to adopt the pledge formally on behalf of the partnership and that’s when we rolled it out. The rollout looked like doing forums where I presented the process to our partners, created a space for them to ask any questions, and then even set up one on one coaching sessions if people had like really specific vulnerable things that they needed a process in order to sign.

Ame Sanders 27:36

As I imagined, that was a very, somewhat organic but well-thought-out and structured process as you approached finalizing the pledge and engaging the broader community. I just wanted to understand that a little bit because I think that’s part of the success. So, I wanted to make sure if other organizations see this and they’re thinking, “Wow, we want to do something like this.” It’s not something you do in a weekend retreat or something. There’s work that goes–yeah, obviously, it took you guys a while to build to this point and then to roll it out as well.

Kalika Curry 28:11

Can I just add one thing there? Remember when I talked about the four quadrants? You can also hear in the story that I told how our journey mapped across those four quadrants. Started with a personal, went to the interpersonal, went to the institutional, and then went to the structural, right? So, if other folks are thinking about any sort of political or cultural or systemic change, I really do recommend that full journey. Because if you skip over one of those steps, I think you’re more likely not to succeed.

Ame Sanders 28:44

Yeah, that makes sense. You know, we’ve talked a lot about the pledge, just because that was one of the things that drew me to your organization and to have this conversation with you. But are there other things that you want to cover that you guys do in your work around equity that you feel like we should spend a little time talking about?

-Trauma-Informed Skillset

Kalika Curry 29:03

I got Claudia Horwitz, who’s a phenomenal human being and, coach, and leader. I remember before COVID even happened, we were in this training, and she said, “You know, I don’t think you can do this work without having some sort of trauma-informed skill set. I don’t think you can do this work without that.” Anything that she says I take very seriously. So, I jumped on that train. And I’m thankful that I did because when COVID hit when George Floyd was murdered, war in Ukraine–there has been a non-stop onslaught of trauma-invoking events. I think having that explicitly a part of our practice has been what’s allowed folks to continue to show up but want to show up, right?

One of the things that’s been really cool as we’re prioritizing humans and their thrival is that people want to come because it makes them feel better. This work is really hard, and so if we’re not creating healing spaces–because there’s something different to say like, “Oh, let’s have that check-in question! Oh, now I know what your favorite color is.” That’s fine. Right? But you know, you want to know that these people have your back, and you want to know that these people genuinely care about your professional and personal success. I’ll say one of the things that commonly gets said in our POC-only space is, “I took you guys with me to that board meeting. You were there with me.” Or, “I finally had that courageous conversation with my boss, and I felt you standing at my back.” So, it’s that leaning into collectivism but cultivating collectivism and knowing that you’re not the only person.

-Eating Crow Together

One of my other really good friends and colleagues, Jim Lopez, was talking to me about eating crow. He’s like, “You’re not the only one out here eating crow. We’re eating crow together.” We’re doing this good work. So, I think that’s a big part of it. If you’re not originally from an ethnic group that practices collectivism, trying that out. And if you are, creating and nurturing those spaces that do adopt collectivism.

Particularly here in East King County, it’s 2.3% Black. A lot of the movement is like “having a seat at the table.” Well, there are more tables than there are Black people, which means Black people here have to be at 15 tables per day. It’s just not sustainable, and so that’s where having accomplices is a really big deal. So, I think trauma-informed, collectivism, and really being mindful of applying equity at all those levels. Because when I just said, “Is it equitable?” If the trend is there should be a person from every ethnic group at every table? Well, mathematically, that means that every Black person in our community is going to not be thriving, over-extracted from, and tokenized. That is absolutely what we heard after the murder of George Floyd in our work. So, we had to think about how do we get everybody to step up and see that equity is everyone’s job.

Ame Sanders 32:12

That is really some great advice for our communities to be thinking about how to approach this and how to be respectful and not extractive in engaging folks as well. So, thank you for sharing that. Are there things that we haven’t talked about that you would like to talk about?

-I Need You to Not Be Silent

Kalika Curry 32:31

I mean, I feel like I could just talk until I’m blue in the face about how important the personal work is. Just that consciousness because I think a lot of folks have hindsight. Like, “Oh, that didn’t go so well.” But when you can bring that consciousness into your foresight or even be able to see it in the present moment, that’s when I think you can really start doing this work. I think a part of the importance of that allyship, we’re having those conversations about over-extraction, was realizing that–and I’m still saying that leaders of color in our community are sick. I mean, like hospitalized sick. This is not sustainable.

So, we really have to address some of the language that is coming out of a lot of this D&I training. I’m hearing a lot of white folks say like, “Oh, I’m not going to speak in this space.” I need you to speak right? I think it’s different to say like, “I am not going to speak for women of color because it’s not my lived experience.” But it’s a whole nother thing to say, “I’m just going to be silent because I’m here to learn.” But I don’t need you to just learn. I need you to change, I need you to integrate. I need you to mobilize. I need you to act. We’ve been at this equity work long enough to now there’s like JE-DEI, RE-DEI, DEI-B. Like, there are all these different acronyms because the work has broadened. We’re learning, but I think mostly we got to start with the personal. We got to check in with ourselves, see how we’re growing, and see where growth edges are. It’s interesting to me when I’m having conversations with leaders, and I’m like, “But how are you?” “I’m really tired, but it’s okay.” I’m like, “So how are we modeling the young people that we’re not going to be harmed? Because we’re modeling harmful behavior.”

So, I think just constantly bringing it back to self and checking with ourselves and thinking, “Am I saying someday things will be better and it’s okay if I’m not thriving, but maybe the movement is going to be better?” That’s not how it works.  Another recommendation I had gotten from Claudia Horwitz was the work of Donella Meadows, and she has an article called “Leverage Points.” That article is like my Bible for my work when I’m trying to figure out what’s the thing that’s going to help this group move a little bit further, and Donella Meadows’ work has been a huge influence in my work.

Ame Sanders 34:56

So, I’ll include some links to those references in our show notes so people can explore that further as they reflect on what they’ve heard in the discussion today. As you say, part of this is our own personal journey, and in the end, we’re the only ones that we can change, and then that changes how we show up in the world. So, doing our own work is essential for all of us. So, is there any other advice that you’d like to share with communities who are thinking that they want to move equity and inclusion forward in their community and they believe that networks that they are part of, or collective groups that they are part of, can be helpful in moving that work forward? Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to add in terms of suggestions?

-Be a Student of the Thing You Want to Change

Kalika Curry 35:49

Yeah, I think when I move out of the heart space, and I move into the headspace, one of the things that I know to be true (and elders in this movement across racial groups have taught us) is you need to be a student of the things that you’re trying to change. You want to look for the things that are already embedded in the system that closely align with your goals and your initiatives. So, you look at boycotting. There was this beautiful dance and marriage of the outcomes and the vision and the desires of the Black community, tied closely with the demands and the vision and the desire of this company–“We want you to pay to ride our buses.” And the Black community was saying, “And we want equity. We want justice while we’re doing so. So, we’re not going to ride your bus.” So, if I just keep saying, “Why can’t I sit where I want to sit? Why can’t I sit where I want to sit? Why can’t…” That is not–it’s a part of the movement, but it’s also understanding the system as it currently exists and having strategies that speak to that.

I can give an example that here in high school graduation, some research we’re doing with both of our school districts. Both of our school districts use panorama, and one of the domains within the panorama study is a sense of belonging. So, it’s something that the district is already measuring. It’s something they’re already curious and committed to. So, when we did some research with students and families, they also said, “Yes. Sense of belonging absolutely is a core indicator in high school graduation.”

-Getting all Students to a Place of Belonging

So, now we’ve got two groups with different roles–I as the parent, I as a student, and I as the organization is an educator administrator. We all agree that a sense of belonging is a core indicator of whether or not these students are going to graduate prepared for their post-secondary. That’s awesome. So, that was a huge piece. We could keep saying, “We’re experiencing hatred in schools. I, as a Black male student, my body’s being policed.” That is true, but how far do we have to peel this thing back to where we’re standing on a shared core indicator, a shared vision, a shared understanding? That was sense of belonging.

What’s interesting about that is when we peel that back, we actually found that white students were also reporting a low sense of belonging. So, now it’s like, “Wow, this really does benefit all of our students to address this.” We know that youth suicidal ideation and suicide are common themes that we have to address, right? So, we know that there’s differential input packed of not feeling like you belong. We know that belonging is a part of being human. And we know that there has to be targeted universalism, and targeted strategies to get all of our students to a place of belonging. So, my advice is to do the research and understand where you are going to find that meeting ground–where’s the shared vision–and make sure that the shared vision is policy-based and measurement-based. Then, being able to expand from there.

So, in that research, I’ll just quickly say that one of the things we found was educators were constantly saying, “Well, I don’t know this. I don’t know that. I don’t know that.” I said, “Okay. Well, that’s individualism. So let’s put collective on and let’s say, ‘We don’t know that.” Well, if we included the parent, would you know that thing? Yes. Okay, so what I’m hearing is we need a strategy to get parents involved in the “we” and the students involved in the “we.” Absolutely. Great. Let’s build some strategies for that. Then, that created the foundation–remember, we talked about having the relationships that containers, the connection points so that you have the people and the willpower and the relationships to go on and do the work. So, that is my advice.

Ame Sanders 39:28

Thank you for that advice, Kalika. I think it’s very important whenever we approach making systemic changes that we understand and study what it is we want to have an impact on. I love the way that you describe peeling back the onion to find that common shared purpose that you can then work and move forward from. So, that’s really, really helpful advice. I just want to thank you so much for joining this afternoon for this discussion. It has been very insightful and very helpful. I wish you the best of luck with your continued work with the students in Washington.

Kalika Curry 40:09

Thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure.


Ame Sanders 40:15

Wow, I learned a lot through today’s conversation. You know, this conversation with Kalika offered some practical information and ideas, especially for anybody who works as part of a network or a coalition. Kalika reminded us that all of our partners, if they’re organizations, institutions, or individuals, it doesn’t matter. They’re all on their own journey and in their own place with equity and inclusion.

Many of them have their own management and boards to answer to, so they won’t move at the same pace. The example, with their equity pledge Kalika advocated for the use of what she called targeted universalism. She described targeted universalism as meaning that we were clear that we had shared goals and outcomes, but the path to those outcomes could be individualized and differentiated for each partner. Kalika talked about how their equity pledge was used as a commitment device to help bring the group together around a shared commitment to equity and inclusion.

She also told us that we will have to navigate the four dimensions of racism that exist at the personal level, the interpersonal level, at the organizational level, and a systemic level. We’ll have to navigate all four of those in order to realize lasting change. She was clear–we can’t skip any of those levels. Kalika also emphasized how relationships and trust are key to this work. She also reminded us to create environments to check in, to take care of ourselves, and to support one another. She also challenged us though to get right with ourselves, to do our self work. Kalika was clear: if you are not right with yourself, you’re not clear in the ways in which you’ve internalized racism, you’re not going to get very far in addressing it externally.

This has been the State of Inclusion Podcast. Join us again next time. And if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others. Leave us a review. We’d love your comments. Thanks so much for listening.


Guest: Kalika Curry

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
Table of Contents
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to The Inclusive Community.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.