Jan 23, 2024 12 min read

Looking Back and Ahead

Red car driving forward looking at road ahead and image of road behind in the rearview mirror

Episode 60, 20 min listen

In this combination newsletter and podcast episode, we take a moment to reflect on the State of Inclusion Podcast for 2023 and look ahead to 2024. While DEI may be under assault on many fronts, I'll share why I remain optimistic about this work of equity and inclusion. We'll also listen to and reflect on a few pearls of wisdom from our 2023 interviews.


Listen on Apple Podcasts or Listen on Spotify or at this link


This episode includes snippets from several of last year's newsletters and episodes. If you're interested in hearing or reading more, please find the relevant links below.

Episode 59, Why Neighborhoods Matter, Nick Cotter

Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletter, In Communion, Mary Anne Inglis

Episode 41, Transforming Local Government Through DEI, Dr. Kathleen Yang-Clayton

Episode 56, Moments of Growth Part 1, Rose Lane

Summer 2023, Newsletter, The Inclusive Community Outdoor Challenge, the clip is from Week 4, Wander and Wonder

Episode 42, Charleston's Journey Toward Racial Conciliation, Jerry Harris

If you have feedback or suggestions for interviews, please feel free to reach out to me at amesanders@stateofinclusion.com.



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.

The months of December and early January have been pretty quiet for us here at the State of Inclusion. 

Like many of you, we have been spending time with family and friends, celebrating, refueling our personal energy, and making plans for 2024. Also, like many of you, I was sidelined for a couple of weeks by one of the many viruses going around. 

So, this episode will be pretty short, and I’ll publish the transcript as a newsletter as well.

Recently, I was talking with a DEI colleague I hadn’t seen in a while. I asked how his work was going. 

He told me that for a period of time after George Floyd’s murder, his work had been booming. He didn’t have enough hours in the day to meet all the calls and demands. Recently, he felt a tide was shifting. 

-DEI Under Assault

We talked about how it feels that our work to build more inclusive and equitable communities has grown more challenging in 2023 and is even under assault

  • It feels as if those who espouse anti-democratic ideals have been emboldened to speak up and speak out, even to act directly against their neighbors and our institutions.
  • We have seen rising antisemitism and islamophobia as well as rising anti-Asian sentiment.
  • We have seen a shocking amount of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, actions, and even legislation.
  • Affirmative action is under attack as processes and approaches that colleges and universities have relied on to build a more diverse student base have been ruled as no longer legal.
  • There are growing efforts to silence diverse and historically marginalized voices and authors through more and more book bans at schools and public libraries.
  • The powerful moment of collective reckoning on race that was sparked by the horrific murder of George Floyd sometimes feels to be receding from focus. And actions that were born from the passionate aftermath of that event have not all been sustained.
  • There are even efforts to restrict the truths of history that our schools are allowed to teach.

My colleague and I quickly moved through this list of challenges and difficulties. Honestly, sharing it with you today, this isn’t even a very complete list of challenges we all face as we work toward building more inclusive and equitable companies and communities. 

As I take a moment to reflect on the State of Inclusion Podcast for 2023 and look ahead to 2024, I’d like to share with you my response to him after we commiserated over this daunting list of challenges. 

What I said was something like this…

 -I Believe

Despite all of these challenges, I believe that there is a powerful and unstoppable wave of change happening across our country. 

The work of building more inclusive and equitable communities is spreading and growing momentum every day. It is visible in nearly every corner of our country.

  • While not all actions that were sparked in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder have continued, there is no doubt that his murder, as tragic as it was, created a moment of reckoning that occurred all across our country at all levels, and it has brought about a sea change of awareness.
  • There are an amazing number of smart, hardworking, and committed people working every day to make their community more inclusive and equitable. They are not waiting for a national solution. They are not waiting for anything. These individuals, fueled by a deep love of their community, are joining with friends and neighbors to make a real difference at home, where they live, and where they raise their families. 
  • These equity warriors are coming from all corners of their community. They are individuals and organizations that represent – local government, business, philanthropy, community organizers and activists, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, the faith community, the arts, and community institutions like public libraries, museums, and even our parks systems. 
  • At the same time, there are a growing number of and increasingly mature set of national organizations in place to help provide insights, research, data, methods, and even grants and funding to local communities to build momentum and change for equity and inclusion. 

I believe there is an awakening that is so broad and so deep that it will not be silenced or stopped. It will meet resistance, sure. This work always has. There will be backlash. There will even be setbacks. Still, the wave of change continues and grows stronger. In many areas, it is yielding systemic, sustained, and measurable results.

 -Why I Believe

Why do I believe this? It is because of the research I do and the conversations I’m privileged to have every day as I meet and talk with the people who are doing this work all across the country. Every day these conversations help ground me, encourage me, give me hope, and serve as a powerful antidote to the challenges and sometimes negative messages that surround us. 

I’ve been hosting this podcast since 2018. For every person I talk with, there are even more that I admire and learn from through my research and interactions. Emma and I are working on our guest list for 2024, and I can report that I am, thankfully, nowhere near running out of people to talk with, communities to recognize, and stories of transformation to share. 

Just this past year in 2023, I talked with equity warriors representing Tulsa Oklahoma, Charleston South Carolina, multiple communities across Illinois, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Dallas and Fort Worth Texas, Charlotte North Carolina, Asheville and more rural Communities in Western North Carolina.

I also talked with Monroe Nichols whose organization, Strive Together, supports a nationwide network of coalitions focused on education, who see inclusion and equity as key underpinnings of their work. We also talked with Victoria Chance and Mary Anne Inglis of My Neighbor’s Voice who are providing tools and methods to help small and large groups of neighbors develop and practice respectful listening skills across differences. I talked with Kim Rodgers from the Center for Community Resilience (CCR) at George Washington University. Kim and her team work with multiple communities across the country, but in our conversation she shared about some of the incredibly powerful work that has been happening in Cincinnati Ohio. 

Still, the work of equity and inclusion in our own community may feel isolating, lonely, and under assault. On even a good day, it can feel like there is a lot going on, and sometimes that work can feel disconnected and uncoordinated. 

You and I, more than anyone, know that there is power in diversity of thought and action. We know that progress on this journey toward equity and inclusion will come through planned and coordinated actions but also through unpredictable emergence. We know there is power in numbers, in large actions, and in small, even micro-actions. There is progress in both systemic change and in personal change. Most importantly, lasting progress comes through interpersonal change, through being in community with and building relationships with one another.


As we close out 2023, I’d first like to thank my guests. Without their willingness to generously share their stories, we couldn’t have this podcast. I’m always amazed and grateful for the gift of their time, insights, and wisdom and humbled and encouraged by their commitment to their community.

Likewise, we wouldn’t exist without you, our listeners and readers. Thank you for listening here at The State of Inclusion and for subscribing to our newsletter, The Inclusive Community. 

Also, thank you for the work you are doing and will do in your own community. If there are ways that we can make the podcast or newsletter more helpful to you, or if there are people you think I should speak with, please reach out. I’ll be sure to put my email in the show notes.

I’d also like to thank my podcast team, Emma, Kayla, and Uros, for their ongoing talent and support to create and share this podcast. And I’d like to thank my small but mighty podcast critique group, from whom I regularly draw inspiration, wisdom, and encouragement. 

So, in closing, despite a relatively quiet December and January, I’m here today and will be here tomorrow 

  • sharing more stories of community equity and inclusion, 
  • celebrating the equity warriors amongst us, 
  • and surfacing more inspirations and learnings  

to support us in the challenging days ahead as we work to build a more inclusive world, one community at a time.

 -Snippets of Wisdom from 2023

I’ll close out this episode with some snippets of wisdom and inspiration from my guests this past year. Enjoy!

 And, see you again in February.

 My colleague Emma Winiski suggested these first three areas as highlights from 2023, and the comments about them are hers. 

 Nick Cotter from the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project reminded us all to Get out into your community! Emma shared,

I love the idea that no matter how big or small, our communities are complex, and there's a lot of value in proactively seeking to learn more about the places and from the people who live in your community.

 Let’s listen to Nick Cotter of the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project:

 So, when I have to tie this whole long answer together to understand why our neighborhoods look the way they do, the kind of impacts they have, and why it ties back to the mission here, which is what is the purpose of the Pittsburgh neighborhood practice is to help people understand that history. And understand it not just through data that can be overwhelming to people or just totally non-personal to them but through stories. And use data as an addition to those stories to help them understand the facts but tie it to these personal lenses and say these neighborhood tours that I do that help people literally see the history that I just described. And maybe help them understand that we need to address these problems. And to the point earlier, it helps them understand the context around the problems, and if you understand the context, then hopefully, you can develop effective prescriptions.

Emma also highlighted The "In Communion" Newsletter. We’ll put a link to that newsletter in the show notes. She said,

Despite my love for data, I know that it is stories and experiences that really change us. Examples from the Community Building Initiative in Charlotte, Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Dallas, and My Neighbor's Voice all talk about different aspects of communion, and I think it's important for folks to remember that connection is often a necessary first step before change. 

Let’s listen to Mary Anne Inglis of My Neighbor’s Voice.

Like Victoria, I just feel like listening is such an act of grace and love, and we aren't doing very well on loving each other these days. If we can show kindness through listening and really intentionally listening, I think that will bridge a lot of the divides that we now have in our in our culture and country and world.

After connection, we still have to do the intense work of operationalizing DEI. Emma reminds us that,

The podcast episode with Dr. Kathleen Yang-Clayton talks about how we have to be intentional about equity in every single part of every single process. It's not flashy to examine a city's procurement processes or fight to use inclusive language in city policies, but these things do matter, and they persist across time. Realizing that equity is important and helping others join in supporting that effort is important, but then we want to build processes and policies that will carry that vision out for years.

Let’s listen to Dr. Kathleen Yang-Clayton from the University of Illinois Chicago.

We can't get to the democracy we really deserve absent government. I am happy to go into the debate about this with whomever would think otherwise, but that's not how this works, right? But it also means that the flawed institutions we have in policing, and education, and housing, even in representative government, then needs to be transformed. Not reformed, but transformed.

 With this work of inclusion and equity, we are also each on our own personal journey. Some of us have farther to travel than others. Emma and I did an episode titled Inclusion Starts Here where we talked about Self Work and the journey we’re all on. However, one of my favorite moments of the year came from hearing one of my guests talk about a moment of personal growth she experienced on her own journey toward inclusion and equity.  

 Rose Lane from Conserving Carolina reflected on a day that we all probably remember when white supremacists marched in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. The sound quality isn’t the best, so listen closely. 

Not only did they drive into the crowd with a car, but they came with guns, they come with assault rifles, and it’s legal. And like the law allowed them to march into my community with loaded machine guns. It was a clear threat of death to anyone, civilians. So, you know, it's very traumatic experience, and very, um... You know, it just… it brought some things home to me, right? So it…I’m thinking before that time, I think I had been naive about where we are in this country. I had been innocent about how deep-rooted the history of racist violence really is and the willingness to use violence to reinforce assumptions of racism. So I think…[words are unclear]…and I had to start seeing our country in a different way.  And I need to commit to the work in different ways. So I can recognize that we do have …you know, that racism is like really, very deeply a part of who we are as a country, unfortunately. And also to recognize that there's more than that, of what it means to be an American. Like there's also a strong tradition in this country of creating equality, and fighting for equality, and making a society that does allow everyone to be a free citizen. So both these things are part of who we are as a country.

Speaking of personal journeys, one of the highlights for me was the State of Inclusion 10-week Outdoor Challenge. It was at once a challenge to you guys, my listeners and readers but also a personal challenge and part of my journey. I learned so much from my reading, research, discussion, and connections. I will admit I was a little tired at the end of the ten weeks, but staying at it brought its own kind of learning and reflection. Here’s a clip from one of the week’s reflections. 

During that challenge. I experienced several moments of synchronicity, where time seemed to fold back on itself, too many to mention them all here. But it reminded me again of the deep connections we all share and the invisible threads that bind us together. I was also reminded that all around us are special people of good intent who are working to build a more inclusive and equitable world. We can use mindfulness to help open ourselves to see them, to connect with them, and to step into this river of change together.

I could go on and on about my favorite snippets or learnings from this past year. There are what my colleague Rodney calls pearls of wisdom scattered all through the year’s episodes. However, I’ll close with one of those pearls of wisdom from Jerry Harris of Charleston’s Human Affairs and Racial Conciliation Commission. That interview yielded one of my absolute favorite quotes of the year. 

So Frederick Douglass said, there'll be no progress without struggle. And what we’re involved in and engaged in, we’re at a point, things are gonna change. How they change can be determined by what we choose to do or not do. For me, it is not acceptable to sit on the sidelines and not try to use the knowledge and experience I have. I mean, I’ve run county governments, run state departments, I’ve run municipal governments. It would be irresponsible for me not to try to work with and be of service and advice to my council. So I would urge people, right to look for, you know, fit in where you can get it in, in this work. Because if we don't, we will get, in this case, the government that we deserve.


Thank you so much for listening to our podcast and reading our newsletter. We have a lot of work ahead of us. In Jerry’s words, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, and we all need to “Get in where we can fit in.”  

I hope that this coming year brings you and your community closer to a State of Inclusion.

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.


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.
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