Monthly "Centering Justice" discussion series, featuring local leaders of color, builds momentum

When the staff of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) announced the first session of their "Centering Justice" series last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had no idea that 300 people would sign up to attend. Furthermore, what was supposed to be a one-off virtual gathering has since snowballed into a series of lively monthly virtual sessions featuring local leaders of color in conversation on a variety of issues.

"[The first session] was groundbreaking for us and it obviously spoke to a need in our community," says Will Jones III, NEW's communications and contributions director.

Taken by surprise at the overwhelming interest, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit support organization was only able to accommodate about 100 attendees for the first session, which featured a panel of people from its Leaders of Color fellowship. Since then, the "Centering Justice" series has explored a number of topics – such as unbuilding racism, reclaiming narratives, or the ways that joy is revolutionary – including dialogue with local nonprofit leaders, faith leaders, artists, and activists. Demand has remained high, with an average of 60 people attending each month. 

Jones explains that NEW staff were motivated in part to create "Centering Justice" early in the pandemic when data exposed the disproportionate impact COVID-19 was having on Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. They also noticed that the response to the pandemic was still being led by "the status quo," coming from predominantly white male leadership in positions that were far removed from the realities of the communities that were most impacted. Also, contracts and agreements that NEW had made to do diversity, equity, and inclusion work with clients were falling by the wayside.

"We knew that could not be the way forward," Jones says. "Given that we have a platform and that we have built a network of leaders of color throughout Washtenaw [County] for our programs, we felt it was important to lean into that and really honor what people are going through."

Jones adds that what seems to be resonating with attendees has been the opportunity for them to honestly dialogue and connect with other people through their diverse stories and experiences. 

"We're opening up space for people to discuss what they really need to talk about, but may not necessarily have a space to think about within the context of their everyday lives," he says. "It was always our goal to uplift the stories and guidance of people of color in our communities, and we'll continue to do that in each upcoming episode."

The next "Centering Justice" session will be Oct. 13 from 12-1:30 p.m. Registration is available here.

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of NEW.