CDSS Grants Support Equity Trainings
By Linda Henry and Kelsey Wells
In 2020, CDSS began offering grant funding to help communities and organizations host cultural equity and anti-racism trainings. We always enjoy hearing from organizers and participants after grant-supported events, and we are particularly excited to share these short stories from three people involved in two recent workshops: a cultural equity workshop for CDSS Affiliates and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workshop hosted by the DanceFlurry Organization for their staff and volunteers.
From a Participant:
I was most surprised to learn that the roots of contra dance are not exclusively white, but that the history of Black traditions has not been communicated over the generations. I’ve always felt badly that I enjoyed something that I thought was so centered in white culture, and it is freeing (and in hindsight, obvious) to realize that traditional dance, music, and community in Black, Indigenous, and white cultures helped to create the dances we love so much today. I will feel more comfortable inviting my friends from all backgrounds to try contra dancing with me, especially as our own community does its work on communicating our commitment to inclusivity and equity.
One of my ideas inspired by this workshop is for our Pittsburgh Contra Dance community to reach out to other dance groups that include people from various backgrounds in our area. Rather than “hoping” more Black, Brown, or LBGTQ+ people show up at our dances and hopefully feel comfortable enough to come back again, we can invite other groups to dance with us. Perhaps they are doing line dancing or Chicago Stepping; we can offer lessons, music, and dancing in both styles and encourage our community members to dance in both communities.
I have long known that contra dance is a place where I can meet and connect with people across class, race, education, political viewpoint, gender, etc., and this universal connection is one of the reasons I love dancing so much. The contra dance communities I have danced with at weekend events have been full of friendly, caring, social people—people who already have so many of the skills needed to become anti-racist. I look forward to the work that we envisioned.
From an Organization:
In November 2020, the DanceFlurry Organization received a grant from CDSS to support diversity, equity, and inclusion training to be offered online by the organization Move Together. The DFO’s Community Culture Committee worked with Move Together’s coordinator, Lisa Powell Graham, and consultant Dr. Andaiye Qaassim to develop the program. Dr. Qaasim presented a two-hour training session in December 2020.
This was the first time in the history of the DFO that all branches—including our Board of Directors, event organizers, and Flurry Festival managers and committee members—have participated in a joint meeting or training. The committee had set a cap of 50 participants for the training, and there were 43 stakeholders present. Dozens more were invited and now have online access to the recording and training materials. We were successful in getting our group interested in, thinking about, and talking about diversity and inclusion in the DFO in general and at our events.
The DFO held a followup meeting on March 31, 2021 to review the material covered during the December training and discuss how to move our organization toward greater diversity and inclusion. Fourteen people participated, including a core group of Community Culture Committee members and several other Board and Flurry Committee members invested in continuing this work.
Guided by committee leader Lauren Keeley, participants reviewed Dr. Qaasim’s slides and discussed the ways in which they understood race to be a social construct. They further explored the concept of equity and considered reasons why “colorblindness” is not a useful solution to racial inequity. The group discussed the importance of using language and terminology that is respectful of the people it describes, as well as the difficulty of choosing appropriate language given that conventions and preferences change and vary throughout cultural groups. Participants recounted their own experiences with and understanding of the term “racism” and the various things it has signified within different times and contexts, noting that while once referring primarily to personal prejudice, racism is currently understood to be a structural element of our entire society.
The group agreed that an important next step will be seeking out community organizations and agencies we might collaborate with in order to bring greater diversity to our events and include under-resourced and marginalized communities. Lauren subsequently created a spreadsheet to compile information on contacts committee members already have with other organizations. So far, list entries include organizations connected with local African American, BIPOC, and disability communities. Additionally, some participants have been attending a three-part Nonprofit Board Inclusion Training Series sponsored by a local foundation, and this DEI group expects to meet in alternating months going forward to continue its work.
The DanceFlurry is confident that this training and the additional work it inspired will have a lasting impact on our dance community.
-Lorraine Weiss and Shira Love, DanceFlurry Organization
From an Organizer:
Our Affiliate Ambassador region received a CDSS grant to help make possible an online cultural equity workshop, facilitated by Jake Hoffman and Kafari. Twenty organizers from communities in our region (Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) attended, as well as five organizers from Wendy Graham’s Ambassador region (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). It seemed to me that everyone who came was engaged and willing to participate fully in the work we were doing. It would certainly be more powerful and effective to do this type of workshop in person, but Kafari and Jake used several different techniques to encourage interaction and personal involvement.
Feedback from participants indicated that they found the workshop useful both personally and for their communities. There was interest expressed in more workshops, sharing of resources, and opportunities to continue learning.