InclusionBoston program helps local organization create strategic pathways toward racial equity


YW Boston recently had a chance to interview Joe Kriesberg, President of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) about his experience bringing board and staff members from his organization through our InclusionBoston program, formerly known as Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity. Joe shared meaningful stories about why MACDC decided to partner with InclusionBoston: to address barriers to inclusion within the organization and successfully build a more inclusive and equitable work environment. The process included policy conversations on racial equity with government officials and those within their own circles of influence. Thanks to its partnership with InclusionBoston, MACDC was able to create strategic pathways to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of the organization’s long-term strategy for success. Joe’s participation in the InclusionBoston program also resulted in meaningful conversations with the Governor of Massachusetts and a strengthened relationship between MACDC board members.

Joe Kriesberg, President & CEO of MACDC
YW: Please introduce yourself and share why you decided to bring your board members through our InclusionBoston program.

Joe Kriesberg: I am the President & CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC). We are a statewide membership organization that represents and serves over sixty community development corporations around the state, as well as other non-profits that work to expand economic opportunity, build affordable housing, and improve the quality of life in low-income communities.

Our board and staff, a little over twenty people, participated in the InclusionBoston program (formerly Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity) at YW Boston. We had previously participated in something called the Excellence in Boards. With the help of a coach, our board worked together to identify areas where we wanted to improve the functioning and operation of the board and then developed an action plan to follow through. One of the areas that we identified and that we put in our action plan was to work on strengthening our ability to advance racial equity, both in the composition of our board and our leadership, as well as in the ways in which we approach issues, discuss things, and the degree to which we make people feel welcome within our board.

We had in mind a number of things we were going to do over the course of the next few years to try to move the needle on this work and, somewhat serendipitously, we learned about YW Boston’s InclusionBoston program. We had the opportunity to participate and thought that it would be a very tangible way to start doing this work with the board and get everybody on the same page in terms of vocabulary, analysis, and frameworks.

One of my board members had already explored the InclusionBoston program with his own organization and recommended it. We did an intensive version of the program over the course of five weeks. We went through a combination of large and small group discussions as well as one-on-one conversations with a goal of determining strategic interventions. Toward the final sessions we zeroed in on what we could do within our board to be more inclusive and ensure that people of color would be able to participate as their authentic selves within our board culture, serve in leadership roles, and that we continue to build and maintain a robust pipeline of people of color on the board.

We had developed a sense of trust with one another and we had acquired a shared language that allowed us to speak collectively to the Governor in a way that was direct and impactful. Share on X
Can you share some key takeaways and experiences made possible by your collective participation in our InclusionBoston program?

Back in October of last year, before we started the program and after we had decided we were going to work on this issue as an organization, we had our annual conference with around 700 people from all over the state. The candidates for governor, Governor Baker and Jay Gonzalez, both came to address the group and answer a variety of questions that we posed to them about different issues, including the racial and ownership gap. After the candidate spoke, I came to the podium and I gave them each a book called The Color of Law as a gift of appreciation, which is a relatively new book that documents the history of housing segregation in America.

We presented the book to both candidates because we thought it was important for them to really have a deep understanding of the history of housing segregation and the story of how we got to where we are today. We wanted to makes it clear that it is not by accident. I said to them, “Here’s a book, we think you’ll really enjoy. After the campaign, when you have a little more free time, you might want to take a look.” I didn’t expect the candidates to do anything more than taking the book, maybe say thanks and hand it to their assistant and possibly never open it again. Much to my surprise, Governor Baker took the book from me and came back to the microphone, thanked me for the book and said he was excited to explore it and that he would definitely read it after the campaign. He added that he hoped to have another opportunity to meet to talk about the book.

Fast forward to April 2019 (after MACDC had participated in the InclusionBoston program), we’re having our annual lobby day at the State House and we asked to have a meeting with the Governor. The Governor agreed to meet with us, as he has every year, and we had a one-hour meeting with him on April 25th. In addition to legislative issues that were on our agenda, we agreed with the staff that we would devote a half-hour of the meeting to talking about the book.

We go meet with Governor Charlie Baker and we had Dave Christopolis, a white board member from Western Mass who works in a community of people of color and is really invested in this issue, kick things off. He spoke with great emotion about his personal journey and about how when his family moved to this country, they moved into a black neighborhood, and because of the old housing policy, ended up moving into a white neighborhood. The next person from our board who spoke was a woman named Katherine Martinez, a Latina in her mid-thirties who was relatively new to our board, and spoke with great conviction and emotion, offering her personal perspective on the book and on what the history of segregation has meant in her life. Finally, Gail Latimore, an African American woman, talked about how this issue impacts her community.

All three of the board members who spoke and subsequently the other board members who chimed in were not afraid to speak to the Governor with a new level of intensity, emotional honesty, and directness. To be honest, it surprised me, because sometimes when my board members interact with the Governor, they can be intimidated. He is a very powerful person and they don’t want to challenge him or upset him. It was amazing to me how calm and composed they were in unflinchingly sharing their perspectives. They each spoke directly to the Governor and he really responded to that. He was clearly connecting with them. They were genuinely interacting back and forth with one another, listening and authentically reacting to what was being discussed, and that encouraged other people to speak up.

As we were leaving the room, several board members said, “Wow, that was unbelievable. I can’t believe we just had that level of conversation with the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” I felt, in talking to other people, that our board members were able to do that because they now knew that they had support from their colleagues. Dave was able to share what he knew because everybody else in the room, other than the Governor, had been through InclusionBoston with Dave and understood who he was and why he was saying what he was saying. And Katherine knew that if she shared her personal truth, she would have support from fellow board members who had also been through InclusionBoston with her. She knew that they would back her up if she got challenged for sharing what she shared. I think that there was this sense of a shared experience. We knew each other. We had developed a sense of trust with one another and we had acquired a shared language that allowed us to speak, each from our own personal perspective, but in the aggregate, collectively to the Governor in a way that was direct and impactful.

Frankly, in our conversations on public policy, we sometimes avoid conflict and we don’t say exactly what we mean because we don’t want to risk offending those in positions of authority. This was a really rare and wonderful experience for all of us, to be able to speak to the Governor with this level of confidence in such an engaged conversation. I haven’t spoken to the Governor since that meeting but I have spoken to staff, and many were personally moved by the experience. The Governors Policy Director said to me, “It was a privilege to be in the room.” Everyone on our board feels the same way. It was a really remarkable conversation.

And while I won’t say that the Governor is necessarily going to change his whole political orientation because of this, I do think that he has a deeper understanding of these issues and how they affect people, than he otherwise would.

InclusionBoston made it possible to connect in a deeper way with new board members and gain tangible strategies to use moving forward. Share on X
As a leader in the community who is proactively taking steps to create racial equity across Massachusetts, what advice would you give to leaders who are thinking about addressing racial inequity through their organizations?

To me, if an organization wants to tackle racial equity and really infuse it into the work that they do broadly, that can only happen if staff and board members trust each other. They have to believe in their hearts that the people they are working with are well-intentioned, have shared analysis, understanding, and language about the ways racial inequity plays out in our society, its causes and implications. People don’t have to agree on everything. People can and will have different interpretations and different ideas about how to address systemic problems.

Ultimately though, you need to have some level of trust, so that people feel like they can speak up and that if they say something clumsily, if they are awkward, offensive or hurtful, that it won’t shut the conversations down. So there is enough trust to make it safe to take some risks and share things. The only way to get there is by doing the work it takes to get there together.
I think sometimes people want to jump right into the action steps, but in my experience, you have to start with the relationships and the learning that happens when you come together in this way. Even if you have a PhD in Racial History, if you haven’t done it with the folks you work with, especially those directly affected by the issues, you need to do this work with them.

Some of the people on our board have been through a lot of racial equity and anti-racism training as individuals, but we had to do it together so that we could build that relationship within the room. I think the most useful and meaningful thing that our participation in YW Boston’s InclusionBoston program did for us is that it helped us cultivate a shared language and it brought us closer to being on the same page. InclusionBoston made it possible to connect in a deeper way with new board members and gain tangible strategies to use moving forward.


About InclusionBoston

InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved business results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey.

DE&I Workshops: YW Boston also offers one-day workshops where participants explore frameworks, develop knowledge, and engage in dialogue.

Ready to unlock the power of diversity in the workplace? Click here to learn more about InclusionBoston and request your free consultation.