Get Lit: A Q&A with Keecha Harris

Luminare Group is passionate about serving as a platform to elevate diverse voices in our field. In 2019, Luminare Group has selected 10 guest editors for our monthly Be Lumin-Us newsletter, and will also be featuring their work or Q&A’s with them on this blog.

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Keecha Harris

Keecha Harris is President and CEO of KHA Inc, a national consulting company and 8(a) firm based in Birmingham, Alabama.

KHA Inc leads organizational development, project management, and evaluation projects for publicly and privately funded efforts across a broad range of topics. KHA Inc currently facilitates a professional development series—Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Environmental Philanthropy (InDEEP)— that has convened over 300 public private grantmakers who represent over $65 billion dollars in assets.

KHA Inc is also curating a racial equity leadership development initiative for foundation executives – The Presidents’ Forum.

A Q&A with Keecha Harris

What idea/practice are you most in love with currently? Why?

KHA has been working with several organizations to develop concrete organizational performance standards that center racial equity. We have identified key operational and programmatic indicators for grantmaking organizations to track and tailor them to each group. This creates a dashboard for each group and much needed indicators to focus on, concrete targets to track-to across a period of time, and a method to track progress over time.

Grantmaking organizations ask their nonprofit partners to track their performance all of the time. It has been rewarding work with funders who want to measurably capture their practices and use those data to inform policies. I am excited about the possibilities for organizations with high concentrations of institutional power and resources to do this work more intentionally and consistently.

If you could do one thing for a day (and be good at it), what would it be?

I would run KHA and take cues from one of my favorite past times with groups of people- jigsaw puzzling. Each day at KHA is like working with a group of people to put together a jigsaw puzzle with a multiple themes, patterns, and color schemes in it.

I used to focus on the edges of the puzzle. What I want to be proficient at is sorting. As with tabletop puzzles, I now work on grouping the sections of the puzzle so that other people can drop in over time to put the various sections together. Some days, I am fishing through minuscule pieces with swirls, checkered patterns, and garments of clothing imprinted on them. Other days, the critical pieces have fallen between the sofa cushions.

There are two key differences between my tabletop puzzles and the KHA puzzle. At times, there are chunks of the puzzle that I am at liberty to reshape. Some pieces arrive with straight edges yet belong in the middle. So, I get to work with others to contemplate what the right fit is, to skillfully hone the interlocking pieces, and to put them into their rightful places.

The other difference is that sometimes a section on the puzzle box changes before your eyes. Sometimes, we continue to work on that section of the puzzle because it is critical to what we are trying to accomplish. Most times, we just let the mystery unfold, focus on the other pieces, and revisit that section should it make sense to do so.

What makes you smile...every time?

Benji at the Green Beagle Lodge Spring 2019.

Benji at the Green Beagle Lodge Spring 2019.

My grandpuppy, Benji! He is a Yorkie Poo and ranks right up there with sliced bread. See for yourself:

What was the biggest risk you took last year? Was it worth it?

Three years ago, we launched InDEEP. Two things became apparent by the end of the second year:

1) funders benefit from professional development opportunities that center racial equity and

2) the experience needed to be elevated to the executive level.

I took a risk and asked a foundation president - Larry Kramer - who was familiar with our work, to consider being a part of a peer cohort that centers racial equity, to invite his friends to take part, and to support this work. He immediately said yes.

Neither of us was sure of whether foundation presidents and other lead executives would participate. Our first step was to put out a request for interviews. Nearly three dozen people signed up. Overwhelming, they too wanted a space to contemplate racial disparities among their peers and to set goals to lead their organizations differently.

To date, we have had 21 foundation CEOs participate in two-day sessions where topics such as white fragility, power and dominance, and leadership and trust are discussed openly and honestly.

What we found was that many of these leaders are facing similar challenges, and they relished the time and space to tackle these issues with their peers. Our next meeting will be at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in June.

These efforts are works in progress. The results to date are promising. It has been totally worth it.

If you could make everyone read one thing (book, article, etc.), what would it be? Why?

Denese Shervington’s Healing is the Revolution. It is a slow read as it paints a very clear picture of the impact of the individual and community level of systemic racism and oppression on Black people. As a psychiatrist, she carefully puts into focus the complexity, severity, and currency of micro- and macro-level insults.

I love this book for including space for journaling. Page-after-page, Dr. Shervington takes you on a journey to your higher self, more evolved self. It is a skillfully crafted call-to-action and is lovingly presented.

Lately, what emotion have you felt most strongly?

I choose joy every day and pause for moments of gratitude. In racial equity work, it is easy to be stuck in fear, sadness, or anger. These emotions are legitimate and have their place. When looking at the depth, breadth, and complexity of racialized terror, it is natural to feel overwhelmed.

Over the years, I have seen people and institutions change in unimaginable ways when given the space to really contemplate how they can more fully contribute to the evolution of humanity. Remembering, this helps me put into perspective the initial trepidation that people have about engaging around race. It propels me to imagine us each differently and more self-actualized.

Sometimes the joy that I am holding is about the beauty of the moment. Other times, the joy is about what is to come.