Centering joy and creativity in our practice. 

By: Keecha Harris

About the author

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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.

My experience working for racial diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizational philanthropy spans the vast majority of my career.

My company, KHA, has worked with numerous foundations and convened professional development initiatives that have influenced over $140 billion of private philanthropic resources. I have also served as a board member of a family foundation. As such, I have seen philanthropy expand, contract, swing ‘round the curve, and press repeat around the topic of who gives, who gets, and what merit is.

Race is the one topic the sector cannot seem to gain traction on relative to 21st-century demographic realities.

As a Black woman based in the Deep South, I am always aware of how important it is to work at the intersection of multiple identities. Nonetheless, at KHA, we center racial equity in our work and take the ‘Texas frog swallowing’ approach to equity. We take the biggest one down first so that all the rest can be digested easier. In the American context, the data all show that race is that big frog.

Of course, this work is far from easy. It requires skillfully intentioned partnership, mutual accountability, and iterative meetings-of-the-mind to make any meaningful difference. The specter of meaningful difference is highly subjective. Plus, we have to be able to work across power dynamics, establish trust, lean into our respective leadership capacities, and reinforce trust with action.

In the American context, nothing is divorced from race. From where we shop, how we value school systems, the taxes we pay on our homes, even how we approach day-to-day tasks, race is a conscious or subconscious factor in how we assign a value to an experience.

As such the pathways and processes for engagement require multi-level acknowledgment of racialized terror, public pressure for change, productive spaces to convene, and multi-solving interventions.

It is easy to lapse into standing up with First Nations people and those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in perpetual fear, anger, and sadness. There are certainly times when we need to react vociferously and immediately to threats to ourselves and those that we care about.  

There is also the tough work of staying ahead of the Oppression Olympics curve. This means being able to know the calamity that we are experiencing is a part of a system struggling to stay relevant and potent. In sum, we have to spend as much time as we can in joy, peace, and power

This quote, from one of the leaders from the Presidents’ Forum on Racial Equity in Philanthropy, sums it up clearly, offering an evolutionary viewpoint:

“Our racial equity lens approach should be discovery, and that is a joyful thing. A racial equity lens should allow us to see one another, and that discovery should be joyful. There is so much anger and divisiveness surrounding race in our country. How can we turn this into a joyful thing? How do we show within the institution that we control what we would like to see in our nation as a whole?”

As we head into the second half of 2019, let us support individuals, institutions, and the sector in setting intentions for equity and course correcting without shame while celebrating the big and small accomplishments along the way.

Let us center joy and creativity in our practice.