This will become one of those posts that gets me in trouble but it won't be the first or the last post that has done that, so here we go... When I decided to go to a historically Black college, there were a variety of factors behind that decision but the biggest factor was that I was sick of always trying to explain that racism really existed and I felt like I was spending too much time in high school being the "Black representative" on every topic. I developed a strong personal and educational footing at Howard because I wasn't spending all of my time dealing with the issues of race, class, and privilege, when I should have been studying for a stats test.
So what does this have to do with philanthropy? There are also times in your professional development that you have the choice of spending time with people that are like you in some way. Through affinity groups and your own professional networks, you decide what types of people you spend time with. I have had amazing experiences with the Association of Black Foundation Executives, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and the Funding Exchange. I've been trying to figure out why I feel so connected to those networks and why some of my best thinking about my organization and my own professional development often happens after I have been spending concerted periods of time with peers from those groups. Here's what I've come up with:
1) Diversity is important but it is also hard work. Getting people to understand where you are coming from can take most of the conversation and then you might never get to talk about the action.
2) You can do the deep, intensive work when you are with like-minded or like-experienced people that you don't have to tell that backstory to.
3) Being with people with similar backgrounds and experiences can be a time of regeneration. You can take down some of your barriers and think about who you are and what to bring to this work.
There is a time and place for spending time with people from backgrounds different than yours. Those experiences stretch your perspective and help you see new solutions to old problems. My point is be purposeful and find times where you can spend some reflection time with people that have similar backgrounds.
How are you supporting your personal and professional growth by spending time in both segregated and diverse environments?