Managing a Racially Charged Crisis in Real Time
Episode 2: October 15, 2020 | The Public Space
Oregon Coast Community Action’s Executive Director, Kim Brick, and Director of Development and Fundraising, David Navarro, join Lilisa to share their experience handling a racially charged crisis.
Leaders are responsible for managing major organizational crises with far-reaching impacts in real time. Kim Brick and David Navarro, both leaders of color at Oregon Coast Community Action, share what they did when confronted with a racially charged crisis that threatened their organization and entire community. ORCCA serves Coos, Curry, and western Douglas counties with a mission to actively create positive changes for a thriving community.
In this episode:
Kim Brick is the Executive Director for Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA). Kim has over 23 years of nonprofit leadership experience. She is passionate about services for children and families in our region and is a current board member of the Coos Bay School District. Kim is proud to be a bi-racial woman in leadership who serves those furthest from opportunity including people in poverty, communities of color, and individuals seeking shelter, food, or other resources..
David Navarro serves as the Director of Development and Fundraising for Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA). His career has carried him across tech and startup, real estate, and now mission-based work. Growing up in a Caribbean Afro-Latino family, David saw from an early age the beauty in multiculturalism and how varying groups can foster deep-rooted bonds. David has a passion for smart growth and equitable development. At ORCCA David heads up fund and resource development efforts. Feel free to contact him with any partnership inquiries; email@example.com.
Lilisa Hall: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Public Space a podcast from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. The Public Space is where thought leaders share strategic ideas and solutions that spark positive change in civil society. I'm Lilisa Hall - Membership, Communications and Advancement Director for the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. In each episode, I'll be connecting with experts from across the nonprofit sector and beyond to talk about the changing ideas, opportunities, and issues that affect our communities. Each conversation will offer tangible steps that nonprofit organizations, supporters, and partners can take to better our communities. So, today's topic is a really interesting one. The question I'm going to pose is: how would you handle that organizational and community crisis in real time and here today to share their story with us are Kim Brick, Executive Director of the Oregon Coast Community Action or ORCCA and David Navarro, Director of Development and Fundraising at ORCCA. Kim's preferred pronouns are she/her/hers and David's preferred pronouns are he/him. So, let me tell you a little about ORCCA. ORCCA is located in Coos Bay, Oregon, and serves communities in Coos, Curry, and western Douglas counties. ORCCA's mission is: positive change for thriving communities and ORCCA provides services and resources to help people in need, foster self-sufficiency, and empower individuals and families. And, I'm pleased to say that ORCCA is also an NAO member. Thanks so much Kim and David for being part of NAO's network. And, thanks so much for joining me today. I'm really excited about this conversation. So, let me dive straight into the questions. And so I want/like for you to describe the crisis that Oregon Coast Community Action was faced with a few months ago, the results of which I know continue today, and continue to have direct impact across our communities.
David Navarro: [00:02:04] Thank you, Lilisa. I'll take the lead on that question. So, 2020 saw an awakening for many agencies throughout the U. S. We at ORCCA - we're not left out of that. So, just to describe some of the events. On June 8th, our illustrious executive director sent out an email to the staff and the volunteer board of directors. The subject of the email: Listen, Learn, Reflect, and Grow. You know, these are ideas that all of us can relate to. And in that body of the email, Kim discussed the importance of civil rights in our country, the importance of voting rights. She discussed our capacity as human beings to relate to one another. And, the understandings, which can be taken from a group that was stirred to come together and demonstrate on the basis of their beliefs, their desires, and wants for change in a broken system. Kim also shared her own personal experience as a biracial woman who grew up in poverty and suggested the importance of solidarity at this exact moment. The email ended with a recap of the community action promise, something that we all stand for in the community action space. We care about our entire community and in love and unity, we will interrupt the darkness of the time and we will continue to embody the spirit of hope. We ended that email with the #BlackLivesMatter. A hashtag that's used like so many other agencies to show support and acknowledge that there are inequities that are existing all around us. To that, what happened was unfortunate. One of our very own board members decided to reply with a very disheartening response - to say the least of that response. He rebuked the email, sharing his own personal opinions on the current state of affairs, offering his own interpretation of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the perceived notions of the lack of authenticity of those who are involved with it. He made commentary on the lack of stable family dynamics and contributors to the factors of deficits within Black homes. He expressed his own principles shaped by a learned moral compass. There's so much more that was expressed, but I won't spend a lot of time sharing those colorful details here on this call. These messages were already picked up by periodicals, both local and national. And so, the writing is there if anyone wants to look into it. Finally, in his email, this board member offered his resignation to whomever would accept it. And, that's where we ended a really crazy day in June.
Kim Brick: [00:04:46] Yes, absolutely. I have to say that that writing the email was in par with what was happening across the United States and in a world of - I called it - quarantined rage from being, you know, just at home with COVID and all these emotions arising. So, going into this email, it was sent with such a personal and beautiful memo out to staff and to the board that was really supposed to bring in more love and understanding. And what it ended up doing when the board member replied was sent everybody through a tailspin. It was, it was extremely shocking and jarring for many of us.
Lilisa Hall: [00:05:42] All I can say is wow, Kim and David. And so this is certainly a crisis in your community and for your organization. So what did you do and what steps did you decide to take? And then, you know, alongside that is - how did you anticipate the potential impacts of, of this? And then what did you put in place in terms of actions to, to address this? I mean, a whole bunch of questions, but you know, this is sort of something that I think is really important for all of us to hear and potentially learn from - how did you handle this? What did you do?
David Navarro: [00:06:19] I think that's, you know, the question everyone asks, what do you do? How do you react? And, so I want to state that I don't believe there's a one size fits all manual for this, but for us, almost immediately, our board came together and met and discussed everything that went on through a series of meetings.
They reviewed the code of ethics, and they decided that the violation was valid against the code of ethics and the proposed resignation was accepted. We activated internally as a leadership group and came together and we first and foremost just had a very vulnerable conversation. Kim and our executive team, we just created a safe space and we talked this through on, on what did that email mean from Kim?
How could it be interpreted or misinterpreted or read or misread. And that allowed us to start forming a plan. So we immediately decided that we wanted to hold an open conversation for our team. And that means the entire agency of over 200 persons. So on June 23rd, we hosted a virtual forum in our COVID-conscious world.
That was not mandatory. And it was by an amazing community partner from AllCare Health. During this forum, we discussed candidly, everything that occurred. We recapped it for the staff. So there were no questions. There was no way for anything to be misconstrued. And we re-emphasized the importance of community action throughout our community and the country.
We encouraged our team members to speak up and speak out and we recommitted ourselves to work in diversity, equity and inclusion, and making that a cornerstone of our agency's mission, values, philosophy, and goals. So, our wants are to establish an employee-led task force that will serve as an oversight body that's going to hold our leadership accountable to the principles of DEI, offer suggestions and recommendations for policy improvements, review ongoing practices, and create a feedback loop on matters of DEI. And those folks hopefully will serve as ambassadors, not only in our agency, but outside in the community that we're serving.
Following that forum we sent out a survey. We wanted to gauge the effectiveness of that forum. We wanted to understand the wants and desires of our staff and how they wanted to engage with us. And it was proof positive that this was something that so many - over 50% of the folks who answered the survey.
And by the way, let me just say the attendance of that forum was staggering. We had just over 200 employees - 150 folks show up for a non-mandatory meeting. I was shocked as a person of color myself. I was shocked. I was amazed that so many people logged on and not only logged on, but they provided an overwhelming sense of support.
They thanked us, they wanted to engage. And they asked us for next steps. So what we are working on now, is that we formed an adhoc committee of managers to lay the groundwork for this DEI work. And we want to empower our staff on a task force to really help us push all of this forward. So currently we are resourcing funding. We are resourcing the relationships, and we're resourcing any sort of facilitation of what can benchmark this as our journey into the complex change for our agency. And again, ultimately for our community,
Kim Brick: [00:09:49] We, we knew this was big. We knew that there was going to be a need for fast response. Our board came to the table and worked on a racial justice statement and our exec team, like David said, came together to put the plan of action in place so that we could move forward quickly and not sweep this under the rug like so many people tend to do when they're confronted with uncomfortable situations or things that don't feel good or right.
They want to hide it and say, okay, you know what? Let's just put that over here. And we're, we're not going to deal with that. It was very apparent that our board, our exec staff and our general staff overall wanted to talk about this issue. And even there was comments when we were still trying to grapple with -- did this really happen? Is this what really took place that we took a couple of days and that was too long because it, it sparked so many feelings and emotions in people. I mean, I don't think that it's too far out there to say that it, it hurt, it hurts a lot of people in our community, in our organization.
I know that David and I have talked, it hurt us personally, and it was very painful. So to be able to talk through that was huge. That staff forum was an amazing first step for us.
Lilisa Hall: [00:11:26] I know that when we talked earlier, you mentioned how devastating it was both personally and professionally in your community. As you experienced this, this, this crisis. And, and you talked about your staff and, and sort of the, the immediate response that you all deployed. I want to ask the question about the stakeholders in the community and funders and supporters and partners. What was the reaction from them, and how did you handle that as well in real time?
Kim Brick: [00:11:58] One of the things that happened was that this whole incident, you know, we talked about the email that went out and the response that this board member actually wrote was emailed back to not only myself, but our entire staff and our board. One of the things I didn't anticipate was that it would be leaked to the media.
I don't know if that was my own naivete or what, but, it was leaked to the press. And then, like David said, it went viral - publications across the United States. I am so proud of our community and outside of our community as well. Our stakeholders have responded overwhelmingly positive and have provided so much support.
They have reached out with resources and funding opportunities, words of support that have meant so much to myself and all of us as an agency. We had our board step right up. And, like David said in the beginning is they talked about next steps and removing this board member from, you know, the board that he serves on and just keeping things moving.
David Navarro: [00:13:14] Yeah. I would say, you know, this all occurred amid a global pandemic, demonstrations, protests happening all around us, retaliation to said protests, it's election year, it's a year census, ORCCA happens to be a census assistance center. You know, this is right at the end of our fiscal year starting.
So we had a lot going on and so we are still responding and reacting in real time to this. Again, as I said earlier, there's no one size fits all manual that roadmaps your action plan through a crisis. But, I think what fundamentally going back to that email that Kim was so gracious to send out is, you know, listen, learn, reflect, and grow.
And, so that's what we've done. We took a hard look at what we are doing internally, where our gaps are and attempting to not only patch those gaps, but build new foundation so that again, whether it's diversity, equity or inclusion is something that we're considering from our hiring practices to the way we consult with direct clients, to the way that we write new policy and those community partnerships that we choose and even the advocacy work that we decide to go after. We just took a stand and we're just trying to follow suit with that.
Kim Brick: [00:14:39] One of the things that I really enjoyed is the comments and the response from private citizens. We've had letters written in and phone calls to us personally, to talk about this crisis that happened and the way that it made them feel.
I mean, I've had folks from Texas call me about this. I had folks from Curry County and people just reaching out to ask for either advice or to tell me that they've been in the same situation, that they, they empathize with what we are going through. And that has had such an impact on our organization and our community.
Lilisa Hall: [00:15:26] I would imagine that that outpouring of support and comments have done a lot for your spirits, going back to the personal and professional, you know, outlook and, and the impacts that you all felt. That is great to hear. I'm curious, so what would you say were sort of the key elements that helped you navigate this crisis?
As David mentioned earlier, you know, there's, there's no playbook for something like this, at least as we think about it. So what would you say were the key elements that helped you step up and just take this crisis head-on and manage and navigate through this, within your organization and then, obviously in your communities and across the country really?
Kim Brick: [00:16:14] I would say number one is realizing you're not alone. That this has happened in other communities, in other states and with our team, our executive team specifically within ORCCA, we stepped up, we, we came together. We couldn't have done this without each other and putting that plan in place. And, then, of course, our board being supportive.
And I swear I was on the phone several times a day with the board chair of next steps. What are we going to do? How do we respond? Those people are your resources really and, and having those eyes and ears being able to listen and move forward through something like this and just have a sounding board back, you know, here, here's what we're thinking because we didn't have a plan if this, you know, we, we had a plan for COVID. You know, it hit and you're scrambling, so everybody's going to work from home, but this happens and you're just, okay, what do we do next? So really, I would say those key pieces for navigation was having that open conversation.
Okay guys, what are we going to do with this? Are we going to take this forward? And we had some passionate members of our teams who were like, yes, let's take it all the way, we want to put this out there. We want to talk about our responses. Of course, we had information from everywhere - from our board of directors to city officials, to attorneys of what we could or couldn't say.
And then there was the feelings on top of that we've talked about -- the hurt and despair, because this was a member of our board that we really liked. And, so there's that whole relationship piece. And so those were difficult to maneuver, but we couldn't have got through it without each other.
David Navarro: [00:18:10] Yeah, to Kim's point, the navigation of this crisis was, was hard to take in and we were able to reach out to folks who could provide resources and help. NAO's own Jim White was a great sounding board for myself, and we had a lot of discussions leading up to our forum, other agencies, other funding partners, other folks who had examples of the kind of work that they were introducing to their organization are the folks that we leaned on.
And then just internally, Kim was able to create a very safe and open space for us to have conversations and let's face it, these conversations can be uncomfortable and, and they can be jarring. And there are words and phrases and ideas that when you're faced with, they're hard to swallow. So, for us, I think it was, one, that overwhelming massive support wave that came our way.
And then just keeping our eyes and ears open and listening and learning and being open to the process. And secondarily just internally, we were able to really lean on one another, which was just a really beautiful thing. And that's coming from a non-emotional guy.
Lilisa Hall: [00:19:29] So, you know, that kind of lightened the mood a little bit, David, thanks for that comment. So what are three or so key actions that you believe all of us, and particularly nonprofit leaders, can take in a crisis such as the one that you both faced a few months ago and are still facing, quite honestly.
Kim Brick: [00:19:50] Right. So I would say we've learned so much through this process. One of the things that I think we all identified right away was speak your organizational truth.
And what I mean by that is when you're onboarding your staff, your volunteers, your board members, really go into detail about your mission, your values, and your vision. What do you stand for? Sometimes organizations will put in there, you know, here's our USDA civil rights poster. Here's something for you to sign that says that we're an equal rights opportunity employer.
Here's our DEI work. But break it down. What does it really mean when you're talking about DEI? What is your organization really support? Who is your population that are out there that are walking through your door and what kind of support are you providing these people when they're coming through the doors?
I would also say, I mean, we hear this all the time in DEI work, be aware of your own implicit biases, because you have to know what internal stereotypes that you have that you might not even be aware of that are coming through. And don't be afraid to name them, you know, here's an implicit bias I've had. Sometimes I see people get so very, very defensive when someone calls out something like, hey, maybe what you said was, you know, off putting or offensive to someone and you'll hear somebody say, oh, I'm not a racist. You know, I have this friend who - the person you've talked to also is not the spokesperson for the entire community. So if you hear someone who's Hispanic talk about, you know, their family and their culture, there's so many different cultures out there, so don't lean on that, and be prepared to just say, I'm sorry, or, tell me more, how can I say that differentlyand just be humble in your approach.
That's going to require also that piece of asking questions and approaching things with curiosity rather than being the "know it all" of everything, so that humble attitude can be hard sometimes when you're in an executive role and you think, okay, well, I have to know everything about, about this. This is who we serve. So I need to know everything about this. No, you don't. And I can promise you, you don't know and that's okay. That's okay not to know. And it's okay to say: "I screwed up. I screwed up and I want to do better." So if you can set that example as a nonprofit leader, you've changed the playbook for the entire organizationbecause when they see you doing that, your staff, your board, your volunteers are going to all feel comfortable saying, you know what, it's okay, we can, we can do that too. We can, you know what, I'm sorry. And I want to learn more. And one thing that I wish we would have done before all of this happened, but it's the whole hindsight thing is provide space for dialogue and conversation around these hard to talk about things before it is a crisis.
So, so if you have, even in this age, COVID right now, I think it's almost easier right now to do these things and set up something virtual for your staff and have a topic that you know is affecting your community-the people you serve - and it's probably a part of your mission, whether it's racism or oppression or poverty, civil rights, whatever you want to talk about, even though it's hard to set up a time to discuss these things.
David Navarro: [00:23:42] Yeah to Kim's point, I think our approach to this new journey into complex change, if I was to really refine it down, we've communicated at the highest level that we can. And, and we've communicated that concept out so we can get feedback. We've also planned with agility and as Kim described, you know, this is a lot of hard work and this is the kind of work that once you start it for it to be effective, you can't end it. So be agile, be open to learning, because not all of us, even if you are classified in some sort of other group, you don't have all the answers. And, I would say finally creating the opportunity for change management, so as you're moving through this journey of introducing new initiatives or action plans that you are checking in with that action plan and allowing yourself to make a pivot and a change where it makes sense for you and your organization.
Lilisa Hall: [00:24:45] Thank you so much, Kim and David, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate you both taking the time to share your story and to share the story of ORCCA and the crisis that you all are dealing with. And it appears to me, at least, from my vantage point that you all have done a tremendously excellent job.
I don't know if that's a phrase - excellently tremendous job?! - but I'm going to use it, in how you handled and navigated the crisis. I think it goes back to what Kim and David, you both mentioned earlier that was in Kim's letter -- listen, learn, reflect, and grow. So, with that, I want to thank Kim and David for sharing ORCCA's story and what it means to both of you, both personally and professionally. You know, you both are shining examples of leadership and how to implement and operationalize DEI in, in your organization and in your communities.
So, all the best on all the great work that you're doing in Coos, Curry and western Douglas counties. For more information about ORCCA, check out orcca.us. That's ORCCA dot US. My hope is that this conversation with Kim and David resonated with all of you. Maybe it sparked an idea, made you stop and think, encourages you to make a change, and to take a bold action.
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