In an effort to elevate diverse voices, we’re sharing our platform with leaders of color to hear their thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We reached out to Angel Harris, Executive Director of Dress for Success Columbus, to share the challenges she faces as a Black, nonprofit leader.
Thank you, Angel, for providing your valuable insight as we continue to learn, grow, and better ourselves, both personally and professionally.
— Mollard Consulting
Being a Black, nonprofit leader during a time when there is a worldwide call for systemic racism to be dismantled is not for the faint of heart.
Challenges for leaders of color are unique yet ubiquitous to us. We walk an invisible tightrope alongside peers while carefully balancing our words and actions as we fight against deep-seated, socially embedded practices that perpetuate inequality.
A 2019 study from The Center for Effective Philanthropy found less than 1 in 5 nonprofits are led by people of color, while those we serve are predominantly minorities.
Leading this work takes courage, resilience, authenticity, and the ability to communicate the needs of the community in a way that resonates. It requires an aptitude to relate life experiences of those in need to a community who has not experienced similar challenges, all while serving as an example of what is possible for those who need hope. Being able to explain both worlds to both sides is crucial.
Leaders of color cannot afford mistakes. We have learned through leaders who paved the way before us that our mistakes are not easily forgiven. We also feel it a duty to create a path for younger leaders of color to follow.
A question common among leaders of color with access to hearts and ears willing to listen is, “What is our role in educating our non-minority friends and colleagues about systemic racism?” Our work and those we serve call for us to do so, even when it reopens pain from our personal and professional experiences that we have packed away in neat boxes. The lives of those we serve demand that we do it effectively, with grace and tact.
We experience personal challenges but have to wear a brave face and project the image that “everything is ok.” We are not allowed to have emotion, and when we show up as our authentic, goal-driven, fierce selves — particularly as women — we run the risk of being called “narrow focused,” “too vocal,” or “authoritarian.” Yet, authenticity is required to advance the needs of the underserved.
Nonprofit organizations play a critical role in building healthy communities. More top leaders of color are needed as organizations strive to bring a diversity of thought and action to solving problems and building a community of which we all can be proud.
Article by: Angel Harris, Executive Director, Dress for Success Columbus