In the recent event Executive Leaders Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health, six extraordinary leaders shared how they guide their organizations through these difficult and ever-evolving times.

The session, hosted by Hello Insight and Youth INC, took place directly after the Buffalo, NY, and Texas mass shootings. These events carried a lot of pain and stress for the speakers as they navigated the fears, stress, and anxiety held by their staff, community members, and youth. We kept all of this in our hearts and minds as we discussed the impact of race and DEI on mental health in the sector

I'm sending love and light out to everyone. I have a heavy heart. But I'm grateful for the opportunity to do the work that I have to do.  -  La Frae Sci, Willie Mae Rock Camp

This forum was the third session of the series Elevating Youth Development: A Series of Discussions about Race and DEI Across the Nonprofit Sector. The idea for these conversations evolved out of meetings with field leaders who are passionate and committed to creating community spaces to address these issues. The series kicked off January 14, 2022 with the session, Youth Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health, By amplifying the voices of young people, it appropriately set the stage for the series. From young people’s perspective, the intersection of race, DEI, and mental health is a central issue affecting their lives and those of their peers. On March 16, 2022, we continued the conversation with frontline staff at Youth Workers Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health. And on May 25, 2022, we ignited a conversation with executive leaders on the same topic. The following is a summary of the event’s key points, takeaways, areas that need to be addressed, and recommendations for funders supporting this work.

You can also watch the full recording:

Key Takeaways

#1 - Find New And Meaningful Ways to Listen To Young People

We really can't minimize what we are hearing, I think, in the context of today and coming out of these mass shootings. We may not be fully listening and believing what someone is saying to us—to really fully listen, step in, help that person rescue themselves, believe what they say, and not wait for the explosion to react. We are in it every day. This is hard, very exhausting work, but we are at a place where we really have to embrace this rage - Michael Duval, Boys and Young Men of Color, YMCA of the USA

#2 - Create Informal Ways To Check In With Young People

Mental health practices look different for our youth. There is an informal nature to the work that can make people devalue it. Listening to youth doesn't always happen in formal settings or in structured times. I have learned that there are some meaty and important moments that happen on the subway on the way to camp. It happens in really small moments. It isn't always sitting in a circle in a group. - Susan Natacha Gonzalez, Fresh Youth Initiatives

#3 - Intentionally Focus on Wellbeing

We started to add intentional breathing to open each class session. We also close with a reflection and with breath again. We put it over a drum machine and call it beat breathing. Eighty-five beats per minute is a nice tempo and a great way to get everyone grounded and centered. We have also given them some tools for raising their frequency and curating their vibe. During COVID, we had to create spaces by using sound. - La Frae Sci, Willie Mae Rock Camp

#4-  Value Differences

We have to recognize that trauma and mental health comes in more than one sphere or one slice. It comes in multiple places, in multiple ways, and is communicated in different ways. Someone may say one word that doesn't mean anything to you in your culture, but you have to pick up on it using cultural cues. You have to ask the second and third questions. Not just how you are doing but let's go deeper into how you are doing. - Michael Duval, Boys and Young Men of Color, YMCA of the USA

#5 -  Be Prepared to Make Mistakes

I try to demonstrate that we are all learners and that we are all contributing to each other’s learning. Learning never stops. It is not about perfection. It is about intentionally looking at our progress. We are going to try things, and we are going to fail. It is an intentional invitation and understanding that failure is a part of the learning process. - Priya Mohabir, NYSCI

#6 - Show Up as Your Full Self

It is important for us and our staff to make sure that we are intentional about checking in when someone arrives. We do this religiously with each other as staff. And wealso do this with our young people because everyone is not having the same experience here in America. When I show up, I'm showing up as Kelly Steward as ED of L.E.A.D. But I am also showing up as the granddaughter of Amy Lue Faust. That's my grandmother who raised me. She was born into sharecropping. I'm showing up with her stolen dreams, and I'm showing up with her stolen freedoms. And I'm showing up also as a victim of the Atlantic slave and domestic slave trade that took place in this country. That trauma has followed us in this country. I show up with a lot of stuff. Sometimes I need folks to check on me. - Kelli Stewart, L.E.A.D Center for Youth
You are the expert in your own experience. That has taken on a new meaning for me as a CEO. When I come to a decision or I have an idea, it is framed by my experience, and my experience is not the same as everybody else's. I'm white. I'm male. I'm able-bodied. I'm cis-gendered. I've got lots of privileges that inform my decisions. These should be challenged and expanded by folks in our organization with different experiences. - Joshua Todd, Camp Fire Columbia

#7 -  Create Together

I lean into, "I don't know what I don't know. I depend on you as my community around me to fill in the gaps, share your perspectives to help me understand and grow, and help us make the best decisions for our program and young people." We invite young people into decision-making places. Youth are not just participants in our program but contributors and co-designers, not only in the program activities but in the ways we are working together and creating spaces.  And we not only invite students into spaces but take a moment to stop and be invited into their spaces. - Priya Mohabir, NYSCI

Executive Leaders Need Support

These executive leaders identified five key areas in which they and the field need further support.

  1. An understanding of cultural identity and how to co-create and recreate identity
  2. Knowledge of how to partner with other institutions that don't center conversations around DEI, Race, and mental health, and equipping our staff to work in those settings
  3. Health insurance that truly provides our staff with high-quality mental health and access to providers who hold the identities that they do
  4. Time and space to reflect, check in, and transition
  5. An understanding that cultures are not monolithic

Recommendations for Funders

The speakers also had the following recommendations for funders supporting this work.

  • Practice trust-based philanthropy
    - Allow organizations to develop the appropriate programming and interventions for their communities.
    - Be humble and learn from community members.
    - Train board members on the issues being funded.
  • Consider new ways of defining success
    - Focus on impact rather than just data. Numbers are not the only way to define success.
    -Ensure grantees and young people are helping to define success.
    -Capture youth voices and feedback.
  • Throw away preconceived notions of administrative costs
    - Our staff's mental health is key to our success, and it has a price.
  • Think about healing more holistically
    - Healing has been segmented into different parts of our society and professions. By expanding and focusing on interconnectivity, we can serve each other and support each other in a way that can empower us all.

We hope this series provides a space for the greater youth development community to listen, learn, and grow together. Our next event in the series, Funders Leadership Speak Out, is scheduled for October 4th, from 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM. This session will focus on funders and what they need from their boards, donors, grantees, and peers to feel prepared and supported in their mental health. Look out for an invitation in our newsletter!

Register to Funders Speak Out