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Racial Justice Training

Racial Justice Training

How One Local Nonprofit Is Helping Businesses Embrace A Changing Population

When Kurt Brauman found out Walmart was transferring him to Mankato, Minnesota from Mount Pleasant, Iowa to work logistics at the new distribution center, well, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Mankato would be a community much bigger than where he came from.

“I am from a small, tight-knit community in Southeast Iowa and there is not much diversity,” says Brauman. “So I brought that small-town mentality to Mankato. But, honestly, it was so refreshing to come here and see all of the diversity!”

Refreshing to Brauman, but he could clearly see that in order to do his job most effectively, he needed to have a greater understanding of the diversity he found.

“Walmart is such a diverse company, it’s important for us to educate all of our associates in regard to diversity training,” he says.

He found the resources he needed at YWCA Mankato, an organization that has made it its mission to go beyond traditional diversity training with its Racial Justice programming. Bringing this approach to Greater Mankato, focusing on addressing the root causes of racism rather than merely its symptoms, has led YWCA Mankato to become a valued resource in helping the growing business community in our region seize on the diverse, and often untapped, sources of talent in our area.

“Today’s bottom line is that the world is changing, and our community is changing right along with it,” says YWCA Mankato Executive Director Barb Dorn. “We need to be prepared for more diversity in our workforce, and to become better at attracting, recruiting, and retaining people who look different than the majority population here. If we don’t prepare for these changing demographics, and if we don’t begin to see increasing racial diversity as an asset, then I believe we will miss a tremendous opportunity to build our workforce and to strengthen our community economically, socially, and culturally. I don’t want to see Greater Mankato miss that opportunity, and I also don’t think we can afford to do so.”

YWCA Mankato’s cultural competency trainings lay the foundation for this work by addressing the invisible and subtle differences between cultures, and helping provide cross-cultural understanding. These trainings focus on identifying stereotypes, differentiating between bias/discrimination/racism, discussing the difference between refugees and immigrants, and heightening awareness of cultural differences. The YWCA then carries this work forward with three additional offerings: “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race,” a trademarked racial dialogue facilitation process that involves trained facilitators leading small dialogue circles about race and racial justice; “Confronting Racism: Minnesota Style” workshops designed for those who want to acquire skills in dealing with racism as it occurs in their personal lives; and customized training sessions, as YWCA Mankato recognizes that nuances often exist within organizations, and therefore tailor sessions depending upon the need and circumstances of each organization.

Brauman was one of the first to jump on the opportunity for Racial Justice training not only for his employer, but for himself.

“I took this on personally,” he says. “We have a big Somali presence in our workforce, particularly in the warehouse. I could see there was some misunderstanding going on. So I brought in the YWCA to do a customized training session. We had placed a two-hour time limit on it, but the overwhelming feedback from my managers was that it was so impactful, it could have even gone on longer. They just had so many questions. That’s a sign it is needed.”

And Brauman wanted more. So he attended another workshop offered by YWCA Mankato.

“One of the best things about their workshops is the open forum,” he explains. “I attended one with two of my employees. We got to hear first-hand experiences with racial tensions in our community. It was just good to hear those different perspectives and understand how to handle different situations. Forums allow people to talk in a setting where they didn’t have to be afraid to talk about it.”

Dorn says that is one key to the YWCA’s Racial Justice training, as it can be customized to make sure each business participating is comfortable.

“Context for these conversations is so important,” says Dorn. “Oftentimes the first step is simply to help people become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Make no mistake about it: conversations about race make people uncomfortable, and that’s a very good thing. It’s how we grow, change, and become better equipped to move forward. It makes us stronger, both as individuals and also as a community.”

It is an issue top of mind for our business community. So much so, that Minnesota State University, Mankato College of Business sees the value in making sure their students, our future workforce, are exposed to it early.

“We held an “It’s Time to Talk” session in order to prepare our faculty and staff to help all students be successful,” explains Dean of the College of Business Brenda Flannery. “We’re also starting to do more things with our curriculum in order to address opportunity gaps between white students and students of color. We feel very strongly about supporting and welcoming all students into the College of Business, and seeing all students succeed.”

The YWCA is really just getting started with its Racial Justice programming. Its first event in December of 2015 led to increased demand for more racial justice programs and training, and this work has been growing extensively ever since for the organization.

“We recognize that racial justice work is complicated, particularly in a predominantly-white community,” stresses Dorn. “But if you look at the definition of justice it clearly aligns with YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women. As an organization dedicated to this mission, of course it’s the right thing to do. But racial justice is also an economic imperative, increasingly and dramatically so, and YWCA Mankato is committed to helping create the racial and economic vibrancy which is so often synonymous with a successful community. I believe that would be the ultimate outcome for YWCA’s racial justice programming: an indisputably successful Greater Mankato for all.”

Brauman couldn’t agree more and encourages others in the business community to follow Walmart’s lead, no matter their size or industry.

Brauman says, “I would absolutely encourage other businesses to engage in this type of training. And we are so fortunate to have resources to carry it out right here in our community. There is no reason businesses should not be taking advantage of this.”

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine