East Fork will soon launch its Black Caucus sessions for any employee who identifies as Black, African American, Afro American, Caribbean American, Black Indigenous, American Negro, Black-Multiracial or AfroLatin(a)(o)(x). In the near future, we’ll offer caucuses for other racial groups, but we are starting here, with the Black Caucus because we believe in prioritizing the centering experience of Blackness as part of our commitment to becoming a workplace working toward true racial inclusivity.
The purpose of this Journal post is to lay out how we got started and share what our sessions will look like, in the event that you’re looking into how a similar project might take shape at your workplace. Also, we thought that our readers have perhaps taken part in caucusing along identity lines and would find our project an interesting read. We’d like to invite you to leave comments below.
In late May, East Fork’s senior community impact manager Clarissa Harris announced the Black Caucus, which would convene weekly from early July to early August via 90-minute Zoom sessions that will be interactive and will involve sharing in small groups, reflective activities and journaling and participatory exercises. Clarissa asked anyone who is interested in participating and who self-identifies as a member of any of the groups listed above to complete a Google form, expressing their interest. She also made clear that the caucuses will take place during work hours, that members of the caucus will be excused from work and paid for their time, just as those whose work shifts fall outside the time of the caucuses will likewise be compensated for time spent taking part.
Clarissa said, “Caucusing is important because part of unpacking racism means doing your work. BIPOC folk need to be able to do our work on how we are affected by and perpetuate systems of oppression amongst our folk with our folk away from the white gaze.”
East Fork hopes that these caucuses will grow into some of our very first Employee Resource Groups (ERG). As defined by Dr. Cheryl Ingram, an ERG is a group of people that come together who share an identity doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work for that particular group in a workplace, and which is recognized by the company and whose input is taken into account in the company’s strategic plan.
What is Caucusing?
A Caucus is a group of folk from shared identity who come together for the purpose of reflecting, unpacking and discussing shared relevant experiences that are connected to that identity. Caucusing is essential to community-building. It creates and maintains space for folk to work through and explore issues and commonalities unique to their shared lived experiences. It provides support in an informal way, similar to a talk-back group or affinity meeting. However, caucuses are facilitated and have a set of shared community group agreements and rules of engagement. For instance, pledging to keep anything shared with the group confidential will help with the process, which may feel intimidating and even uncomfortable at times.
Caucuses are often used in racial equity work as a tool to provide a place to do the difficult work of unpacking race in a space free of the heavy lifting of having to talk across the wider array of cultural differences that come from working in interracial spaces or cohorts.
For more about why caucusing can be useful and relevant to business and the health of their community culture, we highly recommend this article.
About the Facilitators
Elizabeth Lashay Garland
Elizabeth Lashay Garland is a North Carolina native. She grew up in a transracial adoptive family where she navigated the rough terrain of finding her true identity as a strong, unwavering Black woman. She is an on-air personality, an educator, a writer, podcaster, mentor, entrepreneur and she embraces the role as “mom” from her students. Garland serves as an affinity group leader with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference. She is also a facilitator with the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project and was a facilitator with Building Bridges in Asheville. Garland currently works at Carolina Day School as the director of alumni relations, community engagement, co-director of equity and inclusion. There, she also created and advises the CDS Black Student Union.
Kasia Maatafale is a divine creator, community organizer & people supporter. Her mission is to encourage exceptional insight that inspires people to make plans and embody practices through building emotional, mental and physical capacity. Her vision is: “whole, healthy people make whole, healthy places -- personal to global.” She uplifts individuals of all ages, groups and families in planning and evaluating healing processes so that they can live their fullest lives with the tools and resources available at their fingertips. Providing training and facilitation, her experience is in health justice and equity and community socio-economic development. Kasia is interested in Global Affairs and Sexual Health and Wellness.
Clarissa Harris, East Fork’s senior community impact manager, comes from a long line of folk in movement work. She says that a lot of her unmarked work and community here has informed her career path and believes that her specific set of gifts makes her apt at being what her friend Mickey Scott Bey calls “a justice doula.” In her first year of her tenure at East Fork, she did listening sessions with every employee, helped built relationships with community partners, revamped the way we recruit and support folk through the hiring process, solidified the Wealth Reclamation/Seconds sale process to move us forward from a straight charity model, and helped restructure the internal conflict management process to be more collaborative and communicative. Clarissa says, “I just facilitate that natural and healthy collaborative practice of making room for folk to live their chosen best lives in loving balance with others. I'm dedicated to supporting and bridging communities.”