Undoing Racism®: Seeking our ‘growing edge’

People's Institute for Survival and Beyond logoStarting in 2001, Solid Ground began sending staff members through a transformational training created by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond called Undoing Racism® (UR). Today, all of our permanent, full-time staff are required to attend. The workshop takes place over two intensive, eight-hour days. Participants learn the history of racism in the US and reflect on how that legacy continues to play out in our society and institutions. 

The UR training also hits deeply personal chords, and each individual takes away different learnings based on our racial/ethnic and socioeconomic background, gender, age and life experiences. As human service providers, the training helps us examine the connection between racism and poverty, and identify ways we can work to remove some of the barriers people face in accessing our services and other community opportunities.

Undoing Racism & the Solid Ground community

A wide spectrum of the Solid Ground community participated in the UR workshop in December 2012, including: line staff and managers from all of Solid Ground’s various locations; a Board member who once served as an AmeriCorps Member through Solid Ground; current AmeriCorps Members who also have accessed Solid Ground services; and our agency’s two top leaders – Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO, and Sandi Cutler, COSO (Chief Operating & Strategy Officer). The People’s Institute welcomes past workshop attendees to retake UR for free – so some of us were experiencing it for a second or third time, while for others, it was a first.

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Grant Writer Roshni Sampath joined Solid Ground in July 2012 and was drawn to the agency, in part, because of our stated anti-racism values. This was her first UR training.

She says, “One of the nicest things about going through the training was that it felt like I was getting on the same page as other people in the organization – despite our roles and our location – and it made me really value and appreciate the need for all new staff to go through this. But what made it stronger was that returning staff were going through it – that there was a real mixed group.”

The UR training helped bring clarity, which Roshni says is “one of the hardest things to feel when trying to talk about race and analyze it. My head gets cloudy. It’s almost like I’m seeing the blueprint of a city from up top, and it’s clear, and then the clouds roll in, and I can’t remember what I just saw, even if I just saw it.”

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

I joined Solid Ground in 2001, and my current role is Web Administrator & Publications Specialist. As a college-educated white woman from a middle class background, the UR training gives me a basis to understand that I have access to opportunities and unearned privileges – and that these benefits affect how I walk in the world and impact those around me. UR gives me tools to begin to examine my privilege so I can attempt to use it to undo instead of reinforce oppressions.

As a part of Solid Ground’s Communications team, I need an awareness that my learned dominant culture perspective is not the end-all, be-all. I want to be held accountable for the way I communicate about our work and how I share people’s stories. I recognize the delicate balance between helping to give voice to someone who may feel disenfranchised versus “exploiting” or invading someone’s privacy in the name of telling a powerful story to benefit Solid Ground. UR has taught me to question both my own motives and how I approach my work.

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

For the past three years, Senait Brown has been a Community Organizer with the Statewide Poverty Action Network. She says, “One goal in going through these trainings is trying to reach what they call ‘your growing edge,’ the place where you feel uncomfortable,” so you can move beyond it to make change. Since this was Senait’s second time attending UR, she wasn’t sure where her growing edge would be. She hit it, she says, “…when we started talking about the organizing component of doing anti-racism work. We’re not doing organizing work if folks aren’t able to stand on their own when we’re gone.”

Senait feels we need to “stop saying that we’re going to empower somebody else; we don’t have the ability to do that. They have to empower themselves. I have to create opportunities for people to learn, to be prepared for when they’re going to organize themselves. They’re going to come to the table on their own, on their own terms.”

This lesson really hit home during the Dec. 2012 UR thanks to the active participation of two Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Members who also live in Solid Ground’s permanent housing at Brettler Family Place. These confident women gave candid feedback about their experiences as Solid Ground “clients” who are now giving a year of service to the agency, and how they have struggled to assert their voices and self-determination along the way.

"Penni," a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni,” a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni” (who originally shared her story in On an upward continuum, Nov. 2011) is now in her second year as a WRC AmeriCorps Member, and has taken the UR training several times. She says, “Given the opportunity, I would retake this training every year. It offers a space to have conversations about racism in a way that challenges everyday thinking, stretches our perspectives, and builds community from a place of revolutionary love – something that I truly believe we can never have enough of.”

Penni describes what the training means from her vantage point:  “Being a white woman working in a nonprofit serving primarily students of color, and also being a white mother to two biracial children, I have to not only be aware of my whiteness [i.e. privilege], but also understand it and where it comes from, how it manifests, and what I need to do and understand about myself in order to undo those manifestations that perpetuate the cycle of racism.”

Applying Undoing Racism Principles in our day-to-day work

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Originally from Jordan, Mona Bayyuk moved to the US with her family as a teenager. She was just a few days into her Case Manager position with Seattle Housing Stabilization Services when she attended UR. She says, “It was definitely a huge eye opener, because although I had attended diversity courses in both my undergrad as well as graduate studies – and discussed as well as addressed the implications of being from a minority group and the effects of racial profiling – we never addressed ‘race’ and its impact on individuals.

“As a social worker with a passion to serve those who struggle with inequality and unjust systems, it never occurred to me that I too was contributing to these systems, because as one of the trainers mentioned, in my position I play the role of a ‘Gate Keeper.’ This training is very relevant to my work at Solid Ground, because I will always serve and work with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are struggling to overcome various barriers that are beyond their control and prevent them from accessing their basic human rights.”

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

For Samantha Dyess, Program Supervisor of the Apple Corps program since June 2012, “My biggest ah-ha moment was in our discussion on dissecting program implementation. I realized how we – meaning social service agencies – implement programs is racist when we don’t include the community in the decision-making process. Attending UR had a significant effect on me, both personally and professionally. All at the same time I felt angry, sad, paralyzed and motivated. But mostly I felt awakened – as if my memory had suddenly returned after years of forgetting.”

Samantha adds, “I feel that the workshop is of utmost importance to my daily work here at Solid Ground. From my personal interactions with staff and clients, to programmatic decisions, this workshop has helped me align my values and establish priorities for my program. I can now really begin to view everything my program does through an anti-racist lens.”

Roshni sums up the importance of UR Principles in simple terms. “These ideas,” she says, “we live our lives in them.” And I have to agree with her: Undoing racism is never done; it’s a lifelong process that embraces and affirms our humanity if we choose to embrace and commit to the work.

Our Mission, Vision & Values

An organization’s Mission, Vision and Values statements are its heart and soul.

Ideally, they define what we do, how we do it, and why.

And they are our DNA, the imprint that we pass on to all staff, volunteers and program participants. Want to know what makes Solid Ground unique? How are we distinguished from partner agencies? Look at our Mission, Vision and Values.

As part of an ongoing new strategic planning process, Solid Ground has just revised these statements. They move beyond addressing poverty to calling out racism and other oppressions that are fundamental contributors to poverty, homelessness and hunger.

“Our previous Mission, Vision and Values statements were written over 10 years ago and as such, did not reflect the major shifts in direction which have taken place,” says Solid Ground Board Chair, Lauren McGowan.

“The new statements speak to our strong commitment to working collaboratively in the communities we serve and to ending racism and other oppressions that keep people poor. They are a direct result of the work we have been doing at Solid Ground to undo institutional racism in our organization and in the community.”

The changes were developed through an extensive process that involved staff  at all levels of the agency, Board members and program participants.

“These new statements are the building blocks for the Strategic Plan we will complete in December,” says McGowan. “They represent both a track record of providing innovative and effective services to people in need and our aspirations for the future. As our community continues to struggle though this challenging economic climate, Solid Ground is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to food, housing, transportation and justice.”


Solid Ground works to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty.

Solid Ground believes our community can move beyond poverty and oppression to a place where all people have access to quality housing, nutritious food, equal justice and opportunities to thrive.

Solid Ground is committed to working with compassion, integrity, accountability, creativity and an anti-oppression approach to end homelessness, hunger, inequality and other barriers to social justice. We value collaboration and leadership from the communities we serve.

Dan Savage brings It Gets Better project to Solid Ground Luncheon

It Gets Better with Dan Savage

On Friday, May 6, 2011, we will come together 800 strong to celebrate courage and hope: the courage to stand up for what we believe in and the hope of a better future for our community. Solid Ground’s work to undo poverty and oppression sits on a foundation of engaging and encouraging each other – clients, staff, donors and community members – to be a part of something bigger.

We hope that you will join us this year for the 11th Annual Building Community Luncheon. We are currently seeking Table Hosts who can invite their community to join in support of Solid Ground. The Luncheon is Solid Ground’s most important fundraiser, and revenue from the event  sustains Solid Ground’s vital anti-poverty work in King County. Guests at the Luncheon will be asked to make a minimum gift of $150.

We are thrilled to welcome keynote speaker Dan Savage. While Dan is best known as editor of Seattle’s The Stranger newspaper and author of the internationally syndicated Savage Love relationship advice column, he has also done groundbreaking anti-oppression work that shows just how effectively one person can change the world! Looking for a way to respond to the epidemic suicide rate among gay teens, Dan and his partner Terry launched the It Gets Better project, which involves a series of viral videos aimed at giving hope, strength and support to gay teens who struggle with social isolation, depression and bullying.

By creating this safe space, Savage mobilized a movement of caring adults who through thoughtful and passionate videos share their similar experiences and urge teens not to give up. The “It Gets Better” project is a powerful testament to the impact any one of us can have on the world!

As a Table Host, you will fill a full table (10 people) or half table (5 people) from your networks, and serve as the point person for your table at the event. We will support you as much as needed in asking your friends, family and coworkers to attend the Luncheon with you. While there is no ticket price, guests are asked to make a gift of $150 at the event. Many give much more!

And as a Table Host, you will be invited to an exclusive post-event question and answer session with Dan Savage!

For more information, or to sign up as a Table Host, email Ali Friedman or call her at 206.694.6852.

Here is Dan and Terry’s initial It Gets Better video:

I loved my experience at JustServe AmeriCorps

Alex Montances served with Solid Ground’s JustServe AmeriCorps program from 2007-2008. His placement was the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center, helping to coordinate the Annual Vigil for Victims of Domestic Violence at the King County Courthouse, and leading educational peer groups with high school aged Asian and Pacific Islander young men on anti-oppression topics, dating violence and sexual assault.

Read below to hear how Alex was impacted by his participation in JustServe AmeriCorps at Solid Ground–and the powerful work that Alex is doing in the community, today:

“Today I am a second year graduate student at California State University Long Beach in their Applied Anthropology program. My focus is on advocacy and social services for Filipino American immigrants, organizations, and communities. I hope to do advocacy and research consulting for non-profit organizations, state, city and federal institutions so that they can better serve Filipino immigrant communities. I also work with a Filipino American Youth group called AnakBayan Los Angeles that teaches youth about Filipino culture and history while fighting for youth rights and human rights for Filipino communities around the world. Currently, with AnakBayan I teach educational workshops on Filipino culture/history, anti- imperialism, and human rights to Filipino youth and students in the greater Los Angeles county area.

I learned so many great things about people’s movements, anti-oppression, non-profit work, and community activism through JustServe AmeriCorps. There were things I learned about racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, age-ism, able-ism and other forms of oppression in those team meetings that I would have never learned in school or though my friends and family. I learned on the job about humility, patience, and hard work. I learned more about active leadership and teamwork at my placement site, and how people navigate through systems to do real community work.

If anyone is thinking about joining an AmeriCorps program you should really consider JustServe. Its focus on anti-oppression and anti-violence is extremely valuable and will give you many tools to work with communities. Be open to challenge yourself and what you know about marginalized communities and you will definitely grow as an individual and a leader in this program.

If you are a current JustServe AmeriCorps Member, thank you for your service! You will never forget or regret the work you do here! If you are unsure of what to do after your service, talk to your placement site, teammates, team leaders and others in the community, and you may find some unexpected opportunities waiting for you. If you are interested in Filipino communities and human rights, please contact JustServe team leaders and ask for my contact information, I would love to chat.

I loved my experience at JustServe AmeriCorps, and I know that real social change happens when you work together and empower local people to change their communities for the better. Thank you to Solid Ground, Just Serve AmeriCorps, and the Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center whose guidance and friendship helped me to serve my communities in meaningful ways.”

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