Glen Gunderson

March 25, 2021

As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 29th in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.

I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, inspired an awareness and awakening on injustice in our nation. Enough is enough! Yet what we all witnessed at the Capitol on January 6 is yet another sobering reminder of how far the United States has to go, how deep and great our divide is.

Then came the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, and Kamala Harris as our nation's first female, Black and Indian American vice president. Any transfer of power brings the prospect of hope, new thinking and innovation, a fresh perspective. 

But no one illustrated all of that better than Amanda Gorman, the youth poet laureate. She is a shining example of this burgeoning potential of the young people we serve at the Y and their ability to bring about change. To be able to talk to our neighbors, respect our differences, and see the humanness and wholeness of one another. There was so much brilliance in Amanda's Inaugural Poem, titled "The Hill We Climb," but these lines in particular resonate with me and our mission at the Y:

We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us

The YMCA of the North will continue its efforts to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural organization. To that end, I will continue to have these conversations with influencers and leaders who will be a part of the solution.

My 16th guest is CiCi Rojas, one of the phenomenal leaders not only in Kansas City but nationally, as well. She is a partner and founder of Tico Productions, a full-service multi-media, multicultural marketing and production company that was selected by the NFL to broadcast Super Bowl LV in Spanish. CiCi has won numerous awards and lends her business and civic acumen to many organizations. In fact, I have had a front-row seat to her perspective and passion as we both serve on the YMCA of the USA board.

I hope you will enjoy Part 2 of my conversation with CiCi Rojas. (You can read part 1 here)

Glen: I really like this notion that you espouse around relevance and resonance. We're talking a lot about this within our YMCA of the North, throughout the Twin Cities and broader service area, and I keep coming back to our team to say, "We're not doing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) exclusively for return on investment so that we can have a more viable and profitable Y. We're doing it because it's fundamentally a human dignity issue. The right thing to do. And, secondarily, there is a business case and making sure that we don't kind of tip the scales and come at it through a business case lens."

But I love how you started with relevance and the right thing to do, and then ultimately paying off from a business return standpoint. I think that's very, very true of the Y. We have a lot of legacy programs — not just in the Twin Cities but throughout the country — that were built for 99.2 percent white populations or whatever they might've been. And now as we get to minority/ majority dynamics in many of our communities — and the Twin Cities is a great example — you take 50 percent of your 52 percent of business away and see how you like that. That's not going to be a sustainable proposition. So I really like your focus on human dignity and then the downstream value of investment return.

What was going through your mind when George Floyd was murdered and where do you think we are now?


CiCi: Well, I wasn't surprised by that, first and foremost. I have two grandchildren who are half Black, and I actually talked to them about it. I've had a lot more experience and have been around these circumstances for many, many years. Maybe not as blatant as that, but certainly pretty close.

These are two teenagers, and they said it wasn't new to them. They still get followed by security guards when they go to the mall and it's just an everyday occurrence. It's terrible to see that play out.

I think the difference is that you have real-time media that is exposing much of the behavior that exists.

And it is changing. I believe this heightened awareness is forcing people to be more thoughtful. And that's probably what it took. It took a shocking set of circumstances like that to play out in media for the general population to know and understand that this does happen, and we all have a responsibility.


Glen: You mentioned the real-time nature of this, and the way media can manifest from somebody's individual phone. Do you think that is why this maybe felt a little different and maybe the dialogue sustained itself? Is that what drove it to be the tipping point?

Because it is interesting that, all of a sudden, finally, companies coming out, billions of dollars being invested internally and externally, and all of us have been watching these horrific incidents unfold, time and time again.  

Do you think that's a function of how that media now travels and that grainy footage from any bystander can bring distinct attention? You have such rich media experience so I am very interested in your perspective here. 


CiCi: Yes, but that has good and bad implications because sometimes you don't get the full context. I know we produce lots of content, and we have the ability to control that content. It's like editing anything else. 

When you're editing this conversation, what do you include and what do you not include? So it has positives but there are negatives as well.

But I think from an awareness perspective though, that has shot through the roof. But I think that minority executives and centers of influence, we all have a responsibility to make sure that it's not just every news show all of a sudden has more minority portrayal of stories or commercials, or what have you. It's got to go deeper than that.

I mean, we need to be thinking about our pipelines at the Y and at all these organizations. What are we doing to expose and make sure that we're giving folks the tools that they need to succeed. In many cases, they don't need tools, they just need access. They need the right champions, the right sponsors in the organization. 

They have talent, they have expertise, they have experience to reach these new consumer markets. They just need the opportunity.


Glen: The Y nationally, what do you see as the Y's role in advancing DEI and how should we be attacking it?


CiCi: I think that there's obviously an opportunity for us to become more community-centric. I think probably going back to our roots of where we originally started and it doesn't have to be an either or. I think that needs to be the “and,” and I think that part of it will probably get bigger because that's what the community needs. 

And so what does that mean? I think that means we become more external. So what I've said before in other settings is, being community-centric is a two-way street. Just because we're located in a community doesn't mean we don't go outside, outside our four walls, and reach and establish good, trusted relationships, and pull community in, or we go out to the community to deliver services. I believe that is a gap for us.

So some of our staff positions, we need to have external leadership positions. Those are where the dollars are, those are where the partnership resources are. You're not gonna find them in your office. You're going to find them out in the community, embedded in these organizations.

We need non-traditional partnerships like minority chambers of commerce, or other organizations that have that leadership, that cultivation, that thought leadership, that experiential leadership, it's already there. We just need to have a strategy to begin a relationship and then sustain and strengthen them.


Glen: I'm a huge fan of what you just said. I think fundamentally this is going to be the challenge of our time, and getting leaders oriented far beyond just our four walls. I think one of our great challenges has been, we have been waiting for the community to cross our threshold. And as soon as they do, they come through our door, "Oh, great. Now we can serve them, and we'll serve them with an insular Y specific-only thing."

We can't be in every corner so I love the non-traditional partnerships, going out into community.


CiCi: Well, just think about the narrative story. When you can go to a funder and say, "I represent the needs of my thousand members," versus, "I represent the needs of the 10,000 people in my community that we serve through external services, through programs." That's a very different narrative, and it's good work.


To learn more about CiCi Rojas, click here. Look for Part 3 of “A Conversation on Race” with CiCi next week