April 1, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 30th 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 because we both are on the YMCA of the USA board.
Glen: We have always hired and placed people, specific to these traditional roles. In my past work life, we really built up significant corporate and business development functions. And at the Y, we can call it mission development, or mission advancement, but I think we need to resource those dynamic business developers who actually have external responsibilities and roles. So I'm excited about your vision for the Y as a community builder beyond its own four walls. Thank you. Is there anything more, as you would think about the Y's role in advancing equity?
CiCi: Yes. I'm going to talk about this from a governance perspective because we have staff and our responsibility is to hold our team accountable. And when I think about this, from a governance perspective, we need our local boards to reflect the goals that we ultimately want to achieve.
Some might say, "Well, when we look at our board demographics across key market areas, we hit our numbers." Well, I'm gonna push back and say, "But are these people of color? Are these people who have diversity of thought?"
We need to have the same succession planning, and the same pipeline for development for them that we say we need for staff. They need to be able to ascend.
Why? Because that sends a message to potential people that want to work, to potential team members. They care, they get it. They have people in authority that understand, and they think, "I could work for an organization like that."
I would like to also work on how we increase diversity at the board level, not just board members but the pipeline to ascend to these executive leadership roles. I think that that's another way to get at it.
And then, of course, they're going to come at it with a very different perspective and how they hold their chief executive accountable.
Glen: I really liked the vision around making this more governance intensive. We're trying to take that approach. We've had more of a hybrid committee around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the Twin Cities that has been shared between staff members, team members and board. So we're working on actually creating a very formal governance committee around DEI. I also like the idea of diversifying the national board.
CiCi: We need to engage the CVOs (Chief Volunteer Officer). I benefited from that connection point. But I think that it just strengthens the work that we do, and it exposes them to the DEI focus that we want them to have, as well. We can have a more robust plan around that, and I think we should communicate with all the officers, period, because they also have a pipeline.
Glen: Yes, absolutely. We have our first-ever person of color as a board chair, and he is an incredibly dynamic leader, particularly around strategy, innovation, equity and social impact work.
As a sitting CEO, I have a seat on the national board, but might it make sense to have a few sitting CVOs on the national board?
CiCi: I did that. But, to your point, maybe it's creating an ex-officio role. We could easily create a council of national CVOs, and nothing precludes us from creating a couple of advisory councils, especially with Zoom now. We know that we can do a lot with this platform.
I mean, nothing is easy, but I think that we already have the tools in place to be able to facilitate something like that.
Glen: We launched our first equity advisory council last summer, and it's been extraordinary, the impact that it's already had. So we have 14 team members, all levels of the organization, and actually 12 are people of color. And they're directly advising me, relative to breaking down systems, recreating how we bring people on, how do you apply for a job? How do you get promoted? How do you get retained through proactive leadership development mechanisms?
For one of my final questions, conversations on race are often centered, at least in the United States, on Black and white. How do you find your voice in conversations on race?
CiCi: Well, you just have to constantly keep it front and center. These discussions, around DEI, are for all. I mean, it's about equity across the board, and you cannot have a discussion about this without involving our Latinos, and our Asian brothers and sisters, because we've all experienced different levels of intensity, insensitivity or lack of opportunity or access.
And hopefully, some of these organizations are listening to it, though, because I've had that already told to me in a few high-level meetings nationally. That we do understand, we hear that I'm involved with the effort to build a Latino museum on the National Mall. It's taken 16 years — and I've only been involved about five — but hopefully we'll get it out of the Senate. But we're every bit a part of the American story. We've contributed to this country, we've died for this country. We deserve our place in history because we've contributed to that history.
So I think that we just have to definitely keep it front and center. And once again, there's an economic consequence for some of these companies for not including Latinos and others in this process. The economic consequences, some communities might say, "Well, you're not investing in us, so why should we invest in you?"
Glen: Last question: What gives you hope?
CiCi: What gives me hope is how people and organizations like the Y are literally reinventing themselves through this process. They're finding new fortitude, they're becoming innovative, becoming less risk adverse. They also know that it's given them far greater latitude to make tough decisions and using this opportunity to make those tough decisions. Now, they have almost a clean slate.
That does give me hope because I think that it's tested a lot of people that have been through these big tests, and they've known that they have the inner strength to come through it, hopefully better on the other side, knowing that they can and that there are other ways to get to a good outcome.
Glen: CiCi, I just want to thank you for your time and for being a role model. We are so blessed to have you engaged with the Y.
CiCi: Thank you and your team for the work you do in the Twin Cities. I follow your work as well. I think it's an example for others to follow and hopefully people will take those learnings and be able to apply them when it makes sense in their market.
Glen: I appreciate that. Thank you.
To learn more about CiCi Rojas, click here. Look for a new “A Conversation on Race” with next week.