There is a ton out there about growing diversity and inclusion practices in nonprofits. There are endless articles about recruiting and retaining “talent of color”. Every other nonprofit you come across is engaging in some process about working with, or recruiting or increasing leadership of color. This post is NOT about that. Instead, it’s about what happens when those of us who are leaders of color end up receiving new or expanded community roles.

I was recently selected as one of four co-chairs for the 23rdannual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Creating Change is, by my standards, one of the most important gatherings our LGBT movement has each year. February 2-6, 2011 more than 2,500 queer and allied activists, organizers and movement leaders will convene in Minneapolis to learn, share our skills, build community, party and undoubtedly fall in and out of love at least once in the course of our five days together (more on that later).

When the initial announcement was made regarding our appointment as co-chairs, I was thrilled! I found my calling at 20-years-old at Creating Change in 2008 in Detroit. It was a life changing experience that I now have the chance to provide for others, and right in my back yard!

E-mails, calls and texts began coming in to congratulate me. Folks were excited about the fabulous team we had, and the bonus for many folks, three of the four co-chairs are local leaders of color. I am humbled to work along side the other co-chairs as I reflect on all of their expertise, organizing skills, and relationships and respect in our local communities.

So, here was the tough part…Folks kept telling me how great it was that we had so many great leaders of color co-chairing the conference this year. Don’t get me wrong, the excitement over having three of four co-chairs of color is not excitement for naught, it’s pretty damn exciting actually. But, here’s the problem I had; that seemed to be the only thing folks were excited about. The sense I got was that my being a person of color was somehow the definitive reason I was selected (mind you this sentiment was not coming from my friends at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), it was coming from my local friends and colleagues. Certainly my resume, the work I’ve done in the community, the relationships I have and my track record were deciding factors in my selection and the selection of other co-chairs. So, why is it that folks seem to be most excited about the “leadership of color” and not the fact that we have a stellar team leading the host committee? Don’t get me wrong, our LGBT leadership is predominantly white and we rarely honor and elevate our leadership of color. But, at what point do we begin do over celebrate and tokenize? How as leaders of color can we re-center our leadership opportunities as outcomes of our skills and relationship building and not make our being of color the focus of why we are given opportunities?

It’s a delicate balance. We undoubtedly should be elevating leaders of color, but NOT just because we are of color, but because we bring necessary skills for a job or leadership position. We should recognize the historically white leadership of our movement and actively prioritize and elevate voices of color. While doing this we shouldn’t get swept up in the excitement of “diversity” and remember to honor and value what each leader brings to the table and not over-celebrate and subsequently tokenize leaders of color.

6 Responses to “Non-Profit Leaders of Color”

  1. Sida says:

    thank you for saying what needs to be said – it is the skills that get us where we are, and the diversity of perspective is the unquantifiable value-added we bring to the movement…

  2. Ericka says:

    Yes! I agree wholeheartedly. Its that delicate balance between being considered ” colorblind” and understand that color is an additional strength we bring. But that takes some vigliance and discussion and acceptance of where we are. Its something I struggle with consistently.

    Congratulations on your new blog, i hope to read a lot and learn a lot. Bests to you!


  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lucie Newcomb, ericka hines . ericka hines said: when does diversity of thought based on our backgrounds occur via @OurPerspective #diverity #LGBT #leadership #npcons [...]

  4. Travis says:

    Congrats on the blog! I, too, look forward to reading more.

    As for encouraging diversity without ending up with “tokenism,” a good (though still not perfect) method I’ve seen is to reach out to diverse communities or individuals to apply/participate, then make final selections based on qualifications. Depending on who you’re trying to reach and encourage, this might be very targeted … or in other instances less so. It may also require training and coaching of those who you’re trying to reach out to so they can represent themselves as compelling candidates.

    As Ericka pointed out, it is a delicate (and often difficult) balance between being colorblind and to recognize and encourage diversity. I’m eager to hear what others have to say too!

  5. Mazarine says:

    Dear Alfonso,

    The Orton Foundation brought this to my attention on Twitter!

    After working overseas in Korea and Indonesia, and consulting in the USA for MBADiversity, a nonprofit that helps people of color and women get MBAs, and working for over seven years with different nonprofits in America, including with the Urban League of Portland, here’s my perspective on your post.

    People shouldn’t assume you’re on the panel because of your ethnicity. We shouldn’t try to elevate people JUST because they’re people of color and tokenize people. That said, we have to understand that there are different barriers for people of color and for LGBTQ people to rise to leadership roles. American society prizes white upperclass heterosexual male leadership. There’s no escaping this. But we can demand equality for people who are other than white, upperclass, male, and heterosexual. This includes women, people who are differently abled, people of lower class backgrounds, people of different genders/sexualities, people of different ethnicities, people who are recently immigrated. We should help people like this who are working against systemic oppression step up into leadership roles.

    This is why I’m writing my book, blog, and videogame. I want to help more people empower themselves to become leaders in the nonprofit world. I’m specifically writing for women of color because there are many studies which show that women of color are underrepresented statistically in leadership roles in nonprofits (See my post today at

    And I’m not alone in this. Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times calls empowering the world’s women the most important thing we can do in the next decade. And the Obama administration recognizes this, which is why they have a commission on women to help women all over the world empower themselves economically.

    The word “diversity pipeline” is so overused. And I know it’s annoying when people keep focusing on your ethnicity. There are a lot of well meaning people who want to help and they don’t realize how tokenizing they’re being.

    Let me ask you this. Norway wanted to develop female leadership, so they mandated that each corporate board be 40% women by 2010. And they reached that goal. Was that tokenizing? Or was that leadership building? I believe that there are people of color who could develop more leadership skills and connections to these positions of power if we focus on this as a society. I do not believe in tokenism. Nor do I believe in people who say they are “colorblind.” I believe in personal empowerment and connecting people to resources. What say you?



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