Teen Voices: Living the Organization’s Mission
With a commitment to living out a social justice mission internally, as well as externally, Teen Voices started a diversity initiative in 2004. Teen Voices is a unique local journalism mentoring program for teenage girls based in Boston. - Ed.
Confronting Power and Difference
Initially, the staff of Teen Voices began intensive diversity work to help the non-profit organization achieve some specific, concrete outcomes. These included increasing diversity within the board and volunteer college-age mentors who work with the teens in the program. In addition, the staff, board and peer leaders recognized the need for longer-term work that would support in-depth discussions around issues of power and difference that would influence the overall work of the organization.
Long-term work seemed particularly important because the local Boston program has an international impact through the creation of an online and print magazine which reaches 50,000 readers and receives 7.6 million hits on the website: www.TeenVoices.com. Two-year funding from Third Sector New England (TSNE) has accelerated and deepened our work through support for a consultant.
Building a Framework
Building on a thoughtful and enlightening initial assessment by the Women’s Theological Center, national consultant Marsha Morris was hired. She was brought on board to provide structure and a framework – not only to help the nonprofits accomplish specific tasks (a finalized diversity assessment and a charter for the Diversity Committee) but also a way to think through strategies for long-term sustainability of the diversity.
Key players in the creation of the first committee for the diversity planning process included board members, adult staff and peer leaders. Adanma Ude, a peer leader on the committee, explains, "The work that we've done on the committee has taught me a lot about what diversity means and helped me to understand the different staff and teen roles at Teen Voices."
Committing for the Long-term
Within a very short period of time, Teen Voices has succeeded in reaching its goal of increasing the proportion of board members and mentors of color. For example, following an expansive board recruitment process led by Kelly Cutler and Pat Chu, members of the Teen Voices Board of Directors, 5 new members were elected, increasing representation on the board by people of color from 27 to 46 percent from the year before. Through innovative volunteer recruitment processes as well as dedicated staff time, 60 percent of mentors for our summer session were women of color.
While the expertise of the consultant has been useful, Teen Voices’ staff is committed to continuing the work on their own to discuss issues of power and difference - a priority area. For example, the consultant organized part of a retreat which she named “courageous conversations,” addressing issues of workplace communication. Staff used this as a jumping off point to create longer-term programming using their expertise. They created activities such as quizzes related to facts on race, class and gender, and discussed the powerful influence of funders on nonprofits’ mission and focus.
Benefiting from a Collaborative Model
To sustain all components of the organization’s work, the Diversity Committee is focusing on drafting a diversity plan. The plan is incorporating many of the goals discussed in the consultant’s assessment for implementation over the next two years.
Providing technical assistance and support to the committee, Tyra Sidberry, director of the Diversity Initiative, named both strengths and challenges for Teen Voices, “The work is extremely impressive and ambitious.”
And, giving advice rarely heard from a funder, Sidberry added, “I encourage you to think through what is doable … And, make sure to take time for the process… to reflect on your writing and conversations. This is what enables diversity work to truly be about change when the work will transform the culture of an organization.”
With this feedback in mind, the Diversity Committee will take time to reflect and celebrate all that has been accomplished. The next step in this project will be to incorporate feedback from board members, staff and peer leaders to finalize the diversity plan and have a few more in-depth conversations.
Jenny Amory, Teen Voices executive director, reflected, “The process has been deeply satisfying in that we have transformed our organization in a variety of ways in a very short time. The meeting of all grantees [DII grantees meet quarterly to share information, challenges and ideas -Ed.] has helped to strengthen our work. And, knowing that diversity work is lifelong and complex, we've gotten needed expertise and wisdom from Tyra [Sidberry] that helps us to have even more energy and commitment to work more deeply in the future.”