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Essex County Racial Equity Leaders Learning Circle

“This should be required for executive directors and senior leaders…” 

“Real, honest, deep. Most race-focused workshops really stay on the surface.” 

“I was so impressed with the facilitation of the group. I honestly didn’t want it to end.”

the need

The nonprofit sector, like the rest of our country, faces a big challenge when it comes to racial equity. From interpersonal struggles in our organizations, to being surrounded by state sanctioned violence and war – we are weary. White America must continue to wake up to the impact of structural racism and all forms of oppression while Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are exhausted from the trauma of racism, grief and loss. Now more than ever, we must face the impact of racism and white supremacy in our mission driven work, but many leaders continue to struggle to have open, honest conversations about it. And what happens after the conversations? How do we build authentic relationships across races? Address the inequitable practices of board and staff leaders of our organizations? Transform the systemic racial inequities in the mission-driven organizations we love so that everyone feels welcome, cared for, and experiences a deep sense of belonging?


The Essex County Racial Equity Leaders Learning Circle (EC-RELC for short) is a learning experience designed to support individual and organizational racial equity practice as well as pathways towards more diverse, inclusive, and racially equitable organizations.  Over the course of eight sessions, participating organizations will have the opportunity to go deeper on key racial equity concepts and content and apply this learning real-time through the development and beginning implementation of action plans. Participants will come together, form a community, and deepen their identity as values-driven leaders. They will also learn principles of building a restorative culture, skills for trauma-inclusion, and facilitation skills to create more racially equitable organizations.

Our partner in this work is Trinity Boston Connects, which provides internal, systemic, strategic interventions that help mission-driven organizations achieve desired outcomes and works to co-create healthy communities where staff operate at their full capacity while bringing their whole selves to their work.


the transformative approach

The EC-RELC format is based upon the Senior Leaders Learning Circle, currently in its 7th year as a cohort model. Through our years of facilitating cohort learning for leaders, we have created the space that allows participants to bring their most vexing diversity, inclusion and racial equity challenges and make changes in their respective organizations. We learn and apply organizational change tools. We unpack the biases we carry that get in the way of leading this work even more powerfully. We have separate caucus time for the White and People of Color leaders to unpack the differing personal and professional challenges each group faces leading race-based organizational transformation work.

In addition to being in a peer learning community, participants have accountability buddies, and each organizational team receives two private, tailored coaching sessions. We’ll also offer a cohort space (three sessions) just for Executive Directors to complete a personal Racial Equity Leader 360 assessment and work on their unique challenges and opportunities in leading this work.

Participants develop:

  1. A deeper understanding of their identity as values-driven leaders who can articulate and drive a racial equity vision in their organizations.
  2. Increased understanding of how internalized racial oppression and internalized racial superiority affect behavior and others’ perceptions of them as leaders.
  3. Pathways to action towards more diverse, inclusive and racially equitable organizations.
  4. Skills that support an increased ability to tolerate discomfort when engaging in authentic racial equity work.
  5. A learning community of like-minded leaders who can provide support and accountability to one another.
participants and selection

Non-profit organizations serving Essex County with a demonstrated commitment to creating racial equity within and outside of themselves are invited to apply. Organizations will send a strategically selected group of 2-4 people from across the hierarchy of the organization, including at least one high-level leader, reflective of the breadth of positions/departments (programming, development, administration, etc.). We believe that sustainable change requires buy-in and engagement across the organization.

While we call this cohort a “leaders circle,” we also acknowledge that we are all learners in this work. More than a set amount of experience, we require willingness to learn and bravery in applying new tools and ways of working.

Applicants will fill out a written application by Friday, January 12, 2024 and be scheduled to meet with a facilitator for an interview by zoom or phone. Because we will only be able to select about 10 organizations, preference will be given to applications from organizations that

  • are based in and serve Essex County
  • demonstrate commitment to advancing racial equity work (for example, your racial equity work is not new, you may have a budget or staff committed to advancing the work, etc.)
  • include the Executive Director as a participant
  • can make the commitment of time (see dates below)
  • understand that this is “heart work” that requires vulnerability

We will select and communicate with participants by January 22, 2024.

2024 schedule

8 sessions (some in person and some virtual TBD)

  1. February 8, 10am – 1pm
  2. March 7, 10am – 1pm
  3. April 8, 2-5PM
  4. May 6, 2 – 5pm
  5. June 3, 2-5pm
  6. July 8, 10am – 1pm
  7. September 9, 10am – 1pm
  8. October 7, 10am – 1pm
what participants say about the learning circle

It is unique:

“Should be required for EDs and senior leaders in the area – like books that critics call ‘required reading.’“

“This experience has helped me build confidence as a leader. I have always felt passionate about social justice, but the Learning Circle helped give me a framework and a language to talk about it.”

It drives change:

“I am always talking about it! It has provided me a platform to open important conversations that I might have otherwise avoided.”

“(I learned the) critical importance of stepping up to the moment when opportunity arises to do things differently. Be scared, but do it anyway.”

Our community is strong:

“…unique to have other leaders in the same space and learning from each other and hearing each other’s challenges and questions.”

“…space to think and talk about these issues on a regular basis in a context that is not my own org where my every action is scrutinized.”

“I was so impressed with the facilitation of the group. I honestly don’t want it to end. I feel so lucky to have participated.”


Farai Williams, Director, Organizational Equity Practice , Trinity Boston Connects 

Farai is an embodied anti racist facilitator & cultural organizer, educator, and somatic coach & trainer.  Farai is the founder & lead embodied antiracist facilitator, and somatic ‘smȝ’coach for Dynamizing Equity™.  With a deep curiosity in nervous system-responsive self-care, she invites participants to create more mental, physical, spiritual, internal space while employing a variety of cultural, somatic and historical learning prompts, to de-mechanize the body and build its capacity for interrupting/disrupting systemic racism and anti-blackness. Farai’s background in anti-racism, cultural organizing and social equity work brings an understanding of power and privilege to her facilitation. Therapeutic in nature, she boldly holds authentic and compassionate space for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. She is a Teacher Trainee with the Strozzi Institute (SI); and Trainer in Training with the People’s Institute for Survival & Beyond (PISAB).


Madeline McNeely, Founder, Conditioning Leaders 

Madeline is a multi-sector, interdisciplinary master level coach, consultant, facilitator, trainer and adjunct faculty member at Harvard Extension School.  Her sweet spot is facilitating organizational culture change rooted in racial equity and belonging practices. A passion of Madeline’s is to inspire white leaders to be even more bold as they address structural racism within their organizations and communities as well do the deep inner work necessary to deepen trust in cross racial relationships. Madeline is a White woman who uses she/her/hers pronouns. You can  learn more at http://conditioningleaders.com/coaches/madeline, or email  madeline@conditioningleaders.com.


Brianna Boggs, Principal, Brianna Boggs Coaching & Consulting 

Brianna’s practice focuses on executive coaching for mission-driven leaders, racial justice education, and fundraising for social justice work. She has a passion for helping White leaders develop skills to push their organizations to deeper engagement in issues of race and equity, internally and externally. Her background is as a fundraiser for missions including LGBTQ legal rights, abortion access, healthy teen relationships, gang violence intervention, and positive youth development. Brianna is a White woman who uses she/her/hers pronouns. To learn more about Brianna, go to www.briannaboggs.comhello@briannaboggs.com

additional information and guidance

If you have questions or would like to have an exploratory conversation, please feel free to contact: 

Hehershe Busuego

Director of Programs and Racial Equity


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500 Cummings Center, Suite 5450
Beverly, Massachusetts 01915