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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. We continue to grapple with three pandemics – COVID-19, economic insecurity, and racist violence. White America is waking up to the impact of structural racism like never before 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 on our missions, but many leaders struggle to have open, honest conversations about it. And what happens after the conversations? How do we build authentic relationships across race? 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 an opportunity for a cohort of about 10 Essex County nonprofits to participate in a shared 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 seven months, 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 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 6th 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. Participating Executive Directors will have the opportunity to take a personal Racial Equity Leader 360 assessment and participate in a supplemental cohort space (three sessions) to 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 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 for our first cohort, 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 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


2022-2023 schedule*

6 Friday morning sessions – 2 in person and 4 by Zoom, 10am – 1pm

October 21

December 2

January 20

February 17

March 24

April 28

*Note:  2023-2024 dates and details are being finalized)

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.”


Rebecca Jackson, Chief Program Officer, Trinity Boston Connects 

For more than a decade, Rebecca has worked with Boston youth and families as a social worker specializing in trauma informed counseling. She supports non-profit organizations and their leaders as they pursue racial equity through her work at TBC and facilitates conversations on racial identity and equity in various settings in and around Boston. Rebecca is a Black woman who uses she/her/hers pronouns. To learn more about Rebecca, go to https://trinityconnects.org/our-staffRjackson@trinityconnects.org  


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 culture change through racial equity and organizational belonging practice. A passion of Madeline’s is to inspire White leaders to be even more bold as they address structural racism and transform their organizations to be more equitable and inclusive. Madeline is a White woman who uses she/her/hers pronouns. To learn more about Madeline, go to http://conditioningleaders.com/coaches/madeline.  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 about this opportunity or would like to have an exploratory conversation, please reach out to Hehershe Busuego, Director of Programs and Racial Equity, at 978.777.8876 x128 or h.busuego@eccf.org.

how can we help?

We would love to hear from you.

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