The Courage to Live in DEI: GVP’s Journey


by Jai Simpson-Joseph | July 5, 2020

The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is not for the faint of heart.

You cannot approach DEI strictly from a procedural perspective, thinking that it is solely about structures, policies, and practices. It is not enough to craft a model and hope that all will adhere to it (or even to require that they do), though these are each critical components of a sustainable DEI initiative. And DEI is not in the business of quick fixes when it comes to harm and pain. 

The real work of DEI is a commitment to growth, transformation and well-being: To truly have an effective and essential DEI initiative, one must understand and embrace DEI at its core. This journey lies in empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and it requires us not only to accept DEI’s principles, but to prioritize them as those that truly matter. Only then can we ensure that the practices and systems that we design actually manifest our commitment. Only then are we able to wholeheartedly engage with conflict and challenge when they arise, and to honor and address harm by building a climate in which all voices are heard. 

These tenets are especially true right now. In this historic moment of racial reckoning, calls for justice and equity resound around the world. How do we chart a strategic path forward through these dual times of trauma and transformation? For Global Village Project, a school founded on the principle of educational equity, how do we keep evolving in our work? How do we learn when we misstep and grow stronger through our ability to listen, heal and progress?

I have been writing about our DEI journey at GVP for several months. I am thankful that over the past year and a half, in my time here as Transformation Management and DEI Specialist for GVP, GVP has had the courage to take on its DEI work at this core level. Our work has progressed from the inside out – beginning first with building a team united in its understanding of and deep commitment to DEI, and then actualizing this commitment through efforts to shape and refine our culture, spaces, and practices. To strengthen the footing on which we build our practices, we began with the hard work of critical self-reflection; growth, courage, and vulnerability; and the embracing of DEI guiding principles with both heart and mind.

This framework continues to provide a roadmap for the team, supporting the coordination of organized action while constantly drawing us back to a common grounding in our goals. From a cultural perspective, pivotal shifts are already underway. Through coaching and team-building, workshops and courageous conversations, GVP has developed a strong commitment to open intentional dialogue about DEI. This work builds upon a culture that incorporates GVP’s inherent values of love and learning into an impactful model for listening and inclusive growth. Over the past year and a half, I have seen great strides in our ability to stand together in brave vulnerability, patience, nonjudgment, and compassion. I believe that the heart strides reflected in this evolving culture are crucial to long-term change.

On a more tangible operational level, GVP has also made significant progress in creating infrastructure for the continued practice and development of DEI work. Our DEI Circle, a multi-discipline group of GVP Team members from across departments, supports the community in designing our DEI vision and action steps. It serves as the hub through which feedback, both positive and negative, is actively sought out, heard, and documented, so that it can be incorporated into our design of DEI trainings and programs.  

Out of this Circle, a variety of structures have arisen to support the engagement of all stakeholders in the DEI process: our DEI Book Club, currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is providing space for our GVP volunteer and mentor community to engage in difficult conversations about diversity and lived experiences. Our Black Lives Matter discussions with students offer a means to process this moment in our history together. The Alumnae Advisory Council poetry slam workshop found the alumnae powerfully sharing their voices. And our efforts to recruit GVP family members to contribute their voices to DEI at GVP are crucial to advancing equity and inclusion. In the next phase of development, our DEI Circle will grow to incorporate stakeholders from all areas of the GVP community, as we collectively chart the next level of vision and action for the DEI journey.

All in all, GVP has experienced an extraordinary amount of growth since we first embarked on our DEI journey over a year ago, but we recognize that there is still much to be done. That work will take even more grit, guts and grace, but with our intentional commitments in heart, behavior, strategic framework, and action, I believe we are on the road to what I like to think of as stunning solidarity.

The current season of pain and struggle in this nation has brought to the forefront our collective need to address the ongoing injustices and inequities that plague our communities. I believe, and on behalf of the GVP Team, we contend, the only way forward is through mutual commitment – and not the sort that gets by with superficial fixes, but that which is built upon empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and manifested in structures, policies, and practices. 

In this work lies our salvation and our chance for a future founded in love and justice. 

Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq.
Transformation Management and DEI Specialist