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Quarterly Newsletter, Critical Thinking

Dear Reader, MindOpen Learning Strategies, in the very name of the organization, is about creating the conditions to widen perspectives. Our core values are action-oriented: Connection, Compassion, Courage, and, the theme of this quarter’s newsletter, Critical Thinking. (To this end, please share your thoughts: click on this link for a two-minute poll!)

What is critical thinking in action? For MindOpen, it’s viewing issues from multiple perspectives, and bringing unspoken assumptions to the surface, toward the goal of justice and safety for all.

As always in our imperfect language, though, there is vast room for interpretation. While critical thinking is considered a critical [or crucial] skill for 21st century workplaces, the term also contains the root critic, implying negative judgment.

This tension is currently playing out painfully in a national debate about Critical Race Theory, (link), a framework that emerged approximately 50 years ago, that focuses on the human invention of racial categories and how those categories became stand-ins for measuring the humanity and the value of groups within legal and institutional systems. It is far from a doctrine of white guilt, as is being hyped by polarizing media and politicians. Traditions of critical inquiry such as Critical Race Theory, have long offered a language for understanding our complex national and world history.

I started elementary school in the 1970s, as a white, third-generation American child in a racially diverse yet highly segregated school system that had only been forcibly desegregated in the decade before. Growing up, I was a natural questioner and a challenger, often left feeling confused and isolated without words or analyses to make sense of the contradictions all around. It’s no surprise that this led to my life’s work, which has held lots of different roles (drama therapist, advocate, facilitator, organizational development practitioner, entrepreneur, etc) but always involves attunement to inequality and human distress.

How do we make peace with this messy world, with its daily contradictions of joy and injustice? For me, critical thinking allows me to see when I fall into criticizing or over-empathizing with others, instead of engaging in my own growth and learning. There are incredible learning opportunities waiting on the other side of “guilt,” and there can be a “positive White identity, based in reality… to feel good about it…not in the context of a Klan member’s ’White pride’ but in the context of a commitment to a just society” [check out the Learn with Us section below for more on Dr. Janet Helms].

Connection... Compassion... Courage... Critical Thinking. We need all these strategies for social change. Thank you for the opportunity to be in it with you, and for sharing your critical thinking! (link for a two-minute poll)

In community, Elizabeth & the MindOpen Team

MindOpen News

Congratulations and thank you to Dylan Wong, former MindOpen Projects and Communications Coordinator, who is starting in a new role as Operations Coordinator for the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. We look forward to our paths continuing to cross!

We are growing! The past quarter, new projects included:

  • Facilitating reflective support discussions for staff on the front lines of trauma response

  • Helping workforce development programs adapt services for job seekers in the Covid recovery economy

  • Creating new trauma-informed, anti-racist curricula for mental health providers

  • An award to create a case study on the organizational impact of our Fair Chance Forward program-- read more at this link.

Check out our wonderful project partners at their respective links:

Did you catch our Transformational Capacity Building presentation for the Association for Nonprofit Specialists? Check out the details at this link.

Did you see the Capacity Building for Social Change report about the Training and Technical Assistance component of the District Attorney of NY's Criminal Justice Investment Initiative? It features quotes and illustrations from our workshops! link

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020-21 Fellows from John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Institute for Justice and Opportunity! Look out for these change agents as they enter the social sector job market; learn more about the Pinkerton fellows at this link and the Tow fellows at this link. Thank you to the dynamic MindOpen Empowered Career Development Coaching Cadre members for sharing encouragement and social capital! (Sample certificate is below)

Congratulations to graduates of the Navigator Certificate in Human Services and Social Justice Program at the Institute for Justice and Opportunity! We were honored this year to expand the Empowered Career Development Program to incredible leaders building their careers through this program. Learn more or sign an expression of interest at this link.

Upcoming Events

  • May 17, 2021 & May 24, 2021 and June 2, 2021 & June 21, 200 at 10:00 am – 12:00 pm:

    • Supervisory Learning Labs presented by Vibrant, to support nonprofit human services and behavioral health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Practicing Supervisors: Reflective Resilience for Anti-Oppressive Relationships; for Aspiring Supervisors: Expanding Your Trauma-Informed Sphere of Influence (link to the flyer)

  • Monday, June 7, 2021 - Friday, June 11, 2021:

    • Social sector managers, are you attending the Network for Social Work Managers Forward Thinking Summit? Look for our presentation, Empowered Career Development with Emergent Change Agents! (link to register for virtual conference)

  • Wednesday, August 25, 2021 - 9:00 am to 10:00 am:

    • Resources colleagues, see you in Las Vegas? We're presenting Talent Outside the Box: Fair Chance Leadership Lessons at the SHRM 2021 Talent Conference & Expo (link to register for virtual & in-person conference)

Learn with Us

  • "Filter Bubbles" describe the problem of getting our news and information from sources that share and then exacerbate our biases-- due to algorithms that seek to profit off our attention, and to the tendency to socialize with like-minded people. In our current high-conflict environment of polarization, websites such as AllSides.Com, FactCheck.Org, and Reuter's Fact Check allow readers to to see side-by-side treatment of issues from left, centrist, and right views. Not always easy to see, but helpful for opening our communication bubbles.

  • Authored by Cyndi Suarez, the President and Editor in Chief of Nonprofit Quarterly, The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics explains why so many organizations with well-intentioned missions continue to replicate inequality among employees and in their services-- and, most importantly, offers tools for surfacing hard truths and transforming business-as-usual.

  • Teaching While White podcast engages in critical reflection on the role of the more than 80% of educators in the U.S. who are white, in moving forward to equitable, anti-racist classrooms for all in a multi-racial society. This recent episode interviewing Dr. Janet Helms is a fascinating window into her work over the last 30 years on racial identity development, and its application to this moment.


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