MeSearch: My Spiritual Journey to Build Diversity, Equity, Inclusion.
Working in DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion)requires forgiveness, reflection, introspection, and a consciousness that involves seeing beyond the surface level existence of humanity. It requires looking deeply into the soul of three things: 1)Yourself, 2)Other human beings, and 3)Institutions. Through my learnings, which have been riddled in successes and mistakes, I have grown to understand many things about these souls, I will succinctly share them with you throughout this article.
My name is Cheryl Ingram and I am the CEO and Founder of two companies, Diverse City LLC and Inclusology. I have been working as an entrepreneur in the field of DEI for 4 years now, and prior to that in multiple roles that encompassed components of DEI for 17 years. In summary, these are a few of the things that I’ve learned.
I recall the saying, that without a test, there can be no testimony. My company’s mission is to end all forms discrimination in education and the workplace throughout the world. Recently, I’ve been doing some serious self reflection. The reason for the reflection is because I constantly ask myself “IF I CAN’T FORGIVE THE WORLD, HOW AM I GOING TO HEAL IT?” I woke up this morning as many people would say “on the wrong side of the bed” annoyed and angry and I started meditating and asking the universe for guidance. After meditating I went to the gym and I worked out and during my workout I received a text message that made me rethink whether or not I had actually forgiven those who have hurt me in my life. I started to ask myself questions: What is forgiveness, What does it really look like in practice? Was I actually practicing it? How would I know if I had reached a place of forgiveness? I felt this extreme heaviness and decided it was time to leave the gym and walk home.
As I was walking home, I started praying. Before I proceed I should make it clear that I am not a religious human being. I do not practice organized religion. But, when I feel a calling or spiritual moment I will search for the source. Today was one of those days. I asked for answers to the questions I had started asking in the gym. Suddenly I heard this voice that told me to look to the left and I saw this church. Now, I have walked the road to my gym many times and never noticed this church. Then something inside me told me to go inside, I fought it at first and kept walking but then, something stopped me in my tracks and told me to turn around. So I turned around and went back to the church. As I walked in I felt this need to walk to my right and there before me was the sign posted below.
Yourself/Myself: It immediately spoke to me. As a person whose passion and life is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion this meant a lot. Then a woman came out and her warm presence gave me comfort, she introduced herself as Kirsten and shook my hand. I asked if the pastor was present, and she was in her office.
Kirsten then walked me into the front office and there is where I met Pastor Amy. I don’t know what came over me, but I asked her if she had 10 minutes to talk and she said yes. We went into the lobby where there were numerous signs dedicated to inclusion and welcomeness and I knew I was in the right place. Pastor Amy looked right at me and she said “tell me what’s surfacing for you.” I immediately opened up to this woman and told her about my struggles of forgiveness and how I work in DEI everyday with people filled with anger and resentment and how in order for me to really serve them, I questioned whether or not I was practicing the forgiveness of disappointment and hurt I faced from others. Then she said something that changed my mindset forever regarding the action of forgiveness.
She looked me in the eye and said “Forgiveness is a spiritual and daily practice. It’s something you have to wake up and think about daily. You can’t just attempt to try it once and think you’ve let something go, and it’s over.” She told me about her experience working as a hospital Chaplain and how she had watched people on their deathbeds regret not forgiving people they knew or loved and how they’d wish they had done things differently. She told me about the people who refused to forgive and died with anger and bitterness in their hearts. This woke me up and made me realize that I do not want to end up like the latter of the two. It also reminded me that I have been placed in the right profession.
The Institution: You see my first reflection here was to think about the institutions and human beings we serve in our business daily. I also reflected on the fact that it is usually the people who face discrimination that are also expected to forgive their oppressors (People of Color, LGBTQ+, Veterans, Individuals living with disabilities, and the list goes on). Because we have been oppressed twice, thrice, and four times are hard we often have more forgiving and healing to do. We also have to think about redefining what forgiveness means. Forgiveness for me involves understanding but not always acceptance. We should understand the ignorance behind discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and pure ignorance. This does not mean we have to accept it and our daily lives. I see people daily working in companies to change the climate, to make it more inclusive, and I have seen and felt their pain, frustration, disappointment, and even sometimes hopelessness. This can strike us at the foundation of our souls and negatively impact our spirits. These structures that we build, have built, and sustain have a history of impacting our soul’s existence. In order to break down these systems there has to be a process where we are searching deep down within ourselves to find answers to who we are and why we exist. This has been part of my own personal journey.
Throughout this hard yet rewarding process has come a more developed and informed me to find the root cause and build solutions to discrimination and hate in the world. While on this spiritual journey, forgiveness has been very prevalent. So far along the journey this has lead me to search for the root causes in the spirit and souls of the three areas I listed in the beginning of the article:
- Yourself/Myself- My heart, spirit, and soul has lead me to ask some very serious questions that I felt like I has examined already when I started this work but required a deeper introspection. 1) Who am I becoming? 2)What is my soul’s purpose? 3)What is my expected outcome? 4)In what areas of my life do I need to heal in order to achieve my purpose authentically?
- The Institution- Institutions must begin to ask themselves questions regarding the soul and spirit of their foundation. 1)Who are we? 2)What have we done to positively impact the world? 3) In what spaces do we need to show support in order to provide equitable outcomes in to heal the damages we have caused (to people, to communities, etc)?
Throughout this journey I have witnessed the best and the worst of human beings. Until now, I did not always recognize the positive and negative impacts this had on my energy and soul. In order to consistently show up as my best self, I’ve had to do a lot of forgiving. I have built my consciousness around the fact that forgiveness does not come easy, neither does change, as a matter of fact it is an important part of the process of growth. Also, that forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. It equates in many cases to understanding and moving on. In order to develop a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must continue to crucially and critically evaluate all phases of life. But, first start interpersonally. The interpersonal exploration will impact your ability to assess, facilitate, and implement your work and daily practice. If you don’t agree, then DEI work, done right, is not for you.
You see my journey and my goal is to help heal the world of the pain that leads to discrimination and oppression based on our identities. Then to build systems and make sure that this never happens to anyone else. To redefine how we value human life and treat one another equitably and equally. Today I was reminded of something I constantly tell others and that is “if you want to do diversity, equity, and inclusion work, the first part of your journey has to begin with self exploration. Then you need to continue this practice over and over.”
I hope my words resonate with someone today. Be well and take care of one another. We need each other.