This page includes a statement from our Managing Directors, followed by reflections from staff and board members.
It is rare that we begin CBI Reports with a statement. Since our last newsletter, COVID-19 has underscored the persistence of deep inequities in our health and economic systems. Recent killings of Black Americans by police and civilians have sparked a national movement (and movements in other countries) to transform the criminal justice system and root out structural racism in our society.
We are not neutral on these issues. We want to see systemic inequities and institutionalized racism eradicated from our culture and public institutions. We believe that to achieve justice, those who have been oppressed are right to protest, and to demand and drive change. We also believe that those who continue to benefit from discriminatory systems have a responsibility and an opportunity to do their part in changing those systems. And we recognize there are times when negotiation is not the best approach for upholding rights.
Today, we see the need to protest and to advocate, to build the power of a movement to uproot structural racism. This movement is awakening many white Americans to the experiences of racism long suffered by people of color and galvanizing their support to demand change. When the time comes, consensus building will be a critically important complement to activism on the path to ending these deep inequities and injustices.
At CBI, we are committed to doing everything we can to promote equal voice and participation for all. This moment challenges us to look hard at how we are enacting two of our core commitments: to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our organization and to ensuring inclusion, voice, and empowerment in our work with stakeholders on public issues. We have to look at what we can do, how we can lead, and where we need to listen, learn, and follow.
We are on an ongoing journey to strengthen our DEI policies and norms. After working with our board and an external team to reflect on our constraints and clarify our goals, we have improved our networks for hiring and have retained new, diverse, and extraordinarily talented staff. We have implemented training to recognize implicit biases and to create a shared understanding of structural racism. We have refined our internal policies to ensure that the development, advancement, and compensation of all staff is equitable. And, we are partnering with other organizations in our field to help create new inroads into our field for facilitators from underrepresented racial groups.
In our work with stakeholders, we have become even more focused on ensuring participation of historically marginalized and excluded constituencies. We are finding ways to acknowledge our own identities as facilitators, to enable diverse groups to take on issues of race and identity, and to help them eliminate institutional barriers to equitable policies and solutions. We continue to seek opportunities to do this work in challenging areas: environmental justice, criminal justice, public education, affordable housing, and employment and economic opportunity, among others.
We have more to do. We need to advance our hiring of diverse staff. We need to take a hard look at our tools and processes and identify how to integrate DEI fully in our work, from assessment to training to facilitation. In many cases, we need to re-think what role we play or don’t play in front of the room and how we recognize past and current injustice in an effort to design fairer processes. When we advocate for a Mutual Gains Approach, we need to more explicitly address power imbalances that reflect structural exclusion. We need to take a harder look at when our own behavior, processes, biases or interests may inadvertently reinforce unjust systems. We need to know when we are not best suited to help facilitate a particular conversation or dialogue.
As a team at CBI, we have a practice of reflection – on what we are learning in our work, what the field is calling for, and what society is demanding of us as facilitators and mediators. We will continue to reflect and to act in order to ensure that the voices of historically excluded stakeholders are heard, and that the groups we work with can achieve just and sustainable outcomes.
More than ever, with our societal and political fabric frayed and torn, our role is to support Americans of all kinds in sitting down together to work on structural racism and other hard issues that divide us. Together, we can listen, learn, invent, and collaborate to become a more equitable and inclusive society.
Ekow Edzie, Senior Associate
“Doesn’t the officer recognize his humanity?” I thought as I watched George Floyd’s life slip away, neck pinned under the knee of an officer of the law. This tragic question has crossed my mind as I have contemplated each police killing of an unarmed Black American in recent years. I would wager that this question has been on the minds of most members of the Black community. Racism, it seems, is fundamentally a barrier to empathy. America has taken to the streets to demand a better future. The path to get there will certainly require policy change and police reform, however that future will also depend on communities, organizations, and individuals overcoming their barriers to empathy.
At CBI, we ask people to invest meaningful time to consider the interests and perspectives of others. We ask people to grapple with the idea that differences – in perspectives, resources, and needs – are sources of value. We build spaces and frame conversations for people to learn together about their shared challenges and to consider how they might collaborate to craft shared solutions.
The Mutual Gains Approach to negotiation and consensus building, which I have described in part in the preceding paragraph, relies on the premise that people embrace the other parties at the negotiation table as partners in the problem-solving process, and recognize that their own aspirations and the aspirations of others are linked. As the scope of CBI’s work expands to include more projects that address social and economic policy, a more representative cross-section of Americans is brought to the negotiation table. More Americans are asked to embrace someone who looks, thinks, or believes differently than them when they consider their own aspirations – and in the process, I believe that we take a step towards the future of America that our streets clamor for.
In my work at CBI, I look forward to creating more opportunities for people to engage in creative problem-solving with folks from different backgrounds. I will have the chance to do just that in the near-term on a groundwater management project that is bringing together stakeholders who are diverse in demographics but uniform in their motivation to preserve their groundwater. Each of the conversations we frame for this group of stakeholders will be, in my view, an opportunity for them to reaffirm respect for each other’s perspective, value, and humanity.
Michael Lewis, CBI Board Treasurer
In 1972, following a stint in the U.S. Foreign Service and a year as a counselor in a halfway house, I began work at a Washington, D.C., NGO. The organization, then called the Center for Correctional Justice, was focused on providing legal services for incarcerated young people in the District of Columbia. By 1973, we had begun to explore using mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes inside prisons. That began my now almost 50-year career in dispute resolution. I embarked on this work because it seemed to offer an opportunity to help people get to the table who often were denied that access.
What to make of the first half of 2020? A raging pandemic shoved our noses into the inequities of our society, and the killing of George Floyd in the midst of the pandemic held up to the light the pernicious racism coursing through our country.
I confess that I have not joined a protest march or demonstration. I am immobilized by the pandemic. Both my wife and I are in our upper 70s, and each have what the doctors term a co-morbidity. Staying safe has been paramount for us for the past three months. Recently, The Washington Post printed an article about a white couple in their 60s, both of whom are cancer survivors, who decided that they had to march. They could not sit home and let the moment pass. They were concerned about exposure to the coronavirus, but they nonetheless went out and marched. I wept when I read that article, as I had not had the courage to do the same thing.
How should someone who has devoted his professional life to helping people bridge differences through talk respond to the first half of this year? Clearly, we all need to focus on closing the fissures in our society illuminated by the pandemic and the calls for racial justice. In a democratic society we should come together and begin that work. And, there are encouraging signs that many Americans want to do just that. We live in a time of deep divisions, however, so the road forward will not be easy. For me, and I hope for many other mediators, our ability to bring people together to help them overcome divisions remains a useful skill for our society. We need to be mindful of not perpetuating existing power dynamics that disenfranchise and to use our good offices to promote a more just and equitable society. In other words, we need to do what we always have done.