Doing the Work: Building a Stronger Practice of Allyship and Anti-racism

“My hope for the Change Team is that we are mapping out real pathways for greater diversity, equity and inclusion at Breakthrough, and that the change we make will be lasting. I hope that through our efforts, we are able to better serve a greater diversity of students, and that our staff and AmeriCorps members are challenged to grow and expand both personally and professionally.”   

-Erin Gentry, Change Team Co-Chair

In 2017, Breakthrough launched The Change Team — a group of staff who volunteer their time to make our community and organization a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place. Last year, we launched a partnership with Clem Consulting to help build an even stronger practice of allyship and anti-racism.

Through meeting observations, interviews with leadership, and focus groups with staff, Clem Consulting partnered with us to design a training plan for continued learning through lectures and workshops, along with affinity groups to provide a space for staff to connect on difficult topics. Issues addressed have included Applying Critical Race Pedagogy to Non- Profit Work, Toxic Positivity and Redressing Hurt, and Preparing Students and Families of Color for the Navigation of Principally White Institutions.

Read more about Breakthrough’s Change Team below.

Q&A with Breakthrough’s Change Team Chairs, Erin & David

What is the Change Team? 

 ERIN | The Change Team at Breakthrough is a group of 13 staff and AmeriCorps members who have volunteered their time to make Breakthrough a better place in regards to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are a diverse group of folks who are selected from a pool of volunteers. We try to ensure that we have as much diversity and inclusion as possible on the Change Team, racially, ethnicity-wise, and also in terms of role at Breakthrough. This year we have representation from our middle school, high school, and college completion teams, as well as our Operations and Development departments. We also have involvement from folks on our Leadership team, staff, AmeriCorps, and this year we have our first current Breakthrough student representative! We try to be as inclusive as possible because we believe that there is strength in having a diversity of voices at the table. 

The Change Team members commit to 2 one year terms, each starting in September, the beginning of the academic year, which is a natural transition time for us. At the beginning of the year, our group selects 6 “work group” topics. These topics are issues that have been raised by staff through anonymous surveys that are conducted yearly. Our work groups are groups of 2 Change Team members who work in partnership with the staff and leadership who are also engaging in that particular work topic.

 What are the goals of the Change Team workgroups?

 ERIN | This year, for example, our six work groups are working on a vast range of topics:  

  • How Breakthrough can better support LGBTQ+ issues students, families, and staff
  • How to recruit and retain more Black male students to Breakthrough
  • How to more equitably tell the story of how Breakthrough impacts students and families
  • How to incorporate student and family feedback and voices into our work
  • How to recruit and hire more diverse groups of summer teachers

Change team work group leaders work directly with the staff responsible for these issues (staff in charge of student recruitment and summer teacher hiring, for example, or the Development and Communications department). Together the work group leaders and the staff ensure that issues of DEI are assessed and addressed. They come up with ideas that turn into goals for the year. The work groups track the progress of their goals, and evaluate their work to hold themselves accountable to making change. The evaluation piece is critical because this is how we can see if change is being made, and if it is effective. When the next year’s cycle starts again in September, we review the efforts that the work groups have made and decide if the topic still needs to be a work group for the next year, and who should be the lead if so. If the topic has been resolved, or made significant enough progress, then we will move it out of work group rotation, and open the space for topics to be addressed.  

Can you tell us about the Breakthrough’s allyship work with Clem Consulting?


DAVID | After working with consultants in the past, specifically when the Change Team was formed, there was a common consensus amongst the larger staff that “one-off” professional development opportunities did not provide the ample amount of time to dive in on the specific pain points that were addressed during these opportunities. It was also expressed that following said PD opportunities, it was difficult to develop next steps and a sense of accountability in the effort to create real change within the organization, “giving us the tools, but not teaching us how to use them.”  There was a definite hunger for more in-depth and continued professional development experiences, especially when it relates to Allyship. 

As the world reacted to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Breakthrough made the decision to not only “talk the talk” when it came to supporting the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, but began to actively take steps towards improving the experiences of staff members, and more importantly the students and their families. Breakthrough wanted to find an organization that would not only provide presentations that would be a level-set for staff through professional development, but one that would also provide multiple spaces for staff to engage with the idea of truly being an ally and how the organization as a whole can address pain points that have been expressed.  

What advice would you give to nonprofits establishing an initiative like this? What tools can they use? Where do they start? 

DAVID | The best first step would be to listen to the staff who are not in official leadership positions; Create an anonymous poll/survey for the entire organization to get a feel for some of the pain points that are felt. On a similar note, organizations should gather feedback from their constituents as well, because there’s likely a correlation between internal and external perspectives. The goal here should be “seeking to understand.”

The next step would be to work with an outside entity to guide and develop next steps that will acknowledge and address pain points that were shared internally and externally. An outside entity will be able to view data objectively and challenge systems, values, etc. that are preventing the organization from moving towards true change.  

A piece that gets lost in this work is making sure that there is an organization wide level set to educate, understand “why”, and to establish norms, and systems of accountability that will allow change to move forward.

Erin Gentry

College Completion Coordinator


David Porter IV

Program Coordinator