Dr. Dennis, How did you start your career in DEI or Social Impact?
I am taught and trained in centuries of African-Black activism and scholarship. I started doing this work in 2004 when I began community outreach and research regarding Black mental health and Black suicide. After completing the doctorate in 2010, I became full-time faculty and the creator and coordinator of an academic program, and I invested most of my time in community outreach, volunteering on board of directors, having Black health tables and community events in North Carolina and Virginia, and required students to engage in community outreach for some courses.
For years, I attended diversity trainings and realized most trainings are based on the comfort, happiness, and opinion and decision making of power majorities—white people, men, cisgender people, heterosexual people, religious majority, language majority, upper socioeconomic, and able-health—rather than on the comfort, happiness, empowerment, resources, opportunities, and safety of underserved and minoritized people.
I developed my consulting based on centuries of activism and knowledge as distinct from how “diversity, equity, and inclusion” became popular over the years. Hence, 365 Diversity mottos “Discuss Diversity Daily” and “Not Your Typical Diversity Training” highlight measurable and lasting changes beyond catchphrases and beyond catchwords such as “DEI” and “antiracism.”
365 Diversity is based on “diversity” requiring inclusion, equity, and justice.
My focus on “diversity” is based in centuries of African-Black activism and scholarship and challenges people to learn and operate beyond dictionary definitions.
Tell us about a personal experience on why our world needs more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
I have many personal experiences as a Black woman with a disability who is born and raised in the second capital of the confederacy, Richmond, VA, am a product of predominantly Black public schools and three predominantly white universities—all K-12 and colleges and universities are white controlled, and I invested years on board of directors, working in academia, and collaborating with local, national, and international organizations.
One thing I want to highlight is how white power is the common denominator in most of my personal experiences and professional experiences.
Although white people of various ethnicities and national backgrounds are population majority in Europe, Canada, and USA, white people are only approximately 11% of the world’s population. Despite being only 11% of the world’s population, white people of various nations, religions, ethnicities, and cultures control much of parts of the world. This control is overt and covert.
We are punished for sharing experiences and viewpoints that are challenging to white people and uncomfortable to white people. This does not vary by white people’s political parties and white people’s sociopolitical views. Everything is based on white people’s permission, white people’s timing, white people’s approval, and white people’s version of everything including knowledge, information, and education.
Some people are offended that I am saying this—despite my personal experience being requested—but would understand if I was talking about able-health dominance, boys and men dominance, heterosexual dominance, cisgender dominance, wealth dominance, religious dominance, and other forms of power disaprities for generations, centuries, and thousands of years around the world.
What does DEI mean to Kimya Dennis?
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are daily processes that require constant follow-up. Having an office, committee, training, legislation, and policy does not mean changes and improvements. Measurable actions are required for measurable changes and improvements. If there are measurable actions and measurable changes and improvements, changes and improvements are reversed when people celebrate without requesting and supporting consistent evidence, evaluations, and assessments. Power majorities benefit when people are more focused on celebration than on requesting and supporting consistent evidence, evaluations, and assessments. Power majorities overtly and covertly reverse changes and improvements.
What is your proudest moment as a DEI professional?
My proudest moment is increasing discussions and changes to school libraries and school curriculum for some K-12 and some undergraduate programs and graduate programs; and changing teaching and training for medical and health students and medical and health professionals. Tensions, discomfort, and offended people are common when discussions are uncensored and changes are not based on maintaining power disparities and demographic and cultural disparities.
Kimya, Why is DEI important to you as an individual?
I use centuries of African and Black activism and scholarship to connect with communities, organizations, businesses, and schools.
My focus is helping people with underserved and minoritized identities and experiences.
I encourage everyone to go beyond acronyms, catchwords, catchphrases, ideas, and theories.
I encourage everyone to go beyond DEI offices, committees, and trainings.
If you could change one thing in terms of DEI, what would that be?
DEI words and actions should not be based on permission and approval from power majorities (white people, men, cisgender, heterosexuals, able-health, language majority, religious majority, and upper socioeconomic).
Operating based on power majority permission and approval is harmful because underserved and minoritized people’s resources, opportunities, health, and safety will always be based on the daily thoughts and daily feelings of power majorities. Anything that offends power majorities and makes power majorities defensive of their power will be removed, thus, abusing underserved and minoritized people.
What is stopping your community, organization or company from achieving a more equal and equitable world?
Operating based on white permission, white approval, and whether white people are offended by something. This does not vary by political party, voting patterns, and supposed sociopolitical views.
Phrases “votes matter” and “tax payers are the deciders for public schools” are false. The only thing that matters is what white people want and especially white people of upper socioeconomic status.
If you could say one thing to the leader in your community, organization or your company about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, what would you say?
Don’t be quick to celebrate promises such as legislation, laws, policies, having a DEI office, having a DEI training, having a bias training, having an anti-racism training.
Prove something is resulting from this beyond sharing ideas and promising changes.
Don’t be afraid of overt tensions and people expressing outrage. That is how power majorities respond to silenced and oppressed people finally being expressive, challenging, and making changes.
Bullying (including among adults in schools, workplaces, and community groups), emotional abuse, and physical abuse are components of white dominance, men dominance, cisgender dominance, heterosexual dominance, religious dominance, wealth dominance, and able-health dominance.
Anything you want to share with your readers?
I want children and adults to learn to challenge themselves and each other to be accountable for reaching and helping people with underserved, underrepresented, often silenced, and often harmed identities and experiences. This is more than repeating ideas and theories. This is more than social media posts. This is more than a theory. This is more than following what is popular on news shows. We must challenge ourselves and challenge each other for a range of demographic and cultural identities and experiences.
The interview is part of the EDII Diversity Thought Leadership Interviews