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Race Intelligence™ (RQ)-A Coaching Framework for Brave Conversations about Race: A conversation with Michelle Davis

June 19, 2024 The Kempe Center
Race Intelligence™ (RQ)-A Coaching Framework for Brave Conversations about Race: A conversation with Michelle Davis
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Radio Kempe
Race Intelligence™ (RQ)-A Coaching Framework for Brave Conversations about Race: A conversation with Michelle Davis
Jun 19, 2024
The Kempe Center

For decades, professionals striving to promote equity across various disciplines and systems have focused on cultural competency, cultural humility, and cultural awareness training. However, these efforts often fall short of bridging the gap between theory and practice, and from practice to transformation. 

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, "Stop Raising Awareness Already," emphasizes the need to break free from conventional norms for genuine progress to occur. While training is valuable, it's not the solution for internal and systemic transformation; it's a foundational step. True transformation arises from personal impact and making conscious choices to be different by focusing on building empathy, understanding impact, and most significantly, the dynamics of our relationships to bring about systemic change.

Show Notes Transcript

For decades, professionals striving to promote equity across various disciplines and systems have focused on cultural competency, cultural humility, and cultural awareness training. However, these efforts often fall short of bridging the gap between theory and practice, and from practice to transformation. 

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, "Stop Raising Awareness Already," emphasizes the need to break free from conventional norms for genuine progress to occur. While training is valuable, it's not the solution for internal and systemic transformation; it's a foundational step. True transformation arises from personal impact and making conscious choices to be different by focusing on building empathy, understanding impact, and most significantly, the dynamics of our relationships to bring about systemic change.

Welcome and welcome back.

This is Radio Camp.

I am Kendall Marlowe with the Kemp Center for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

Thank you for joining us today.

In 2024, radio camp is on a journey, all of us together.

to discover new voices and learn new things.

We are open to what we find, and, thanks to you for being a fellow traveler.

our country, our society

is in a conversation and even debate.

on issues of justice and equity.

seeking to embrace our values of diversity and inclusion.

How do we make progress?

Is cultural competency enough?

Will awareness alone get us there?

and where are we even trying to go?

A new approach has entered the arena.


Race intelligence.

a coaching framework for brave conversations about break

and to discover and explore that a new approach.

We are blessed today to be with Michelle Davis.

Director of Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at the Kim Center.

Michelle. Thanks for doing this for us all today.


Michelle Davis


Absolutely. I am glad to be here.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


Michelle. You have done a lot of things in your life and in your career.

You have had a lot of different roles.

and I imagine, learned a few things along the way.

What happened? What was the moment? What was the event? Where were you?

that sparked.



Michelle Davis


Like many people, I think you can probably pinpoint what you were doing and where you were.

when George Floyd happened.

and it was.

like a conversion of moments that had everybody paying attention

in a different way.


the fur and the conversation, the desire to do something.

Was in our atmosphere.

and I remember being on a call with some colleagues.

and they were having the same kind of desire like, what can we do?


those colleagues, those same colleagues we had already been having conversations around coaching, and what coaching offers, and how transformative it can be.


my thought was.

People need to increase their intelligence around race. And when I say intelligence, I do not mean like book smart.

I mean their capacity to be in dialogue, their ability to

stay in the conversation to understand what the conversation is doing and offering them in what it is revealing to them that allows them to start to take different steps break, norms break habits within themselves.

That has us showing up differently with each other.

So, in the midst of that conversation, it was like, like we think about Eq. Emotional intelligence, social intelligence.

It is like race intelligence. This is. This is the. It is a doorway into how we can start talking about all forms of inequity.

But the race at that time was.

a hot topic in our system, and it also has always been a topic in our system. But it is also one of the most difficult enduring.

cultural complexities that

we. Some have tried to grapple with it but have not really moved the needle. Much.

So, if we pair coaching, which can be truly transformational.

And I have been witness to that. I have been part of that.

We have a fortune. 500 CEO

that goes through coaching.

and comes to realize that their values are not aligned with what they are doing, and then make a choice. And that choice is to say, this is not what I can do anymore. I need to do something different.

I remember a story or a gentleman that.

started a

a boating business. He was a fortune 500 CEO, but that was not fulfilling for him, so he decided to do something on the water, which was completely fulfilling for him with less stress, less anxiety in all the work that he did. That is transformation. That is a choice.

How can we apply that to our conversations in our way of wanting to be our desires, about how we want to show up?

with a race framework with a race, the lens on race and equity.

So, within that dialogue that we started wrestling with, what is the opportunity here? How can we meet this moment in a different way?

Then we have in all the years that I have been an adult professional

in this space.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


So, do we know?

what we want to be, what we want the change to be.

Is there an agenda?

do we have a set and result in mind, and all we got to do is get there.


Michelle Davis


Yes, I think we do know.

but it gets buried, and it gets hidden.

by all the other noise in our world.

We are we all.

are human beings, and we come from sort of like the same substance?

We seek joy, we struggle with grief.


often can look at a sunset and just be enthralled by it. How beautiful it is! Or when we look out of the fastness of the ocean. It is like, Wow.

How am I here?

It is like those commonalities.

We could call it the human condition. Those commonalities are in us all.


I think of that as sort of like the essence of our soul or spirit, or whatever it is, not in a religious way.

but where we all come in the same.

And those are the emotions that we want to activate and have people tap in and just slow down and recognize.

What are you choosing?

You are making a choice based upon maybe the noise that you're hearing? Are you making a choice based upon?

who we are and who we can be.

together in relationship with one another.

So, race intelligence coaching is about.

how we begin to navigate our relationships and have the right kinds of conversations that help transform all of us. Do you think about?

Each conversation we have with another human being is an opportunity for us to learn.

It is an opportunity for us to witness. Who am I in this conversation? And who is the other person being?

How are we?

connected? How are we relating to one another?

one of my colleagues often.

you know, she will say, how are you doing? And I will say I am good, and she will say, no, really, how are you doing.

so? That makes me slow down and say, how am I really doing?

It is kind of like getting there. It is going beneath the surface conversations that we all engage in

and with the application of racialized people in our society.

How are we really doing, and what do we really want from each other?

How do we really want to be in a relationship with each other? And if we can get past the noise.

I think the clues to that live inside of us, and how we want to connect cause we are born to be. W. We're designed to be in connection with one another.

That is how we are made.

but the noise breaks that connection. There is a lot of noise.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


Powerfully positive view of human nature. I am going to study right there.

a powerfully positive view of human nature to think.

that if we realize our commonality.

that so many other positive things might

flow from that.


Michelle Davis


Yes, that is true. And you can see it in small moments.

when we are in a relationship with one another. And what do I mean by that? I am not talking about the normal type of relationship that you know husband, wife, and girlfriend, that kind of thing. Yes, that matters.

But are we having the right conversations with each other?

Are we having?

Are we being vulnerable?

Are we?

acknowledging, hurt or harm? Or when it happens to us? Do we just move on because we do not want to circle back and say to this person?

or persons.

That was an Ouch moment.

We usually move past that. But if I take the chance and become vulnerable and speak.

Help me understand what it is.

was about the question you asked or the statement you made that you were really trying to convey.


maybe your intent wasn't this? But this is the way that it impacted me.

That is an opportunity. That is a small little opportunity for that person to learn. So that shift in our dynamic in that, just in that small little conversation.

will help that person, and also help me to show up differently in other conversations.

And I believe that we do have it in us. We have a capacity to

lean into our humanity, our common humanity.

If we slow down and give ourselves the opportunity

to understand how we are

impacting one another, what our intention looks like

I am getting really curious about one another.

and it is going to sound really.


high in the sky.

But what are the behaviors of love with which I can operate.

and how grace is embedded in that. And how can I give Grace?

to someone that is trying to learn and trying to do better.

and that offering of grace.

opens up so many more doors and opportunities for us to be in greater conversation with each other. And I say that because I have experienced it, and I have seen it amongst people.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


How do we get to that love and grace? There are training courses relating to these issues all over the country now, and in all different kinds of contexts.

a lot of talk about awareness.

and you use the term coaching. I am imagining that.

We have different images in our head. When the coach. The idea of a coach comes to mind.

I think of kids, soccer games, and the volunteer parent who is there, you know, hollered words of encouragement on the sideline. Is it that some people have?

career coaches to help them develop their career.

there? There are life coaches who try to have a broader and deeper impact on someone's life.

What is coaching the way that our queue looks at it?


Michelle Davis


It is really equipping people to have the tools and access to tools.

that support having the conversation we are not having.

For example.

when you.

Let us say, as a leader.

you hit a crunch point. And you know, as you are leading your team or something that is happening amongst your team, and maybe its equity related. Maybe it's not.

But under our Q coaching, our focus is specifically on issues related to equity and races. The doorway because it is one of those most intractable issues.

But the tools that we guide folks through in the coaching experience are.

it is applicable across all forms of inequity.

But I will speak specifically about

race and equity.

So, there is some we get choked. It is like we kind of like a string of hold comes over the leader, particularly if they're a white leader like I don't know what to do. I do not know how to. I do not want to cause additional harm. I do not want to say the wrong thing. So, you freeze.

know what to do.

So, in this coaching. Let us talk about what is happening when you freeze.

The truth are you thinking, what are the processing of thoughts that are blowing through your mind?

And it might be all of those things I just mentioned, like, I don't want to cause additional harm. Well, what is the harm that you are imagining that you are going to cause?

Well, if I say this, it might be wrong, or if I do this it might be wrong.

So, coaching from this perspective is really tapping into their own sense of awareness about what has them freezing, what maybe has them defending. What has them?

stonewalling? We talk about toxins like stonewalling is.

not going to do anything. I am just going to stand here. I am not going to go left, right forward or back.

I just want to kind of stay in the space of safety.

Well, what is safety?

And what would be the risk that you would be willing to take to move outside of that zone of comfort that you sort of put yourself in, that, has you? Not doing anything at all?

And it is not about blame. It is not about Shane. It is about just noticing.

what is happening. That kind of locks you in

to not doing anything, not taking a step towards or taking a step back.

and usually fear.

so that fear we try to. We grapple with those things. We grapple with those situations to sort of unlock the possibility within that person within that leader.

to take a step forward in that step.

Whatever step they are taking is a form of transformation.


in addition to them. Taking that step.

there is also the opportunity to understand what is the impact over there when I do?

We had someone that, said I. I in one of the coaching experiences

that I had a conversation with someone, and I was scared. You know I was scared to do it.

I was actually kind of sweating. I was really nervous, but I did it.

What was the impact of doing it?

I felt freer.

I felt more capable.

I felt like, wow!

It is possible.

for me to do this.

And I said, what was the impact on the person over there?

And to which they were talking? And

she spoke.

There was a surprise.

those appreciation.

There was thoughtfulness.


I did not know we could have this kind of conversation between us.

So, because that fear unlocked for that leader, they were able to do something transformative and different than they normally would have done.

And in that, just in that little bit of a dialogue create a transformation. So, when I think about coaching, it is really, it is really doing that.

It is like, if we think about asking the 9 wise or really getting underneath.

all of the reasons and all of the noise that keep us from moving in dialogue with one another that has us, and if we

I will stop back up and say, how is us moving in dialogue with one another?

And I think of it as ripples.

If this leader is doing that with the person that they are leading.

They have created a shift. That shift can then start to happen in other relationships, and though those ripples start to continue to ripple out until you see change.

It is very different than training, which is.

usually didactic in nature. It is 1, 2, or 3 events at a time.

where we are not measuring the changes in behavior. We are not measuring progress.

And we are not measuring.

even the

the lack of progress.

So, let us say that later said I wanted to do it, but I could not do it.

Let us talk about that.

Let us get underneath the reasons why.

you are still feeling a little stuck or handcuffed.

It is not about shame or blame. It is just about being really curious about yourself and understanding.

where the challenges are within yourself to have that conversation.

So that is what race intelligence coaching is all about. It is really helping to support.

individuals and leaders to have the kinds of conversations that forward.

equity in our relationships. And ultimately our systems.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


And with the story, then, of our queue, this is something you've

built and started to

deliver and spread in the world.

What is this thing now? Is it delivered to groups? Is it delivered to individuals? Does it show up in a box? Do some.

but your doorstep?

What is this thing called R. Cube?


Michelle Davis


That is a great question.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


Is it? Is it the same for everyone? If I am running an organization or something

is this a predetermined product that arrives? How does all that happen?


Michelle Davis


No, it is not predetermined because everyone comes in differently.

And that is one of the things that I am proud of. I mean, we have a framework, and I will describe that in a moment.

But it is how each system, each team, and each organization, steps into that framework. We work with them to really design. What are their needs?

We think about journeys in the context of movement along race equity. Some people might be at Hallmark. One or someone else is at the hallmark of fifty,

and there is not necessarily an

end destination. It is just the growth journey that we are all on.

So, given that.

Wherever that team, individual team, or organization is stepping into it, we want to adapt, based upon what they are, and what their needs are.

Coaching is about adapting and adapting to our environment and adapting to the situations at hand. So, we want to use that model to continue to customize what our queue is for each individual organization as it shows up.

But with what we do start. And you know, we continue to learn and continue to iterate.

The first pilot did not start with individual coaching. So, we, learning that was a lesson, learned.

that folks were coming into this without equipping themselves with understanding their own triggers.

understanding their own. Why, understanding

maybe even what makes it hard for them to have this conversation.

So, we instituted a phase of one-on-one coaching where you get to have some sessions with the one-on-one coach.

It is your time, it is your space. Whatever you say is whatever you say, without shame or blame.

As you start to wrestle with this sort of like the pre-equipping phase.

And then once you

We want to keep continuing that one-on-one coaching throughout the entirety, the coaching experience, which is.

again customizable. But about 10 weeks at about maybe about 4, 5 weeks in we do what is called cohort coaching.

That means you come in as a group.

and that group may be an intact team, or it may be a composite of folks within an organization.

And it is diverse. And it is intentionally diverse. It is not like an affinity group where you have only a specific group of people from a specific identity that shows up in that.

I believe. And I have learned that way.

We need to start to practice how to have these dialogues in a space where.

it is facilitated and supported, and people can feel free to get curious without feeling judged.

to mess up and understand the impact of that. So, if someone says something in a group, a mixed group.

that has impacted another. Let us have that conversation.

In the space which equips them and helps them to have that conversation out of coaching. So, it is all an experiential learning opportunity within cohort coaching, but the one-on-one coaching sort of helps them prepare for them.

in group or cohort coaching.

That will support even further transformation, because it's experiential. We might pick topics that are happening in our world to sort of grapple with. There might be topics that are already happening in their organization with which we are grappling.

But all those perspectives, all voices, are important, and all those perspectives come in and we grapple with that. We wrestle with that from a race equity lens. And what is the impact that is happening on the cohort participants?

and what we have learned has been transform transformative. I was talking to a couple of folks yesterday that had already gone through it, and they want to go through it again.

because it was just that impactful for them, just in terms of learning and experiencing and understanding themselves in their own relationship with race, which is critical. We all have a relationship with race. We all do, no matter what our identity is.

Let us talk about what that is, and get in a space to have the dialogue, the conversation we need to have to heal and transform.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


This is not just a theory. You have been doing this now for a bit, and done this more than once with different settings, different organizations you mentioned, you have been learning along the way which.

I imagine it is a behavior you want to model for all of us in this journey, right.


Michelle Davis


On foot.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


What? How is it going? How is it going? How are people reacting? Ha! Have? Are you always being? Are you feeling successful with this? Are you feeling hopeful? Talk to us about the experience. So far with it.


Michelle Davis


It is a great question. We ended a cohort yesterday and

We went through all of the things that they had learned, and one of the things they said was, Wow.

being in the experience of it. We did not realize how much we were actually learning.

this was. It was a great awareness, just to kind of summarize.

the ways that they can start to begin.

not even begin to continue to have those kinds of conversations.

The closing of that made me feel extremely helpful. But each time that I close at cohort it makes me feel hopeful.

and the hope is not necessarily just in the program. It is the fact that people are showing up to have the conversation.

You are here.

You are and you said yes to this you did not have to.

You said, yes, that makes me hopeful when you ask me about

a positive outlook on humanity.

That is what makes me hopeful. Is there are people out there that want to show up and do better?

and be better, for

in their own relationships with the people, they work within organizations.

But with all of us just as a human community across the globe.

it is going well; we continue to iterate. I will not say it is perfect cause we continue to learn.

and you are going to have people that are like, yes, this did not really do much for me. And that is okay.

Cause everything is not for everybody. And you know, everybody is not going to resonate with it. But I think, on the whole.

people have been really appreciative of the opportunity to just be in a space where they can.

have conversations and learn about how to

have the conversation in a way.

that transforms themselves and can transform relationships. And ultimately, again system.


I am looking forward to continuing to do more. I am looking forward to it. We have a proposal out with a potentially big group.

to do this work, and

it is both scary in some respects, but invigorating and

empowering in other respects. So

I feel blessed to be able to

bring this to people, and to continue to do this work.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


And I think I have heard that you have done this.

with the legal community in at least one State, and as someone with a legal education.

Who hangs out. And with that crowd.

maybe we're not famous.

for asking questions. We are trained to know the answers.


Michelle Davis




Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


How? How did that go? How did that go? We might be a tough crowd, I am thinking.


Michelle Davis


Yes, and

my sense of how it went and the feedback that we received cause we are doing an evaluation study on the impact of the experience, not the content, but just the impact on the experience.

The qualitative feedback that we received with this was super powerful. Everyone should go through this everyone should have an opportunity to

be in this space because it is transformative.

And we had a judge in that particular conversation. The judge was an advocate for equity, but

his. His experience was also an advocate, for

We need more. We need more people to be able to have these kinds of dialogues because this work is important.


letting go of the idea that you have the answer. So, we set the stage for that.

you come in with the beginner's mind. You have a lot of you have a wealth of knowledge and experience.

and this is still hard. This is still hard work. So, you have to come in with a

so, like a kindergarten spirit. It is like, what can I learn? How can I grow here?

and sort of let go of the things that I thought I knew.

and begin anew. That is the intelligence piece.

It is grappling and learning, grappling and learning. That is what I mean by intelligence.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


But being humble enough to have, I love that phrase, a kindergarten spirit.

the kindergarten spirit.

So how does this move forward?

Take us forward in in the journey of our queue.

Where will it go? How can people be a part of this? Where? What's tomorrow like?


Michelle Davis


Again. We are continuing to iterate, and we have opportunities on the horizon right now. We are continuing to grow our bunch of coaches that could do this work.

but if from this conversation people find themselves intrigued.

I would love to have a conversation with you.

if you want. If you are like a yes, we want to do this. I would love to have this conversation with you.

So, where it is going is where.

it is the willingness of people to say yes.

it is the willingness of people to say yes and get beyond their discomfort.

and discover what it is what the opportunity can unfold for them.

So, I will give you my email address, which is.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


And we should.


Michelle Davis


Able to have a conversation.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


Yes, we should probably, shouldn't we? I've we are done.


Michelle Davis




Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center



So, and she would love to hear from you.

You are filled with hope. You are filled with love for people.


your dream

for the future.

What is the world that you would love us all to get to.


Michelle Davis


Oh, that is a big question


not a utopia.

Because we are complex human beings. We are not going to agree on everything.

We are diverse.

with diverse experiences. We are all a product of our experiences.

My hope is that we can learn.

to appreciate

human differences

and navigate those differences much more successfully than we have.

just the same way that we appreciate.

the diversity and a flower.

The diversity of trees and the leaves that they bring, the diversity in the animals that exist in our world.

That is the essence of the place where most of us can appreciate those kinds of diversity, that kind of diversity.

We start to struggle when we cannot do that for human diversity.

We can start to do that for human diversity.

And when we hit crunch points in our relationships.

let us not lean away from each other. Let us lean in and get curious.

and discover and appreciate what is different over there.

And how can I learn about that? Does not mean that I have to agree with it just means.

There’s beauty over there in that difference, just like there's beauty in the difference between a tulip and a rose.

How can we get there?

and get beyond the

the divisiveness and the distancing of one another and find ways to bridge.

our relationships with each other

even in conflict.

even in the difference.

That is what my hope is.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


Thank you.

Thank you, Michelle Davis, for being with us.

and for what you do as our Q journeys forward. Let us stay in touch at Radio camp. Let us do that, huh?


Michelle Davis


Let us do that.

Thank you. We will be back.

all right. Thank you.


Kendall Marlowe, Kempe Center


And to our listeners.

Join us again for this podcast series in 2024,

soon and often

this has been.

radio kemp.