Strategic Conversations – Communicating while Black

October is here! It’s finally (and hopefully) time for cooler weather, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, warm drinks, and sleeping with the windows open. Additionally, the month of October offers several opportunities to celebrate diversity and bring awareness to issues of inclusion and equity in our community, with Indigenous People’s Day on October 9, National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the conclusion of Hispanic Heritage Month on October 15.

At CASA of Northwest Arkansas, we strive to have an advocate volunteer base that is not only reflective of the community we serve, but also conscious and compassionate of the difficulties different communities may face. We actively recruit volunteers who are representative of the children in our program, and are consistently seeking opportunities to train and educate ourselves and advocates in matters related to topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. We’d like to take a moment to recognize several of our staff and board members who presented an excellent training centered on these very topics.

Strategic Conversations: Communicating while Black, created and presented by CASA staff Eugenia Marks, Evan Jackson, and Kayla Tave, and CASA Board Member, Jerrilyn Dailey was delivered more as casual conversation than a formal training. Eugenia, Evan, and Kayla did an extraordinary job delving into a difficult topic and making attendees comfortable. This trio explored a variety of topics and tactics advocates can employ to build rapport with parents, children, and relatives on their case(s). In addition, they presented an enlightening perspective on how a family of different ethnic backgrounds may perceive the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the foster care system as opposed to their white counterparts.

The team discussed effective communication with Black families and prompted attendees to seek greater understanding regarding the history of race, power, privilege, and oppression while being mindful and self-reflective about personal biases. Effective communication is vital in building trust and understanding between advocates and the families they support, and this becomes even more crucial when dealing with families of different ethnic backgrounds.

The conversation delved into the importance of cultural humility, empathy, and active listening as essential elements of effective advocacy. By actively seeking to understand and validate the experiences of Black families, advocates can better serve their needs and help dismantle the barriers they encounter within the child welfare system. Eugenia, Evan, and Kayla also discussed proper ways of referring to African American families – ensuring that it is okay to say Black people. They explained how breaking down social constructs and labels can be powerful in understanding Black culture and family dynamics.

Beyond just understanding the challenges, the conversation also aimed to provide actionable steps that advocates can take to become better allies and advocates for Black families. By nurturing an environment of open dialogue, fostering cultural sensitivity, and ensuring representation, advocates can play a pivotal role in promoting positive change.

As advocates implement the insights gained from this conversation, our hope is that the child welfare system becomes more equitable, understanding, and responsive to the needs of all families, regardless of their background.

— Eugenia Marks, Kayla Tave

*CASA of Northwest Arkansas does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, selection of volunteers and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all volunteers and clients, children, parents or other family members and foster parents.