Friends for Non-Violent Diversity
A Case Study of One Peace and Justice Organization's Efforts to Become More Multicultural
Written by Michael Bischoff
For "Multicultural Approaches to Conflict Resolution"
Eastern Mennonite University, Summer 2001

Return to Michael's index of papers

Like many nonprofit organizations in the U.S., people at Friends for a Non-Violent World (FNVW) often speak longingly about transforming into a highly diverse organization. Staff and Board members frequently talk about why it would be important and useful if more people of color participated in the organization. Occasionally, the talk of diversity strays to consider how gender, sexual orientation, class, and personality fit into things, but the discussion usually comes quickly back to race and ethnicity.

I was a staff person at Friends for a Non-Violent World for five-and-half years, and served as the executive director for half of that time. As much as anyone I worked with, I also longed for a more diverse agency. Having been gone from that job for one year, I will take this opportunity to look back on these efforts. What did we really mean when we wished for wished for diversity? What did our striving for diversity yield? What can FNVW and I learn from these experiences?

For this paper, I interviewed five other people who are involved with Friends for a Non-Violent World, and I read about other people's ideas about multicultural organizations. I will mix together what I heard in these interviews, what I have read, and my personal reflections. I will look at different definitions of successful multicultural organizations and relate FNVW to these ideals. I will also consider strategies organizations can use to move towards multicultural competence, both from experiences at FNVW, and from others' examples and suggestions.

What Is FNVW?

Friends for a Non-Violent World was started in 1981 by Quakers in Minnesota who wanted a local organization that worked on traditional Quaker peace and justice concerns. A national Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, had just decided to close their office in Minneapolis, and many of the area Quakers wanted the programs to continue, so they formed FNVW. The majority of the volunteers, staff, furniture, and organizational practices remained the same, despite the new name. During the '80s, many of the programs focused on activism that called for a freeze in the nuclear weapons build up. FNVW also dabbled in the Anti-Apartheid movement, Native-American issues, Central American solidarity, and many other issues that they defined as "peace and justice" issues. In the 90s', the primary focus of FNVW shifted to offering workshops in conflict resolution and nonviolence, in prisons, in schools, and with whoever requested it. Anti-militarism programs continued, but with less momentum.

For most of the past 20 years, the size of FNVW has hovered around 2-3 paid staff people and 100-200 volunteers. The board of directors and governance in general has been drawn from Quaker decision making and norms. From what I have heard and experienced, there has always been a tension between the Quaker-ness of the organization and the intent to be an inclusive, interfaith group. Sometimes this has been a creative tension, and sometimes just confusing. The majority of the board has always been Quaker, but the majority of the volunteers and staff are now not Quaker.

Throughout the history of the organization, the vast majority of the staff, volunteers, board, and donors have been white and middle-class. This demography partly reflects the Quaker community in Minnesota, which is overwhelmingly a white, middle-class community. Also reflecting the Quaker community, a large number of gay/lesbian folks are involved in FNVW, and many of them hold leadership positions. People who are blind have been active on the board, staff, and in programs. An increasing number of prison inmates and former inmates volunteer with FNVW. Youth participants and volunteers also increasingly bring more ethnic and class diversity to the organization.

What Is a Multicultural Organization?

Since few groups started out as multicultural organizations, most have yet to learn that the needed changes are deep and have rich potential. It is a serious mistake to think that all that's needed is for "a few of them to join us." Diversity is not about "them" becoming like "us." It is about all of us becoming new creatures, who in some ways, will be different who may make different choices.
(Lakey, 1995, p.169)

Diversity continues to mean somehow magically bringing folk of color into the FNVW space. I repeatedly say that we as white folks can do very proactive things about race. It seems to fall mostly on deaf ears. And the reality is that we don't have a lot of Quakers of color or a wide base of folk of color on the FNVW team.
Maria Brown, current FNVW board member (Brown, 2001)

As Maria describes, the focus of FNVW's efforts related to "becoming multicultural" have been predominantly focused around attempting to bring additional people of color into the organization. For both Maria and the authors of Grassroots Leadership, becoming a multicultural organization is much more than bringing more of "them" to "us." These statements imply, to me, that there are a broad range of proactive ways to help an organization grow towards multiculturalism.

In the book, Building Successful Multicultural Organizations, Marlene Fine identifies three principles that characterize multicultural organizations:

A multicultural organization is an organization that:

1. Values, encourages, and affirms diverse cultural modes of being and interacting;
2. Creates an organizational dialogue in which no one cultural perspective is presumed to be more valid than other perspectives;
3. Empowers all cultural voices to participate fully in setting goals and making decisions.
(Fine, 1995, p. 36)

Certainly these three characteristics take the focus off simply recruiting a more diverse group of people to be part of an organization. Fine points out, however, that most organizations get stuck moving along this path.

The vast majority of cultural diversity initiatives within U.S. organizations focus almost exclusively on the first criterion of valuing diversity. . . Little emphasis in these initiatives is given to rethinking how people work together and the ways in which our concepts of working together are culturally biased.
(Fine, 1995, p.36)

It is somewhat easy to imagine what FNVW would look like if there was more variety in skin color, but it is more complex to envision the changes in organizational functioning needed to make that diversity workable.

One of the most useful examples of a "successful" multicultural peace organization I have found came from the book, Bridging the Class Divide, written by Linda Stout. Linda was the director of the Piedmont Peace Project, in North Carolina. Like FNVW, the Piedmont Peace Project (PPP), works to reduce the size of the U.S. military budget and redirect those funds to meet human needs. Unlike FNVW, PPP started out with a commitment to be accessible and relevant to working class folks, and to work across race lines. Everything from the way they ran board meetings to the way they did media work went through several cultural lenses. They always considered transportation barriers low-income people would face in coming to events. Spanish translation became a standard part of events and publications. At FNVW, most work is done through only one cultural lense--a white, middle-class, U.S. Quaker perspective. If people from other cultures can function within that way to doing things, we'll enthusiastically welcome them. If they can't, we'll solemnly accept that they just weren't a good "fit" for the organization.

Fine articulates some of this ability to think from more than one cultural perspective:

Multicultural organizations expect all employees to be bicultural--to be able to think and act within more than one cultural perspective. Traditionally, most minority employees in organizations have always been bicultural; they could not have survived organizational life unless they were able to live in the dominant culture, and they could not have retained their personal identities and psychological health unless they could also return to their own cultures.
(Fine, 1995, p.40)

Since the majority of people who make up FNVW have a minimal amount of experience as a minority, the capacity to be bicultural doesn't come automatically. Some people within FNVW are aware of this challenge. Joann Perry, a current FNVW board member describes the dilemma with the metaphor of a lighthouse.

I tend to see each one of us as a potential lighthouse (those of us who are associated with FNVW in any way) and my thinking (or vision) around diversity is not real easy to conceptualize. However, I see each one of us as a lighthouse and as we are all sorts of different lighthouses, we all project our vision (and energy) in different ways. I think the communities we reflect to are only able to see what we have to say if that community recognizes the light or the language or the lighthouse light that is projected. I.E., there is very little listening for what I have to say in the orthodox Jewish community in St. Paul. My lighthouse doesn't have the correct prism to create that listening. However, my lighthouse projects very well into the business community, as I'm recognized there.
Joann Perry, Current FNVW board member (Perry, 2001)

As someone heavily involved in the programs of FNVW, Joann can taste the power FNVW would have with lighthouses that could reach new places. Some people looking at FNVW from just outside of its walls have also helped the organization think through its goals about diversity. Betsy Raasch-Gilman is a Quaker and activist in Minnesota who has witnessed much of FNVW's history, but has not usually been closely involved in the organization. Betsy has also worked with other organizations as a consultant on anti-racism and diversity initiatives. In 1999, Besty wrote two articles for the FNVW newsletter, reflecting on diversity and FNVW.

When people talk about diversity at FNVW, I bet that they are pointing toward varying the hues of the skins, we can begin to avoid setting ourselves up for failure by thinking rather in terms of ethnic diversity. I'd like to start even one step further back from that, though, and say that diversity is diversity, actually. An organization or an individual cannot expect to do very well at valuing ethnic diversity if it does not value all kinds of diversity: diversity of opinion, diversity of experience, diversity of attitude, diversity of behavior.
(Raasch-Gilman, 1999, p. 1)

In addition to the deep valuing of diversity that Betsy and others point to, I would like to add another component that I see as necessary for a successful multicultural organization. I believe that actively working to undo racism and other forms of oppression--both inside and outside of the organization--is necessary for genuine multiculturalism. I don't think we can enter into authentic cross-cultural relationships, especially for organizations that have a majority of white participants, without working to change systems that discriminate against minority groups. If we have a desire to make friends across cultures, I think we also need to acknowledge the ways we benefit from unjust policies and practices in our society. I will explore some implications for including a commitment to anti-oppression work later in this paper.

How Multicultural Is Friends for a Non-Violent World? How Multicultural Should It Be?

On the surface and by the numbers, FNVW looks like this: There are three paid staff people, two white women, one African-American man. None of the three staff are Quaker, and the man is a Muslim. I believe that this is the first year that none of the paid staff have been Quakers. All the board members are white, which has been true for the past decade. About two-thirds of the board are Quakers. One member of the board is a former inmate.

FNVW's largest program, the Alternatives to Violence Project, takes place in prisons, high schools, and the community in general. In prisons and high schools, about half of the participants are people of color. Another major program is People Camp. About 95 percent of the People Camp participants and volunteers are white, and about one-third of them are Quaker. Anti-militarism programs tend to be almost all white, with a majority of Quaker participants and volunteers.

These numbers are guesses based on my own experience and based on interviews with those currently involved. I don't intend them as an objective or complete survey, just as one snapshot. I am also aware that the estimates focus primarily on race and the degree of Quaker involvement, and they could involve many other forms of difference.

Given that snapshot, I want to look at a couple dilemmas that decision makers at FNVW have struggled with in their quest for increased diversity. I think these organizational discussions shed some light on different visions for a successfully multicultural Friends for a Non-Violent World.

When one staff member, Emily Hughes, left her job early this year, her exiting reflections included a strong prompt for the organization to find more clarity about "how Quaker" it really is. Emily was passionate about helping FNVW's programs become more multiculturally competent--and also in helping the organization engage in more work that challenged oppression. One obstacle she saw in moving forward with multicultural alliances was confusion within the organization about the degree to which the organization was Quaker. Emily also wanted to challenge Quakers in general and question assumptions about the ways the Quaker community was defined. Emily saw Quaker bodies outside of FNVW also struggling with their own lack of diversity. Does Quaker automatically imply a white, educated, middle class, relatively homogenous culture? "Our concept of how narrow the Quaker culture is affects what it means to function as an explicitly Quaker organization. Is it the role of FNVW to help spur this conversation in the Quaker community?" (Hughes, 2001)

Largely in response to Emily's comments, the board of directors held a board/staff retreat to discuss this issue. I talked with Lenief Heimstead, the current executive director, about the results of the retreat. According to Lenief, the board was content to for the organization to be somewhat vague about how "Quakerly" the organization was. For instance, Lenief said that the board felt OK about telling different stories to different people about how Quaker the organization is. But, Lenief said:

The group decided that what DOES matter is Quaker VALUES - and that all who share those values are welcome to be part of FNVW's work. It was because of this perspective that the group felt that it doesn't matter so much if we say we are Quaker or not. We actually spent a fair amount of time during the retreat on two lists of values, those of our values that we think we exemplify now, and those of our values that we want to demonstrate to a greater degree. This was a fine exercise, but in the end it didn't address the core issue I wanted the retreat to deal with.
(Heimstead, 2001)

Lenief reported that the majority of the board was also satisfied with how diverse FNVW is. The mix of Quakers and non-Quakers on the board was one area of current diversity the board seemed happy with.

In many ways, FNVW reflects Quaker culture and norms. From my experience, Quakers in Minnesota are 98% white, primarily middle-class, have college education, listen to National Public Radio, dress in a certain way, consider themselves politically liberal, avoid direct expressions of anger, and often work in social service or education jobs. FNVW also reflects long-held Quaker values and religious beliefs, especially regarding what has traditionally been called the "peace testimony." Pieces of this Quaker identity are very important to many at FNVW, both Quakers and those who aren't Quakers, and some fear that increased diversity will challenge this identity.

Another current staff person, Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq, explained to me how"diversity might hurt the idea of how Quaker we are." Abdul-Hakim also said that more diversity might also help counter-balance some of the limitations of current organizational practices. For instance, Abdul-Hakim pointed out how some decisions seem to take forever in Quaker process. "Sometimes things don't get taken care of in a timely manner." Hakim imagines that some more non-Quakers could help move things along sometimes. But, Hakim said that the only people that seem interested in actively working for increased diversity seem to be the staff, a couple board members, and a handful of volunteers. Hakim pointed out a handful of volunteers that were helping FNVW build relationships with new communities, but said that it appears most people in FNVW didn't seem that interested in increased diversity. (As-Siddiq, 2001)

I think that Emily, Lenief, and Abdul-Hakim all share a concern that the organization sometimes sends a confusing, mixed message about FNVW's desire for diversity. A majority in the organization say that it would be nice to have more cultural perspectives represented throughout the organization, but there is a wide-spread hesitance to change the way things are done, and a reluctance to change the central, cultural identity of FNVW. I think staff have a concern that this message is sometimes dishonest and that the stated intentions don't match the actions.

I share many of the frustrations that current staff have about the organization's mixed message about diversity, and I also share a desire for FNVW to remain "Quaker" at its core. I think it is possible, although quite difficult, to articulate a clearer idea of the values and spirituality that are at the core of FNVW, and which are nonnegotiable. I think it is also possible to identify values and norms prevalent in the organization that are NOT essential, and could, over time, change. This is an ongoing task, which has often gone neglected in the organization's life. Because the majority of people in the organization already share a common worldview and culture, some people take for granted a collection of shared values. With the reality and the desire of more diversity in the organization, I think it is becoming increasingly important to assertively name what is at the center of the organization. For instance, a commitment to nonviolence as a way of life is essential to FNVW, however, the norm of indirect communication about anger is a habit that the organization has taken on, which does not need to remain. When what is at the center of FNVW is crisp, it is easier to stretch out from that center to include others, and also follow the lead of others.

In addition to the challenges of stretching the organization's cultural norms is the challenge of letting go of the comfort and self-satisfaction that comes from being a relatively isolated community. In continuing her use of the lighthouse metaphor, Joann Perry, expresses some of this challenge.

Part of the piece for me is that once people know we're here and that we are talking to them (and really want them), we expand our lighthouses. But also, the lighthouse that sends light only really wants to be recognized as the sender of the light--and that I think is where we really fall short. I think we can all see ourselves leading the pacifism movement but I don't think we are willing to make the internal changes which will be demanded of us if we allow others in. We (and me) can't stand the thought of our vision being remade, of our internal nature being changed, nor do I think we really recognize the value of it. We are afraid of what it might demand of us. So, I think FNVW (and Quakerism) is potentially internally limited. We have to work harder and in doing so, may well do violence to ourselves.
(Perry, 2001)

I think that Joann names a core paradox in FNVW's efforts at diversity. The acknowledgment that we "can't stand the thought of our vision being remade . . . nor do we really recognize the value of it" rings very true for me. We are afraid that if we allow in too much difference, we will lose what is unique and essential about us, both personally and organizationally.

Assuming FNVW (and all involved) could make that leap and get out there and become lighthouses in other communities (at the risk of losing the time to work in the FNVW community)--we would lose our boundaries and most of our definition and we may not be FNVW any more. I'm not sure I want that; but if we could do it, we could be the philosophers in the trenches, the mediators in times of peace, the lighthouse that welcomes people to the shore, instead of keeping the boats away from the edge. Hell, I don't know, but I still think that if we could really, really manage to burn ourselves inside out, we have the ideas, the people power, the potential and the skills to help remake this world in a much better image.
(Perry, 2001)

While I think Joann does an excellent job of describing this paradox, I don't think that very much in-depth discussion happens at FNVW about this struggle. I look forward to the times when FNVW (and I!) have the courage and wisdom to burn ourselves inside out in ways that move toward multiculturalism and also respect our own identity. My guess is that behind much of the complacency and resistance to diversity initiatives at FNVW, the paradoxes that Joann raises are lurking, waiting to be more fully addressed.

Racism, Oppression, and Untangling Messes

And then of course there's racism. White racism is the most substantial obstacle to achieving diversity along ethnic lines in any group. We European-Americans are used to having things our own way; we take it for granted that our ways of seeing things and doing things are the natural ways or the only ways or the best ways; we don't even realize how many advantages white supremacy gives us in society. We've got to get over our white racism and learn to live without white-skin privilege; that's our responsibility and nobody else's.
(Raasch-Gilman, 1999, p.1)

A few years ago, an FNVW board member was at a Quaker gathering, talking with another Quaker about FNVW's efforts to make more connections with people of color. After hearing about the efforts, the person responded by saying that it was too bad that people of color aren't very interested in peace and justice issues. I would guess that this person had been to some protests and involved with groups like FNVW, and had seen very few people of color at those events. I think this person demonstrated one of the ways people within FNVW can act and think in ways that perpetuate racism. The history of nonviolent action for justice was largely written by people of color: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, etc. The thousands of people of color in Minnesota working for affordable housing and fair wages might think that almost no white people are interested in peace and justice. Those of us that are working primarily in white activist organizations often can't see this.

As a historically white organization, FNVW has grown up with the privileges and obstacles of white racism. Many of us that are Quakers and those involved with FNVW often like to think of ourselves as a marginal people because of our non-mainstream politics and lifestyles. Ironically, sometimes this perception of being a minority ourselves blinds us to the way we use our white privilege to exclude and harm others.

On the other hand, there was the experience of my African-American friend who volunteered for FNVW. She received a warm welcome--a bit too warm, she said--and was told, "Oh, you can help us with outreach to the Black community." She felt both amused and offended: why did anyone believe that the color of her skin would automatically suit her for that job? And then there was my Lutheran European-American friend who served on FNVW's board for several years. In many ways she enjoyed the experience, and yet she quit because she felt there was too much Quaker in-talk, too much Quaker superiority and snootiness.
(Raasch-Gilman, 1999, p. 1)

The exclusion and cultural insensitivity that happens at FNVW is often mixed up with white privilege and racism. In the article, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," Peggy McIntosh makes a list of some of the unearned benefits people identified as white in the U.S. receive. One of these many privileges McIntosh lists is to "remain oblivious of language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion." (McIntosh, 1988, 3) White privilege has allowed FNVW to sometimes be a culturally insensitive and isolated place, without much discomfort.

In Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership, the authors discuss the ways white groups need to prepare themselves, in order to enter into multicultural partnerships, to accommodate for some of the blinders and biases of white privilege. They say that collaboration will only work:

 If serious efforts are made by the white groups to educate themselves about the worldview and conditions that are shared by members of the other groups,

 If whites educate each other about the dynamics of institutionalized racism,

 If whites refrain from telling the other group what to do,

 If whites remember to ask what form of support would be most helpful.
(Lakey, 1995, p. 169)

I imagine that it would be useful for FNVW to make stickers with this list on it and paste those stickers every place where white people in the organization are working. We need to stop asking where are they and why aren't they here? We need to ask where are we, and why aren't we there?

I think that to take racism and white privilege seriously would also mean questioning much of the content of FNVW's programs. For example, many of the workshops FNVW sponsors include time spent defining violence and exploring our options in responding to violence. In my interview with Emily Hughes, she described how she believes that the underlying belief in these workshops is that building an individual's self esteem is the most important thing in overcoming violence. One main message that comes across is that people can almost always pull themselves up by their bootstraps. While I believe there is a lot of truth to this theory, it largely ignores social context and systems of oppression that are also factors in violence. Emily has a passion for viewing violence through the lense of three main components--poverty, sexism, and racism. I am still seeking to see the complexity of the web that connects violence and oppression more clearly, and I know that white privilege obscures my vision.

To take the concern of racism and other forms of oppression seriously implies, to me, questioning how each program and activity FNVW does is complicit with or is undoing oppression. For example, by doing conflict resolution workshops in prisons, how is the organization complicit with the racism embedded in the U.S. criminal justice system? The complexity of questions such as these often give me headache, but I think this discomfort is something white privilege allows me to avoid.

In an article written for members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a peace organization with a similar mission to FNVW), Clayton Ramsey made an appeal to integrate oppression issues into peace movement activities:

For one thing, let's stop pretending that the broad issues of racial and class divisions are secondary to the purpose of our work. They aren't and racism isn't "their" issue. It's ours. The nonviolent faith&endash;based social change movement must struggle for a society free from racial, gender, and class oppression.
(Ramsey, p. 2)

In addition, Linda Stout asserts in Bridging the Class Divide that progressive organizations are better at including people of color and those that are oppressed if we work on the system, not just personal change. For people of color in the U.S., the confusion and complexity of injustice in the criminal justice system and most institutions is not something that can be escaped. I think becoming a multicultural peace organization means stepping into these unknown, messy places.

Multicultural in the Details

As Lenief Heimstead said when I talked with her, diversity is part of a bigger question at FNVW. Are we content to be interacting with the same groups we always have been? Or do we want to expand our reach? These questions are connected to how FNVW does everything. How do we do our fundraising? Who do we ask to walk in marches with us? Lenief used some examples to point to the momentum to keep organizing events the way they always have been in the past. The established pattern and the established social network takes less effort.

In my experience, most people involved with FNVW are overly busy, and find FNVW work often draining. Staff and volunteers don't have energy for stretching FNVW, just maintaining the status quo. I think this applies to most areas of organizational growth at FNVW, not just about diversity. The organization has been essentially the same size in staff, constituents, and volunteers for the past 20 years. Something about the organizational personality that developed seems to perpetuate this pattern.

Believing that this pattern exists, I also believe that many different kinds of stretches will be necessary to take FNVW to the next level of multicultural development. I think that honest discussions about ambivalence towards diversity and clarifying the vision the organization is moving toward might help raise the level of motivation for these stretches, but I don't think it will be easy. I also know that current staff are seeking to nudge the organization toward increased multicultural competence in small ways, based on their personal connections and commitments. Given that the overall ethnic diversity of Minnesota is quickly growing, I imagine some changes will also happen from that outside pressure. The increasingly active former inmates and youth already involved FNVW are also bringing energy to nudge FNVW to transformation.

In Bridging the Class Divide, Linda Stout describes several "invisible walls" that need to be stretched and moved in order for multicultural participation. Some of these walls include: language, accessibility of space, transportation, child care, and scheduling. (Stout, 1995, p. 117) Each of these items points to potentially dramatic changes for FNVW. If the organization was committed to welcoming low-income parents in events, child care would be a necessity. This would mean an increase in volunteer and money needs for each event. Most events now assume that participants and volunteers have their own vehicles to drive. If FNVW wanted to include people who don't drive, a van or bus to pick up people for events might be needed. Each of these changes would need a conscious investment of substantial organizational resources to make happen. I hope some of these changes do happen, but I can't imagine them coming into being unless a powerful and compelling vision of a multicultural FNVW was spread throughout the organization. At this point, I don't see a high enough motivation to make these investments.

Beyond the physical and logistical barriers to multicultural involvement, there are numerous attitudes and cultural norms that seem to unconsciously limit diverse participation. At FNVW's annual meeting a couple years ago, I made special arrangements for an inmate from the woman's prison to come out and make a presentation. While she was there, I was acutely aware of how the language other volunteers used contained many insider assumptions and jargon, which, I guessed, the woman from the prison wasn't familiar with. A couple days after the annual meeting, I found out the woman from the prison was shocked by the discussion of war tax resistance. She heard people advocating that laws be broken. I talked with this woman for a few minutes about some of the underlying values and motivations of the tax resisters, and she was able to appreciate where they were coming form. The language and cultural context was a barrier in that case, as it is in many others. As an organization , FNVW could seek to educate all volunteers and staff in cross-cultural skills. The man describing war tax resistance certainly had a desire to communicate clearly to people from different cultural backgrounds about the topic, but he probably hadn't had much coaching or practice in that. In Bridging the Class Divide, Linda Stout suggests including training on oppression and multicultural awareness at every gathering: annual meetings, board meetings, steering committees, etc. (Stout, 1995, p.103)

Of course, no organization will ever be able to educate people to the degree that miscommunication and cultural insensitivity never happens. Staff and volunteer leaders could begin modeling communication that assumes there is cultural difference in the group, and make it a point to check for misunderstandings and different reactions. Inviting openly-aired disagreement and conflict seems to be another critical step in increasing multicultural competence at FNVW. The current organizational norm of conflict avoidance tends to make cross-cultural learning a very slow process.

When FNVW started one its programs, the Alternatives to Violence Project, in the early 1990s, the organizers had the goal of including at least fifty percent people of color in every community workshop. For the first workshop, the organizers put in countless hours to make connections with communities of color and reach their goal of fifty percent, but ended up falling short of their goal. After a few more workshops, this goal seemed to mostly have been forgotten. It was seen as too difficult. Several other efforts to recruit more diverse participation in FNVW have been initiated, and shortly after not reaching their goals, staff and volunteers have given up. As previous sections of this paper suggest, a more useful short-term focus might be less on bringing "them" here, and more on seeking transformation for those of us that are here. Another intermediate step that has happened often in the past few years, is an increased emphasis on building relationships with a diverse group of organizations. This organizational relationship building may not yield increased diversity in next month's workshop, but it might have more positive, sustaining long-term results.

In considering how to become a more deeply multicultural organization, one option that FNVW could consider is laying down the organization. I have heard stories of one Quaker-related organization, Movement for a New Society, which went strong for about twenty years, always with the priority of being a diverse organization. In the late 1980s, that group soberly decided they did not have the capacity to become as multicultural as they wanted to be. Partly for that reason, they closed the organization, believing that each of their individual efforts could be better spent in groups with more multicultural roots. Maybe a careful dismantling of FNVW and redirectioning of some of those energies to groups more capable of effective multicultural peacemaking would be the wisest thing to do.

Where Is the hope?

Having suggested that the organization should consider folding, I also want to affirm that I have hope about many for the ways FNVW is already growing more multiculturally competent and powerful. For one thing, diversity and lack of diversity is being talked about and is on the table, and this is a step ahead of many organizations.

Several current staff and volunteers are consciously building personal and professional cross-cultural relationships that they hope will eventually be assets for FNVW. Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq has increased organizational connections with dozens of groups. Lenief Heimstead, the executive director is volunteering in an afterschool program, where she is usually the only European-American person there. Lenief has also joined a recently re-activated Racial and Economic Justice group of the local Fellowship of Reconciliation chapter, where they think through what a group of mostly white, middle-class people can do about racial justice.

A wide variety of self-education efforts have taken place in the past year. In the summer of 2000, about 30 people connected with FNVW went through an anti-racism training, which was focused on undoing organizational racism, particularly in one of FNVW's programs. In the past few years, the board of directors has taken large amounts of several board meetings to discuss articles about diversifying organizations. The board has also met with two different African-American men as advisors on diversity efforts. In the past year, a book discussion group has formed at FNVW to talk about issues of race. Lenief sees this as a way to keep the discussion about race moving, but from a new perspective. Four board and staff members attended a recent workshop on multicultural alliances.

In spite of the hard work and endurance needed, a handful of people in the organization continue to raise difficult questions about FNVW's goals and actions about diversity. I have hope that the leadership of these people will slowly spread throughout the organization. One board member, Maria Brown, described her vision as " coalition building with a wide diversity of community groups dedicated to peace as a realistic way to join from positions of strength and bring each of our strengths to the table." (Brown, 2001)

Maria also points out another hope: " I think including former prison folks into the community also has great possibility, I think. [A former inmate] is on the board now, and his voice helps keep us grounded on issues of power and powerlessness." (Brown, 2001) Former inmates on the staff, board, and among volunteers are bringing exciting energy to many parts of the organization.

Two years ago, when FNVW hired Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq, the hiring process seemed to include some long-term learnings for the organization. Both Maria Brown and Emily Hughes referred to this in their interviews. With leadership from Maria, we saw cross-cultural competence as a minimum standard that all applicants needed in order to be considered. As I talked about earlier in this paper, minorities have an automatic advantage because they have been forced to live a bicultural life in order to survive in the U.S. This helped us see cross-cultural abilities as central to what we were looking for--and to see it as integrated with all the other skills we were looking for. This hiring process seems to have affected hiring processes since that time, and hopefully will continue to do so in the future. The summer interns that have been hired in the past several years have culturally expanded the organization in several ways, including additional languages, ethnicities, and physical abilities.

Last year, the FNVW office moved into a new inner-city neighborhood in St. Paul. Since moving there, there have been several ways FNVW has connected with the diverse neighborhood around them. A staff, board members, and volunteers have been attending a neighborhood "pluralism circle."

I feel hope in the possibility of FNVW clearly claiming its own identity and roots. There is a rich Quaker history of social action, including powerful anti-racist efforts to end slavery and establish just relations with Native people. These historic partnerships and examples of how to be allies are still resources that can be used to build bridges today.

In her article on diversity at FNVW, Betsy Raasch-Gilman described a cross-cultural success story from several years ago, in the 1980s.

A few years later I went to see my city council representative . . . John Martinson [the FNVW director at that time] and I made the visit together. My city councilman, an African-American, greeted John with an enthusiastic hug. John had been the executive director of FNVW when FNVW participated in a sister-city project between St. Paul and Leviaakamp, South Africa. Obviously, if FNVW prioritizes the same issues as communities of color do, and doesn't insist on calling all the shots, relationships can blossom.
(Raasch-Gilman, 1999, 1)

I think that the principles that Betsy identifies from that situation have the potential to carry FNVW into a more powerful multicultural organization. If FNVW actively listens to the priorities of communities of color, doesn't feel a need to call all of the shots, and allows relationships to develop, great things could happen. Steps in this direction will continue to require some painful stretches and visionary leadership, but I know that the conviction and passion to make that happen already exists within Friends for a Non-Violent World. I have been honored to work and learn with this organization, and my cheers and prayers are with them as they move forward.



Anner, John, Editor. Beyond Identity Politics: Emerging Social Justice Movements in Communities of Color. Boston: South End Press. 1996.

As-Siddiq, Abdul-Hakim. Phone interview with Michael Bischoff. June 4, 2001.

Brown, Maria. Email interview with Michael Bischoff. June 4, 2001.

Chemers, Martin M.; Oskamp, Stuart; Costanzo, Mark, Editors. Diversity in Organizations: New Perspectives for a Changing Workplace. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. 1995.

Heimstead, Lenief. Phone interview with Michael Bischoff. June 4, 2001.

Hughes, Emily. Phone interview with Michael Bischoff. May 30, 2001.

Fine, Marlene. Building Successful Multicultural Organizations: Challenges and Opportunities. Westport, Connecticut: Quorum Books, 1995.

Kochman, Thomas. Black and White Styles in Conflict. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. . 1981.

Lakey, Berit; Lakey, George; Napier, Rod; Robinson, Janice. Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership: A Guide for Organizations in Changing Times. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers. 1995.

McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Corresponces Through Work in Women's Studies." Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College. 1988.

Perry, Joann. Email interview with Michael Bischoff. June 11, 2001.

Ramsey, Clayton. "Crossing Boundaries: Notes on Building a Democratic, Multicultural Peace Movement."

Raasch-Gilman, Betsy. "Consensus and Diversity: Part two of a series on diversity and FNVW." Friends for a Non-Violent World Newsletter. Fall 1999.

Raasch-Gilman, Betsy. "Diversity and Racism Within FNVW." Friends for a Non-Violent World Newsletter, Spring 1999.

Stout, Linda. Bridging the Class Divide: And Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing. Boston: Beacon Press. 1996.

Thomas, Roosevelt R.; Woodrfuff, Marjorie I. Building a House for Diversity. New York: American Management Association. 1999.

Return to Michael's index of papers