The DEIJ Meetup’s Season Starts Off Addressing DEI Fatigue & Burnout
by Brittany Gail Thomas, Esq., NAPD DEIJ Coordinator and Charles M. Fox, Jr., M.A.P.P., Guest Speaker
On January 24th, the DEIJ Meetup held its first meetup of 2024. In true DEIJ Meetup fashion, NAPD members poured in one by one bringing the energy needed for us to have a brave and inclusive space. This meetup is all about dealing with the hard issues and speaking truth about how we deal with those issues and our guest speaker, Charles M. Fox, Jr., M.A.P.P., fit right in. The topic – a real conversation about the burnout and burden of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work.
Charles (he/him) is an authentic and experienced DEIJ professional. He works as the Director of Diversity & Development for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, Inc, (Long Island, New York). He has developed training, inclusive programs and strategies in recruitment and hiring to promote equity within and outside of the organization. His work is centered on facilitating critical conversations focused on innovative approaches to fostering impactful diversity in the public defense space and the importance of fostering an inclusive and equitable environment as well as addressing lingering disparities and unconscious bias in the criminal justice system.
True to his reputation, Charles came right in and got to work. Understanding the space and honoring the expertise in it, Charles spoke with members as colleagues in the field over, ready to put in the work. Using a thorough PowerPoint presentation, Charles walked us through the past rise and current decline of DEIB work. Charles educated us that, just 3 months after the George Floyd murder, DEIB job opportunities increased by 123% . Now there’s a 40% plus decline in opportunities in the field. Charles further discussed how the importance of this work is ever present but the current gestures are mostly performative. But, as Charles indicated, “performative gestures don’t move the needle.”
Challenging us along the way, Charles also reminded us that while DEIB burnout and fatigue is real, we must remember the oppressed. He reminded us that we must remember the lived experiences of both our clients and colleagues who are systematically oppressed. He reminded us to not only say we’re doing the work, but to put in the work. The work is under attack for a reason, we must not relent!
We discussed the need for demonstrated support and backing from public defense leadership in order to successfully implement DEIB work and affect change. We explored free DEIB labor and we talked about the challenges that come with dealing with the racist, discriminatory, and downright unbelievable comments and actions from our colleagues. Charles encouraged us to call people in, instead of out, to foster a space for change while also holding our colleagues accountable and reminding them that they need to do the work.
“In the past four years since the murder of George Floyd (among countless others), we’ve all heard so much about DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion). We’ve attended sessions focused on learning concepts relating to equity, inclusion, unconscious bias, antiracism, etc. Our conversations have largely focused on defining key concepts and opening up dialogue. This has left many wondering: “So, what now?” Stated simply, “DEI fatigue” encompasses the very tangible feelings of exhaustion, isolation, frustration, and (sometimes) skepticism around driving more diverse, inclusive, and equitable criminal legal system organizational settings.
This DEIJ meetup sought to address how we can move forward in a meaningful way to revitalize our DEI efforts, combat fatigue, and drive lasting and positive change on the DEI front in an arena where bias and inequity are most damaging: the criminal justice system. We discussed strategies to confront apprehension about DEI work, the backlash to “wokeness,”dealing with microaggressions and outright bias in the courthouse and more. Additionally, we discussed how we can support (through time and resources) DEI infrastructure in public defense, allay resentment towards “social justice,” and other DEI related initiatives. Ultimately, the conversation was geared towards re-centering the DEI discussion where it was intended and where it’s needed most, on the people and communities most negatively impacted by exclusion, inequity and lack of representation. We shared ideas, best practices, experiences, perspectives and outlooks in a collective effort to inject fresh life back into the crucial DEI discussions happening across the country.
Lately, we have heard so much about the backlash to DEI, the roll back of programs, laws enacted to degrade DEI programs, the use of “DEI” as a pejorative term, the SCOTUS decision around race considerations in college admissions, etc. We must continue to, as be committed to embedding DEI into the DNA of our organizational missions if we are to make meaningful, lasting and equitable progress. To put it plainly, DEI is under attack and we mustn’t give in to the very perspectives and practices that necessitate the need for DEI to exist in the first place.”
NAPD Members’ Take:
“Attending the DEIJ meeting with guest speaker Charles M. Fox, Jr. was truly enriching. His discussion on the burnout experienced by DEI professionals resonated deeply with me, highlighting the overwhelming nature of this important work. Despite the fatigue that accompanies it, I am dedicated to my belief in its necessity. As practitioners in this field, we must acknowledge that our endeavors are built upon the foundational contributions of esteemed predecessors, whose insights and advancements have paved the way for our current endeavors.” – Lydia Schildt, Training Specialist at the Office of the State Public Defender, Montana
“Charles Fox’s presentation was right on time and much needed. Authentic, honest, and a reminder you can better care for others by first caring for yourself.” – Rachel Lindley, MS, CDP, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Maryland Office of the Public Defender
We are eternally thankful to Charles for his timely, insightful, and real presentation that informed and empowered us! Hear from Charles again during the Forgot About DEI panel at the RISE. RESIST. REPRESENT. Conference on March 15, 2024 at 12:15 p.m.
This was a good one! You don’t wanna miss the next one.
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We look forward to seeing you at the next DEIJ Meetup on February 28, 2024 at 1 p.m. (est) / 12 p.m. (cst) / 11 a.m. (mt) / 10 a.m. (pst).