How to Have Courageous Conversations on Racism in the Marketplace

Read Time: 3 minutes
By: Kaedyn Lashway

D. Michelle Thompson and Chuck Proudfit met with Stephanie and I (Kaedyn) to learn how they are addressing racism in the marketplace. Chuck is the founder and CEO of At Work on Purpose (AWOP) where they mobilize the work world for Christ. Through AWOP, Chuck met Michelle who is the founder and CEO of the consulting firm, Designed for Destiny. Michelle sits on the Executive Team at AWOP.

When the horrific death of George Floyd shook the nation, the AWOP team knew they needed to do something different to combat racism in the workplace. Led by Michelle, they chose to embark on a seven-week journey to “walk in the shoes” of an African American business partner, colleague, or friend.

Chuck says, “Like Christians all over the world, I’m grieving the racial injustice and social upheaval we’re experiencing in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death.  For our At Work on Purpose ministry, we’re tackling this difficulty as an opportunity, launching an ongoing initiative called Courageous Conversations. We’re pairing a Caucasian and an African American together, walking through a series of tough talks about the why, what, and how underneath the systems that perpetuate racial inequality. For me, this experience has been both wrenching and wonderful, stretching me significantly as I ponder the choices and changes that I pray will emerge from Courageous Conversations.”

AWOP’s goal through Courageous Conversations is to be living examples of Jesus’ prayer, “that all of them may be one” (John 17:21). They are striving to fulfill the biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

There are two Courageous Conversations taking place within AWOP. The first is through the AWOP network and the second is with the Executive Team of AWOP. Courageous Conversations can be described as, “humbly learning how to shift your mind, heart, and even company culture from being color blind to color brave.” When we are color blind, we turn a blind eye to the prejudices we hold and the injustices that people of color face. When we are color brave, we speak up and courageously embrace conversations about race.

Michelle walked us through the first session of Courageous Conversations. She first addresses the biases that we have and helps to reveal those through a sermon by Pastor Miles McPherson.

Michelle says, “Courageous Conversations is not just a diversity and inclusion statement, but a journey of tearing down biases through behavior.”

She then walked us through three steps that are vital for Courageous Conversations:

Step #1 – Seek Up: Before Courageous Conversations, participants must pray, fast, and self-reflect with God. In this step, it is important to become aware of our beliefs, behaviors, and biases. Awareness is needed to truly love your neighbor of another race.

Step #2 – Study Up: The second step must also take place before Courageous Conversations. Michelle asks that everyone first study up on the Word of God. She encourages participants to go to Scripture to learn how we should respond to racism with unity, love, and justice. We should then research or learn from other sources and ask trusted peers for recommended books, articles, and videos. Finally, participants are asked to share their heart with trusted peers and why they are engaging in these conversations.

Step #3 – Speak Up: Participants begin Courageous Conversations where they ask questions, confess, pray, and share. Drawing from Michelle’s inspiration on Esther 4:14, participants repent of implicit bias, unconscious racism, conscious racism, unforgiveness towards another race, and more.

After this presentation, Michelle explained the expectation of participants is to meet with their partnered peer every week for seven to eight weeks to go over the weekly discussion questions. A part of the discussion is to talk about the “Seven Mountains of Culture” and how current and past systemic oppression and biases impact the African American community in each mountain. They should leave their time with an actionable idea on how to reflect Christ’s prayer for us to be “One,” specifically in the workplace.

What’s Next?

AWOP kicked off Courageous Conversations in July and plan on having opportunities to come together as a group throughout their seven-week journey.

Michelle will be speaking at the Goering Center Lift Conference on Friday, October 8th on diversity and inclusion. She will be speaking to a diverse audience with different backgrounds. Michelle is eager to bring this model to the marketplace for any person willing to have courageous conversations on racism in our world today.

Testimonials from Courageous Conversations

Here are a few quotes from participants:

  • “These ‘safe discussions’ are hard to hear but needed so we can find ways to make lasting changes in our workplaces.” Dean of Diversity, Private School District, Los Angeles, California
  • “I’m starting think about how I respond to people of another race from a place of real understanding.” Marketing Leader, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • “Wow…I didn’t expect to leave so convicted about my own negative narratives about Caucasian.” Policy Analyst, City Planning/Development Council, Atlanta, Georgia

If you want to connect with Michelle or learn more about Courageous Conversations, you can contact her through her website.

If you want to connect with Chuck or learn more about At Work on Purpose, you can contact him through AWOP’s website.


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