Monique Liston's four-part Dignity Capacity Building workshop series starts Thursday, November 3, 2016, 8–10AM. Learn more and register here.
People and organizations can have the best of intentions, but creating equity requires something more deliberate, says Monique Liston.
It’s really all about treating people with dignity and making that treatment a priority.
Monique has developed a workshop series that focuses on increasing the capacity of organizations to put dignity at the center. The series will be presented in its entirety for the first time at NPC, with the first of four Thursday sessions set for Nov. 3. The series is offered as part of NPC’s Boys and Men of Color Initiative. It’s also in keeping with the My Brother’s Keeper initiative launched by President Obama.
“This is my research,” says Monique, now a Ph.D. candidate with the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “I developed the series to help organizations understand the concept of dignity and the process of achieving it, and I place a lot of emphasis on black males in particular,” she says. Born and raised in Milwaukee, she earlier earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s in public administration from the University of Delaware.
The four two-hour sessions for nonprofit leaders will focus on:
- Understanding their organization’s “social and political space” and how to shape the context for success.
- Developing shared language and concepts on how dignity relates to a person’s sense of worth “among the worthiness of others.”
- How to conduct a Dignity Audit to review how the organization functions and the ways dignity “may be affirmed or denied by clients or program participants.”
- How to reflect on racial equity issues and create “a dignity-based strategy to improve the organization’s work to address racial equity.”
One of the most important aspects of all this is having a shared framework to talk about dignity means—and how to challenge situations in which people are not being treated with dignity. Throughout her research, Monique has found that people working within the sector understand how others treat clients with dignity through the use of language.
“I call that Dignity Talk,” Monique says.
“It resonates,” she says. “I continue to get people who say how much this resonates with their personal experiences. They say, ‘You’re giving me language for something I didn’t have the words to talk about.’ ”
Some of the moments aren’t about their experiences but a realization of how words or actions have impacted others.
“The people who work with youth have so much to consider in caring for young people, including in school experiences,” she says. “We need to think about how young people’s dignity is diminished in everyday life. It can make a real difference to a person of color, a girl or a boy, to feel that they are not as capable.”
Monique offers one example from her own experience. It happened in graduate school as she was considering whether to do the traditional paper or try the more challenging route of producing a thesis.
“I really wanted to do a thesis,” she remembers.
Instead, a professor told her that probably wasn’t a good idea.
“I think that might be a little bit outside your reach,” he said.
“He barely knew me and said that,” she says.
The words shook her confidence and prompted her to take the safer, traditional route, something that still stings in memory.
“Are we saying these things to young fathers? To formerly incarcerated people? To young people whose grades aren’t on track? How important are the words that we say? Do they limit someone’s potential or are they helpful?” she asks. “I talk about the dignity of the pursuit of excellence.”
She hopes the workshops give people and organizations a framework for both equity and excellence.
“People should walk away feeling challenged,” Monique says. “It’s in our everyday conversations inside and outside of the workplace that we see if we are really doing the work of understanding dignity.”