Cheryl Ingram, Diverse City
Cheryl Ingram, PhD, CEO and Founder of Diverse City wants you to “WAKE THE FUCK UP!”
Cheryl has spent her entire adult life since she arrived at the New Mexico State University (NMSU), the first person in her lineage to do so, fighting against the injustices she has not only seen, but felt.
As she see's it, we Seattlelites, we may think we are progressive because we talk about diversity, but that's not enough. It may make us feel good, make us think that we make a difference, but if we don't go beyond conversation then we are never going to be able to create outcomes and equity.
To create equity, as Cheryl see's it, is first through diversity. “You take all these different identities and actually include them, instead of creating standards for what it is that they should think, breathe, act, speak, dress, whatever in the workplace. And then equity means you have to start to pay more attention to your outcomes, because if you see women still make 30% less in this state on average in salary vs a male identified person and you haven't even considered those who are gender neutral. That is equity. You need to start to find a way to measure what it is you are doing or are not doing, and then you create solutions in order to fix that. That's equity.”
Equity is what Cheryl is tirelessly creating with her year old business, Diverse City LLC. She will go into your company, non-profit, school or basically everywhere, because everywhere is where she is needed, and create a diversity audit. An audit in which she will investigate, analyze and observe the situation, then create and help rebuild structures that can be implemented to support students or employees who come from different backgrounds and different identities.
Cheryl does this well, because ever since she was in kindergarten she has questioned why things are the way they are. When she was 9 years old, her mother took her to a black history book store and for the first time she saw people that looked like her in books, that weren't bound in chains. Her mother challenged her to think differently about how a hero or heroine might look; to realize that the world might not be exactly how you see it, to encourage her to challenge those beliefs, to make her own view.
Cheryl's life story is peppered with mentors, teachers and trust in her own intuition. Originally when she entered college, she had planned to go into computer science because of her love for math and sciences. But thanks to the first class in her life that she was unable to pass, Chemistry, and an adviser she shockingly didn't question, she switched to communications and entered into the world of social justice.
During summers, Cheryl worked at the Boys & Girls Club teaching kids math, science and history utilizing non-traditional methods so they thought they were having fun. While back at school, during both her undergraduate and graduate program, she worked in the Department of Black Studies, a multicultural program within the college and in the same hub with the programs for American Indians, Chicano's and Students with Disabilities and it was here that she saw so much discrimination across the board. “I was mentoring freshmen and sophomores and I saw so many kids being pushed out, stopped out (where the student makes the choice to stop college with the intention of coming back) or dropped out.”
Here she discovered that blackness wasn't the only thing that experienced discrimination. “Then came on all these other -ism's and I realized, it's not just us that's suffering, it's so many other people in the world.” Around this time, she also heard some horrendous stories told by LGBTQ+ youth and “it turned on a whole other light for me.... I experienced an extreme amount of empathy and pain for this population, it turned my lens and made me realize, if I'm going to fight I need to make sure I'm fighting for all people who suffer and not just people who look like me. Though that's important to me and the lane that I live in, it's not the only lane I want to drive in.”
With her masters in hand, she headed to Chicago with the intention of getting her doctorate at DePaul and hit bottom. She was willing to work anywhere – she applied to grocery stores, fitness centers, hustled downtown but found she was still struggling just to eat. Finding that she was denied to their doctoral program, no car, no money, she packed up everything she could in a bag, asked her brother to send her money, and took the Greyhound home to Nebraska.
There she is, with her masters, moving in with her mom, sharing a bedroom with her sister in one of the most humbling and humiliating moments of her life.
So she returned to the Boys & Girls Club, this time as their Educational Director, where she quickly moved up as a Unit Director. When her old mentor called her up and asked her to come back to NMSU for her doctorate.
Her application sent and accepted, off she went, this time to write her dissertation on what does discrimination look like in higher education.
Back working in the Department of Black Programs following 9 black students who came from very different walks of life; those who knew homelessness and sleeping on peoples porches, to the wealthy who attended private school, LGBTQ+, male, female, all these different intersections and she started to see different patterns, but also similarities that students faced in higher education depending on how they identified, or how others identified them. “During my dissertation I started doing lots of research as to how do you fix institutions when it comes to discrimination. And I left higher education with the mission that I would never work full-time in higher education again after all the shit I had seen and all the research I had done. I was like 'this is how you need to fix this institution, why aren't people (educators or administrators) doing it?'”
After a stint with the Americorps Vista, she landed as Director of Education with Year UP, a non-profit that placed diverse students into internships within large corporations.
Here again, she saw the exact same discrimination she witnessed in higher education, all over again in the corporate model. And though she knew she was doing good work, in her heart she knew she was meant to do something bigger.
So she quit her job and Diverse City was born. Since then, she has also launched a second company, a software platform called DAPE – a diversity and inclusion performance engager that she is currently raising funds for. DAPE is a tool that will centralize the process of her diversity audits, so that she won't need to recreate the wheel each time.
“My goal.. No. My legacy, will be ending discrimination in the work place and in the educational system and there will be no ifs, ands, or buts about that.”
Every morning, Cheryl looks at a little plaque her friend gave her that says:
Find your voice
Do the right thing
Make a difference
Find a way
Cheryl is definitely finding her way, as CEO of her own business that has exceeded their goals within the first year and where she has witnessed suspension rates and drop outs decline due to Diverse City.
Also, as a teacher at Shoreline Community College, where she teaches her students to do what she does: “1st module of the class is to identify as many fucking issues as we can in discrimination and how they apply to you. 2nd half of the class, I'm going to teach you how to change that. I'm going to give you strategies for how to network, how to negotiate, how to create a movement, how to put it into action and how to measure the outcome. Change happens when I not only teach you there is an issue. But I teach you how to solve it.”
I think we can all take a page from this lesson. It's not enough to have the conversation, we have to figure out how to fucking solve the problem.
And in order to solve the problem, we have to consistently remember that “there is symbolic violence that exists in silence. There is a huge level of violence in neutralism. Human beings have to understand that if you are not advocating or being an ally for those who are suffering because they are not like you, you are a part of the problem. There is violence in your silence. And if you sit by and judge people for mistreating others, but you do nothing, then you are exactly what it is that you judge.”
Right now the world needs us all to be fearless, find our voice, do the right thing, make a difference and find a way.