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  • Dara Ely, SWB

Moving Towards Liberation at Soccer Without Borders Maryland

Several of the Soccer Without Borders Maryland staff members recently completed a 10-month Moving Towards Liberation Cohort Learning Experience, facilitated by MENTOR Maryland | DC.


Soccer Without Borders was one of 10 Baltimore youth-serving organizations to participate in the virtual cohort, which ran from January - October 2021. SWB participants included Emily Sherman, Managing Director of Finance & Operations (formerly Maryland Program Director), Kat Sipes, Program Manager, and Ryan Gitonga, Program Coordinator.


The Moving Towards Liberation Cohort challenges organization leaders to examine themselves and organizational practices in order to create a roadmap that focuses on principles of race equity, anti-racism/anti-oppression, and ultimately liberation for the young people they serve.


In service towards Equity as an organizational core value all Soccer Without Borders programs have taken steps to elevate participant and alumni voices in programming decisions including, but not limited to, participation in staff interview processes, peer leadership, participant recruitment, and on- and off-field program development.


SWB Maryland is exploring new avenues for participant involvement such as a youth leadership panel, advisory board, increased attendance at events, and greater input in program design. The Cohort members will look to share their learnings and readings from the MTL program with all of their SWB colleagues.


Learn more about the SWB MTL Cohort members’ experiences:


What was something during the cohort that challenged you personally or changed the way you viewed things?


Ryan Gitonga: “Something I hadn’t considered was that in most nonprofit settings, it’s easy to not take into account the community you serve when it comes to decisions being made. It’s often geared more towards funders. SWB does a great job of that but it was eye-opening to consider that in order to do great work as a nonprofit, the people you are working with have to be part of the decision-making process.”


Emily Sherman: “One of the tools we used is an Anti-Racist Organizational Readiness Assessment and the four stages of an anti-racist organization. At SWB we found we were so close to the mark of being a multicultural and anti-racist organization with respect to programming and representation. Our biggest challenge going forward will be diversity of the foundations and funders we work with and knowing whether or not their values align with ours. That’s a big challenge for all non-profits.”


Kat Sipes: “Looking at the four stages of being an anti-racist organization, we’re anti-racist in some aspects and straddle the middle line in others. I thought about how deep racism is in our society, it’s not something that can be fixed in a week or a month. On a personal level it was challenging being vulnerable and talking honestly, but through the cohort process together it got easier to be honest and open about their organizations and personal experiences.”


How are you enacting what you learned during the Cohort within SWB?


Kat: “I’m having more open and ongoing conversations with our participants. Just naturally, so they know they can talk about racial equity in an inclusive space. A lot of what we talked about in sessions was being a youth-led, youth-focused organization and we are working on incorporating their voices.”


Emily: “There was a recurring refrain: ‘‘Nothing about us, without us,’ meaning if we are serving youth, we have to incorporate them in all aspects. We keep asking questions. How do we expose them to budgeting and fundraising in an equitable and helpful way? We’re trying to incorporate youth leaders. We do that through personal relationships, but how do we implement it and make them feel that SWB is theirs?”


Equity is at the centerpiece of our work at Soccer Without Borders. Can you talk about how this kind of learning fits into SWB’s work and mission and also your personal goals?


Ryan: “At the beginning of the Cohort we had a discussion about how the discomfort surrounding topics of race takes a toll, but doesn’t make the conversations any less worth having. When we have these conversations with our participants and other staff, the hesitation comes because it is uncomfortable, but embracing it is the only way we move forward and evaluate ourselves truthfully and honestly.”


Emily: “In one of the first sessions we talked about stated values versus lived values. All of the organizations were sharing their values and no one said equity, even though we were all there talking about how to be more equitable. I believe SWB is pretty well-aligned with what we say our values are and what anybody walking into our space would experience. I think when we added equity as a core value amidst this process it was poignant and well-timed. I credit Mary Connor and the DEI Committee because two years ago we weren’t having these conversations and now we are. There’s always more we can do, but we’ve come a long way and have spent time having these conversations. I was proud that we leaned more towards multicultural and anti-racist and less towards a white-led or token organization.”


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