The impetus for WPCR came from a workshop on interracial friendships offered by Linda King (African American) and Jennifer Yanco (White) at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in 1999. Program staffer Tracy Gibbs asked them to speak on a panel on Racism in the Workplace, after which she urged Jennifer to develop a workshop on the topic of racism that would be primarily for White people. The first time WPCR was offered, 24 people enrolled: 22 Whites and two BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color).
WPCR soon became a co-facilitated workshop, as participants offered to help co-lead. A facilitator group formed and began to meet regularly to share challenges and resources, and to collectively agree on what became the workshop’s three “core elements:” awareness (of internal, interpersonal, and institutional racism), praxis (practice via role plays to build our muscle for speaking up), and action (committing to taking action in various spheres of our lives).
We also asked ourselves: was the workshop effective in helping people take action? With the aid of a grant from Haymarket People’s Fund, we surveyed all former participants. Our survey’s 62% response rate and comments from alumni showed that WPCR was making a difference, as summarized in our Spurred to Action report (2006).
For the first 13 years, WPCR was intentionally co-led by White facilitators, following the call by Malcolm X for White people to go out to their own communities to fight racism. In 2012, we moved toward becoming a multi-racial facilitator group when Stephen Pereira, of Cape Verdean heritage, joined us, followed by several BIPOC facilitators of various backgrounds.
A few years later, facing major trust and transparency issues, we realized we needed to intentionally center the experience and expertise of BIPOC colleagues. WPCR’s current leader Lavette Coney, who is of African descent, ensures that WPCR facilitators meet regularly to examine ourselves, advance our facilitation skills, and hold one another accountable for the racial equity actions we commit to in various spheres of our lives.
WPCR workshops have been offered in a wide range of venues in communities in the Boston area, including Arlington, Billerica, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Melrose, Newburyport, Newton, Roxbury, Wayland, and Wellesley, as well as in Maine, the New Hampshire seacoast, and Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s also been taught as a non-credit course at MIT, Wellesley College, Brandeis University, Tufts Experimental College, and Simons Rock (Bard).
To date, more than 1,500 people have taken the workshop and committed to taking a variety of racial equity actions. Please join the story by registering for a workshop, and help bring others along the journey by applying to become a co-facilitator.
While many of us regard ourselves as powerless, the fact is that all of us have some sphere of influence in which we can work for change, even if it's just in our own network of family and friends.