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Doing Equity Work As A Marginalized Changemaker With Cory Ervin-Stewart

What does it take to maintain confidence and resilience while engaging in equity work? How can self-grace and allyship help underrepresented changemakers? 

In Episode 122, Cory Ervin-Stewart, Founder and CEO of Stewart Consulting and Management, LLC, joins Melinda in a candid conversation on navigating the challenges of equity work as a marginalized changemaker. They share personal insights from their experiences in interracial relationships and discuss the importance of self-reflection and self-care practices to address the harmful effects of marginalization. They also explore ways allies can support and advocate for individuals engaged in equity work.

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I have a lot of individuals that consider themselves allies but they also think that the fact that they consider themselves allies, therefore they take up a lot of space. So… when wanting to support individuals doing theory of change and equity and equality-based work, listen. Question the practice, don’t question the people because that perpetuates the harm…. Active listening, and not personalizing the individual but deconstructing the practice, is really important…; those will have very long-term effects on helping us get to a place where we can be more comfortable talking about what really needs to be done to create a sense of safety and equity.
Guest Speaker

Cory Ervin-Stewart

DEI Consultant, Workshop Facilitator at Empovia
Founder and CEO of Stewart Consulting and Management

As a coach, facilitator, and consultant, Cory designs and leads transformative change efforts for individuals and organizations. She is a successful social impact leader whose specialty areas include diversity, equity, and inclusion; racial justice; deconstructing and addressing bias; fundraising; effective team building; business development; project management; and strategic planning.

She is a trusted voice amongst nonprofits, community-based organizations, and Fortune 500 companies and has helped numerous businesses design and integrate successful culturally competent business models and high-performing teams. Cory is motivated to drive positive culture change and inclusive environments that lead to a more just world for all! With a sincere desire to level the playing field, she is also an active volunteer and mentor within her community.

Cory is the founder of Stewart Consulting & Management, where she helps organizations and businesses adopt socially just practices that improve internal health and advance external results. She also serves on a variety of Boards of Directors for organizations addressing the intersection of race, gender, and class.

Learn more about the host and creator of Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Melinda Briana Epler.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Empovia, formally Change Catalyst. I’m also the author of How to Be an Ally, and your host for this show. 


What is allyship? Allyship is empathy in action. We learn what people are uniquely experiencing, we show empathy for their experience, and we take action. As a part of that process, we learn and unlearn and relearn. We work to avoid unintentionally harming people with our words and actions. We advocate for people, and we lead the change on our teams, in our organizations, and across our communities. 


In this episode, you’ll learn tangible actionable steps that you can take to lead the change to be a more inclusive leader, no matter what your role is. Want to learn more? Visit Empovia.co to check out more of my work. 


All right, let’s get started. 


Welcome, everyone. Today, our guest is Cory Ervin-Stewart. She is a member of our Empovia team, we facilitate inclusive leadership trainings together. She’s also the Founder and CEO of Stewart Consulting and Management LLC. I will say, I’ve learned so much from her as we’ve worked together over the last year. I’m really excited to have this conversation today. 


So welcome, Cory.


CORY: Thank you, Melinda. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited about our conversation today as well.


MELINDA: Awesome! So today, we’re going to talk about doing the work of change as a person who has been systemically and historically marginalized. The process of practicing self-grace along the way, building empathy, keeping your confidence, even when maybe you have to prove yourself again and again while doing the work, and also navigating the space and interracial relationships as well. Then lastly, we’ll talk about what it’s really like to do this work when your identity is questioned, whether or not you’re considered somebody who is marginalized enough. So we’re going to have some real conversations. 


CORY: Yay!


MELINDA: Yes, awesome! So the first thing we do, as you know, is we talk about your story. So can you share a bit about your own story? Where did you start? What was your path to get to where you are today?


CORY: Yeah, thank you. So I am originally from the state of Utah, and I grew up, for anyone that’s unfamiliar with the state, it leans very conservative. Over the years, it’s transitioned more. But it’s also very historically White. My family got there by way of Union Pacific and kept the roots, moving from Texas, into Utah, where they were dealing with much more overt racism, and moving to Utah where it was much more institutionalized. So my upbringing was pretty sheltered. But my mother did a really wonderful job of making sure that I was exposed to a variety of different cultures, whether that be within the state or outside of the state, which helped to nourish my curiosity. Most of the individuals that are in my family, and close family members, as I would call them, are in social service work. So I got exposed to that pretty early on. Just being the youngest of three girls, hearing the obstacles of them and my mother navigating their educational and workspaces, really added to my sense of curiosity. 


So I did some studying, both in undergrad and in grad school, focusing on the psychology around how people navigate the world, and looking at gender and race politics, and then tickled my toe in the nonprofit sector, and really enjoyed my time in it. I think that it provided a really good foundation for feeling like I was doing something around the theory of change work that I think my heart was calling for. But as I navigated, even though I got into positions of C-suite and seniority positions, there was always a need for validation of other individuals to secure, whether it be programmatic wins or philanthropic wins around fundraising. So I had a little bit of a coming to a crossroads moment in my career about 11 to 12 years ago, where I really thought that I could do more good by telling my story, and having more discussions around the fact that you can have really good intentions, but still create space for negative impacts that create a lot of harm. That’s brought me to my path of doing DEI-centric work, around creating a space to name that we’re all navigating those waters of White supremacy culture, but we can do something about it.


MELINDA: Awesome! So I was going to ask you, and maybe you can share more detail, why did you start doing equity and inclusion work in particular?


CORY: In particular, it was really driven from a space of feeling like I on paper was very successful, but constantly questioning myself, because of my interactions with individuals. For instance, I was really taken aback by the fact that I have secured millions of dollars in philanthropic efforts, to support a multitude of both international and domestic nonprofits. But yet, I would run into individuals that would either seek wanting to have validation either from a man or from a White colleague. It was never overt; it was always an invitation to invite these individuals into these closing meetings. Earlier on, I just questioned myself and wondered if it was something that I was doing, or something that I wasn’t doing. Then really just sat with it, I am a big believer in self-reflection practices, and really coming to the conclusion that it was not about me. It was about them and their perceptions, and realizing if I was experiencing it, that other individuals were experiencing it too. So what could I do to break open that phenomenon and have some impact on hopefully changing that trajectory, or at least giving people the space to feel like they could bring it up. Because so oftentimes, I felt like I just sucked it up, and the detriment was that it just kept picking up my competence, which then was a cycle of when your competence is affected, then sometimes your performance is affected. So I felt like I was indirectly perpetuating the stereotype that they thought that I was in the first place, and I was not okay with that.


MELINDA: Yeah, I have felt that. I get that. I think that’s a really, really important point that I think a lot of people who don’t experience marginalization don’t understand, is that when you’re told repeatedly that you’re not good enough, when your experience is questioned regularly, when you constantly need validation from a colleague to show, that all of that can eat away at your confidence and can start to make you do the work differently, as a result, and show up different reason. Yeah, absolutely.


CORY: There is a little bit of that that’s associated with the fact that, as I had mentioned, growing up in a space that was very conservative and very White, that somehow unconsciously, I became this palatable person, or palatable other that made other people feel comfortable, as opposed to what it was doing to me. So for instance, if I felt like I had an opinion, and I really wanted to express it, if I felt like I was in a place that wasn’t psychologically safe to do so, that it was going to have more harm in perpetuating those stereotypes, I wouldn’t speak up. Even though I knew that there was validation, in my opinion, and oftentimes, I was an expert in it because of the lived experience. I just started feeling like, eventually, you look at yourself, and you come to this crossroads of, “Am I going to just exist in this water? Or am I going to do something about it?” Because ultimately, all I was doing was burning bridges, because I was complaining about it to anybody that would listen to me, and not really being a part of the solution. I’m a big believer in if it’s something that I can do to change, then I’m going to at least try. But for some reason, because it felt so close to home and there was so much pain associated with it, I was just letting it happen to me.


It’s interesting. Because when you talk to people about abusive relationships, it’s very easy for me to understand the psychology of individuals that are in a domestic violence relationship, and the cycle of justification, and not realizing that I was applying a lot of those tools for maintaining that abuse applies to this as well. By no means am I saying that or trying to downplay a physically violent relationship. But abuse in itself has harm that shows up in a multitude of ways. I think once I had that epiphany, that it actually was a form of abuse, that it wasn’t the downplaying of calling it a microaggression, which makes it sound like it’s small, I felt a sense of freedom around it. It’s still in practice, still a work in progress.


MELINDA: Yeah. So maybe we can talk and we can go deeper into that. Many people who are doing the work that we do, the equity work and the inclusion work, are marginalized and come from different backgrounds that are underrepresented. I’ve shared my own story here on the show, as a White woman, from the LGBTQI+ community with hidden disabilities, the ways that I have experienced marginalization myself. First off, this work is hard, and we have talked about that in a couple of different episodes too. The changing behaviors and cultures is difficult work on its own. It can be challenging, and there can be some real toxicity involved as people are still on their learning journey. So all of us experience that toxicity from time to time, which can bring up all the past experiences we might have had and trigger some things there. It’s some emotional work as well. I’m so questioned about my own expertise, despite decades of it. So I know you’ve shared with me some of your experience, as a Black woman doing equity work. Maybe you can share a little bit more about the experiences that you do have, what are some of those?


CORY: Yeah, thank you for talking about how much work goes into it and how it’s ever-evolving. I feel like there are some skill sets that you can do the work and you’re considered an expert, and you have the certifications behind your name, and therefore you’re not questioned anymore. But there’s so much emotion associated with deconstructing patriarchy and White supremacy, that I feel like no matter how much you have lived experience and how much you do the educational path work, there are still going to be individuals that question you. Some of it is associated with the ever-evolving role of identity politics, but some of it is just associated with a population of people that are still struggling with finding value in this work. 


For me, there are instances where the imposter syndrome is coming up, because I’m in spaces where I’m othered, because I’m in a room of individuals that don’t identify as people of color. But I also experienced it in rooms where I am with other individuals that see themselves as people of color, that don’t feel like I am enough. Some of that is associated with where I grew up, and also the fact that I am in an interracial relationship. My husband of 15+ years is a White man, that has afforded me an amazing opportunity to really have intimate conversations around positions of privilege, that otherwise I wouldn’t have been afforded. I try to incorporate that into my practice. But it’s still questions, that somehow, I’m not enough. Some of the points that come up associated with that are the positionality of privilege that I have by being in a relationship with someone that’s White, by having White family members, etc. 


There is some truth to that. There is some positionality of privilege. But there’s also positionality of privilege associated with beauty politics, with region, with voice. I remember particularly having a communications class in undergrad, where the professor would constantly use me in examples because of my voice. He said that I had newscaster voice, that you can’t really tell the region that I’m from, and if you weren’t able to see me on camera visually, you wouldn’t know what race I was. He took that as a compliment; he was complimenting me. Again, it was just another dig at: “Okay, so you’re saying that I’m not enough.” That still comes up today. Like I said, when I’m in groups, particularly with women of color, that are either not multicultural in their bloodline, or in interracial relationships. It’s not something that I hide, because I think that it adds to the way that I facilitate. I think that that’s important. But it definitely creates additional obstacles in terms of me having to validate myself a little bit more before individuals who are no longer just tilting their heads like: “Oh, really?” So it creates a little bit of an obstacle.


MELINDA: Yeah, and you and I have had conversations about our interracial relationships in the past. As a White woman married to a Black man, we have also have that privilege of talking about race and racism and sexism in a different way. Because neither of us is a White man, and I am White, and he’s Black. So the way that people treat us, it depends on whether or not they have biases around gender, whether or not they have biases around race, or both, and we both get it. That comes from even just walking into a restaurant and who people talk to first or who waiter talks to, or whatever, all the way through to our work; we work together too, so it happens in our work as well. In White communities, when I talk about my husband and people learn that he is Black, I can tell very quickly who’s racist in that conversation, because then they usually. In a Black company too, when people learn, there’s an interesting, and I think there are multiple dynamics that happen. A lot of people think: “Oh, well, at least she understands to some degree in a different way.” Other people are like, maybe not. So those interracial and intercultural relations make a big difference. 


I think that people in interracial relationships that talk about it regularly, also experience the world differently, and see race differently as a result. I think we have this this privilege that we bring to this work as a result of that; we see things that other people might not see, and know things other people might not know. 


CORY: I noticed that when I travel internationally and I’m with my husband, the places in which it opens up doors, versus when it’s a hindrance. I feel like there’s a part of me that wants to do a whole case study on this, when I have that desired free time, on how much the intersection of race and gender play into how I’m treated differently when I’m with him in the US, versus when I’m in other countries that may also subscribe to a higher level of patriarchy. I clearly remember, I had this Proud Mama Bear moment where my husband saw it before I did. We were in Rome. I think that I just sometimes get desensitized by: “Oh yeah, we’re going to experience something,” and just chalk it up to getting through it, unless it’s extremely egregious. Because I also am a big firm believer in how much time I invest in calling in behaviors, honestly if I don’t think that they’re worth it, if it’s fleeting. Because it is an energy drain, and I’m not able to compartmentalize it anymore, so it continues to affect. So I think that I kind of go in a little bit with armor. 


Like I mentioned, we were in Rome, and the concierge at the hotel, I had done the reservation, it was under my name. My name is Cory. Oftentimes, people think of it as a very androgynous name, so they think that it’s male. So they were just dealing with my husband, even though I was standing right there next to him and pulling up my ID and my card and all of the things to try to navigate the transaction. The gentleman put his hand up and was like, “I’m going to stop you right now, and I’m going to talk to this gentleman first.” So A, was dismissive. B, I don’t understand how he didn’t put us together. I understand that sometimes people stand close to each other, but you could tell we were together. I just was probably jet-lagged and tired, and was like, “Okay, he can just handle this.” But it was my husband that was quick to be like, “Actually, no,” and called in the behavior. I was super proud. I was like, aww! 


It’s a great feeling. Because obviously I know that he is an ally and he will constantly do anything that he can do to be a partner and be supportive and protective, but also knowing that his radar is up. Because he always looks much more calm and relaxed when we travel, and I’m always waiting for the opportunity to have to embracing myself. I felt so good about it, and I felt so seen in that, throughout the years of having to have these conversations. Actually not even having to have, wanting to happen, just so that we could understand our dynamics more. Then it gave me a glimpse into how he navigates when I’m not there, and he speaks about having a Black wife, especially in his work settings and things to that regard. I was really proud, and I also just felt very seen and very validated. Have you experienced that with your husband ever?


MELINDA: We’ve definitely experienced a lot of people assuming that we’re not together, whether it’s getting off the subway station, and people just assume we’re not together so they just plough right through between. To, going to a restaurant and saying, table for one, when we’re standing right next to each other. Or after the end of our meal saying, do you want separate checks? Really, you haven’t noticed here? Oh, my God! I mean, those are the quick and easy ones too. Going into a store, and people quickly grabbing their bags when Wayne goes fast, and the security guard starts to follow both of us, because now I’m also a suspect if Wayne is suspect, of course, because he’s Black. It’s just that kind of stuff happens regularly. 


One thing that we did notice traveling, is the first time we traveled internationally together was, well, the first time was in Morocco, and we didn’t really notice there. But the second time, shortly after that was in Paris. At a certain point about four days in, I stopped and said, “You know what, I’m noticing something here, that we’re not experiencing these little things that we experience every day in the US.” Wayne was like, “Yeah, I’m noticing it too.” We started talking about it, and we just never really realized all of those little things that were happening in the US until we didn’t have them. Not to say that France has it all figured out in terms of race, not at all. But there are some things that we did not experience there that we experience here just regularly every day. There are little pieces of real resistance, the little teeny biases that show up in different ways, we weren’t experiencing it the same way there. So it’s interesting.


CORY: It’s such an amazing! It’s a privilege to travel anyway, but I had never thought about it. I thought about it from a more of a standpoint of digging into my curiosity, and I just want to see things and be a part of different cultures and food and the sights, especially countries that are older than the United States, just architecture and stuff like that. But realizing how therapeutic it was, of just instances sometimes being able to just breathe and be like: “Oh, people are moving across the street because they’re making room because two people are walking, not because I’m suspicious.” I’m like, this is amazing! Then how draining it is when you get back to the United States, and have to reconfigure yourself in that space. I was like, this is a very different sight, and again, it would be another great study.


MELINDA: Yeah, actually walking down the street is another one. We live in San Francisco, and there’s a lot of tech bros in San Francisco. I experience a lot of people that literally will run into me because they don’t see me because somehow I’m not there. There’s a complete difference between Wayne walking on the street where people part paths from this Black man because they feel threatened, and people run into me. There’s just weird little dynamics like that, that happen regularly here. That’s the kind of stuff, it’s exactly that.


CORY: Right, and you sometimes forget about it. I think there’s this misconception about this, I hate this word, I think it’s overused, but wokeness of certain communities in California, of our liberal standings. But it’s still very much here. It’ll be interesting when I have conversations with people and they’re like: “Oh, it’s going to be so hard when you go home, like back to Utah.” I’m like, “No, it’s hard when I go to the Berkeley bowl in Berkeley, and I have to deal with either people that overcompensate.” I mean, Melinda, I’ve had White women follow me to my car and apologize for Whiteness. It had nothing to do with me, and it had everything to do with them. They were like, “You look safe, I’m going to say it to you.” I’m not saying that Utah doesn’t have its issues, but I don’t have that at the local grocery store.


MELINDA: Okay, so let’s bring it back to the equity work too. That was awesome, though. Thank you for sharing all of that. So you were saying that, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but to paraphrase you, some of the things that we were talking about are experiencing that marginalization, and that questioning of your authority, that questioning of whether or not you’re marginalized enough to do this work, because you have a White husband. Or that as a Black woman in predominantly White spaces, are you able to do this effectively? So when this happens, can we talk about the consequences of that? I think there’s maybe two levels of consequences. One is your personal consequences: how does that change how you show up? The second is for the world, what are the consequences of That?


CORY: Yeah, there’s definitely negative impacts. On a personal level, it really just affects my resilience, when I feel like I’m having to justify or overcompensate for years of success that I’ve had in this space, professionally and through lived experience. Sometimes that resentment will show up in, I guess, a much less relaxed version of me, which then can have impacts on people listening to what I’m actually saying and how they’re receiving it. Because they’re reading into body language, voice changing. I’ve noticed that sometimes when I feel like I’m cut off, I will over-enunciate, as opposed to elevating my voice, which then for some individuals may come across as being too authoritative and combative. So the impact of that is that it affects my resilience. 


But then if I’m doing it in a facilitated group, it affects the rest of the body of the group, because they’re not getting the best version of me; they’re getting a version of me that is now on guard, and human being affected by something that has harmed me. If you don’t have the resilience to kind of ebb and flow in those moments, it impacts you and you have to rejigger yourself in a way. It’s really hard to do when you’re put into a position where you are trying to do change work, and trying to help people on a journey, when in real-time, you’ve been affected and you don’t have the privilege of turning off your camera and repositioning yourself. You have to go with the flow, even though you’ve been impacted. So I struggle with how to do it in a way that I’m giving empathy to myself, that “It is okay that you feel that, Cory. It’s okay that there was that impact. But what you can do with that is change the dial and change the way in which are showing up, because you have these people in front of you.” Even if it’s just one person, that you change the way that they navigate the world, it’s that one person.  But that’s really hard to do when it happens all the time. 


I think that one of the ways that I really combat that is in my self-reflection practice. I try to journal quite a bit, even if it’s just in bullets, of after I have sessions, either if I’m doing specific DEI-centric sessions, or if I’m doing work where equity has come up, just writing down notes on how it felt in my body, how I responded. Then I typically revisit it within three to four days after I write it down, to see how this role is still existing in me. So that I know whether or not there’s something more to dig into, and maybe incorporate into my trainings. Or if it was something that was bleeding, and I take it in, I experience, and bless and release it. So I try to incorporate that into my practice, and I actually use that a lot in suggestions with follow-ups when I do session work as well. Because oftentimes, people are learning so much that they don’t necessarily know where the triggers are coming from. But if you can write them down and reflect on them, the hope is that you can see some shift changes.


MELINDA: Yeah, I love that. When I first started doing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work, I was still severely triggered when I was in certain environments that were similar to what I experienced in a past workplace, where I experienced everything from microaggressions to bullying to harassment, and all that would come up. I didn’t realize. I would go in and meet with a client, and suddenly I was freezing. It was like, what is happening, why is this happening? So I learned pretty quickly that I’ve got to fix what’s going on, and realized that the little things that they’re saying or doing, it’s recalling that same experience, and it’s putting that fear response in my body. So after that, I started really working on it in that moment. “Okay, wait a minute, I’m freezing. Why am I freezing?” Looking, even in that moment, to do some of the things that you were saying. “Okay, so do a little body scan? Where am I tightening up? What’s happening in my body right now? How do I become more fully present here again?”


CORY: Right, I think that’s a really important thing to lift up, is how harm can take you away and make you not present. That impacts you, and it impacts others that are around you. I feel like there is a responsibility associated with having the privilege of doing this work and being invited into rooms to try to help people have psychological changes and evolutions. But with that, that responsibility that’s associated with that of being present, it’s really big. I don’t take it lightly. So I do think that it’s important to lift up even something of, are your shoulders tighter, are you clenching more? I have a tendency to blink more when I’m frustrated, and just little things like that, that I never knew where it was coming from. But now I know that they are triggers from years of harm.


MELINDA: Yeah, and now I see it in other people, which is to bring it back to the work. Yesterday, I had a coffee with somebody, and I realized this person is doing a lot of this, they’re super nervous with me. How can I bring those defenses down? So now I see it in other people, and that’s the beauty of the experience that we do have and that we can bring to the work, I suppose. 


CORY: Have you found, now that we’re in this hybrid Zoom world, now that you can see yourself facilitating on a camera, you can also see your tics as well? 


MELINDA: Totally. “Oh, I didn’t know I did that all the time.”


CORY: Exactly. I’m like: “Oh okay, that’s what they’re seeing. I didn’t mean anything by it, but they’re obviously reading into it.” Saying that, okay, put your hands down.


MELINDA: There are so many people that do that, too, that they don’t know that they’re reflecting something. That’s part of what we talk about in our facilitation sometimes, is you have to pay attention to what your body is saying, so that you’re being received in the way that you want to be received. If you want to be an ally, then that conveyance of support is really important.


CORY: Right. I think people take for granted often, when doing the work, that there’s this acceptance of, or at least we’re aiming for this acceptance of bringing a full self in, when it comes to your identity and your cultural background, your identity lenses; the things that make you who you are. But oftentimes, we don’t think about some of the nuances of being okay and opening up a space for people that do get nervous and may talk faster. Not calling that behavior out, per se, but maybe sharing and being vulnerable about the fact that you do it too. Then they’ll be like, “Oh okay, I can mirror it then.” That that’s actually what authentic selves means when doing equity work. It’s not just the buzzwords that are included in identity politics, it’s all the nuances.


MELINDA: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit more about the self-care, self-grace piece of it. I will say that I recently was at a conference, and we were working with a partner on some allyship content specifically. One of the pieces was me moderating a panel. It was a panel with two men and two women, and the panel was focused on microaggressions. So I asked the women to share any experiences with marginalization, and I said beforehand, “I’m recognizing that I’m asking two women of color to share their trauma.” What they shared was powerful and deep, and clearly traumatic experiences for both of them. So afterwards, I went to check in. They said thank you for recognizing that and for facilitating the conversations. 


They asked me, “You do this all the time, we heard your story. You have tragic experiences that you regularly share, and you do this work of change so often. How do you take care of yourself?” So I would love to know. So what I said was, there’s long-term self-care that I do, meditation, similar to what you were talking about. I found that I had chronic back pain, and that’s one of the areas where I store all this stuff, and on my shoulders. So meditation really helps really recognize and relax all of that, and yoga, moving it through my body so doesn’t stay there. Also, motorcycle riding and getting out there in nature, that’s meditative as well, and running now as well, and therapy is another one. Therapy is huge. I didn’t get a therapist until pretty late doing this work, but very important. 


The other thing I do in the moment is, I sometimes I’ll do a shielding meditation before I’m really going and talking about things. Even the imaginary protective bubble sometimes helps, too. Because you have to remember that the toxicity is not about you, so not let it in at all. But I would love to know what your answer is to that.


CORY: Yeah, very similar. There was probably a good 10 years of my life that I had a knot in my shoulders, that I couldn’t work it out. No matter what I did, it was just there, and we got to the place where it was like a running joke in my family that I was my twin, because I just couldn’t get rid of it. It was just a stress bubble. Full transparency, I am a recovering enabler in my life, in my relationships just in general. So I hold a lot of stress associated with that. Because I’m trying to do the practice of empowerment, but I also know that I can perpetuate enabling behaviors. So I would go to chiropractors and do acupuncture, and did some yoga, I would work out. I would do all of these things to try to work on that stress. It would loosen up, but it would never quite go away.


So what I realized is that it was because I wasn’t getting out of my own way, because I wasn’t just fully being. Even when I was hiking, or camping, which I love camping, I was still not fully relaxed. Then I realized, the thing that really helps me is music. I do really well with sounds around me. So when I feel like I’m getting overly stimulated, both in a positive way, or in a harmful way, I find that music brings me down, and it’s because it forces me to move my body. I am not a person that listens to music and sit still. I move, and I have different playlists based on whatever work I’m doing. If I’m writing a really long federal proposal, the music is definitely a little bit more charged than if I’m writing something upon grace. So I use music as therapy. 


Definitely a huge supporter of therapy in general. I used it through different periods of my life. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve incorporated more discussions around the trauma that I’ve experienced because of racism, that hadn’t been the core of my conversations previously. I feel like I’m unraveling more of that now through therapy. I consciously seek out opportunities to learn things that take me out of my comfort zone, and that is how I readjust myself. One thing that I’m really trying to do now is be better at language and take more language courses. So that helps me to recenter myself, when I have a skill set that I’m invested in. 


Then lastly, another area that I do to refill my pot is, just building my network of individuals that I can talk about the experiences that I’m having without having to justify them. I don’t have to sugarcoat them. I can just say what’s so for me, and I know that it’s a safe space, and it’s outside of my family, which I think is really important. Because I come from a family of individuals, especially my mother, the minute she knows that someone has done harm, she goes into Mama Bear mode, which I really love. But I also don’t want to undoingly create harm when it could be something that’s really fleeting. Every little thing that negatively happens to me, even if it was just somebody taking a parking spot, my mom is like, how dare you do that to her? She’s just very protective of me. So having a community of practice around bringing people into my world that I know that it’s safe to talk about, and build up the empathy that I think is super important for building in yourself when you do this work, has been a tremendous help. A tremendous help!


I just learned a lot about other people’s experience, and then also just been surrounded by really powerful people that even if they don’t quite understand what I’m going through, there’s a sense of care that helps me process and continue in something that I really do feel like is my life’s charge. Everything that I’ve done thus far in my world, whether it be through jobs, or through my educational path, or where I was born, all of those things have brought me to a space where it makes sense that I’m doing equity work, because I can come at it from such different angles. But you do need tools to help you when you’re harmed.


MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. One more question, which is, what actions can people take? So if they know that this is happening to people that are doing this work regularly, how can people better support other people like you doing this equity work? How can people support people who are doing this hard work of creating change?


CORY: I think listening is really key. I have a lot of individuals that consider themselves allies, but they also think that the fact that they consider themselves allies, therefore they take up a lot of space. So I think when wanting to support individuals doing theory of change and equity and equality-based work, listen. Question the practice, don’t question the people. Because that perpetuates the harm. I have no problem in individuals saying, “Well, what about this scenario? What if I did this? Could this work?” I’m happy to workshop and think about different approaches. But that’s about questioning the practice and not the individual. I think that that’s an important trait that allies need to really cultivate, and help practitioners like you and I continue to have the resources on resilience, to stay in this space, and be successful, and hopefully, having a ripple effect and impacting individuals, then they can impact people in their world, and then so on and so on. But I think that active listening, and not personalizing the individual but deconstructing the practice, is really important. I think that those will have very long-term effects on helping us get to a place where we can be more comfortable talking about what really needs to be done to create a sense of safety and equity.


MELINDA: Awesome. I love it! You can learn more about Cory’s work at Empovia.co/Cory. Thank you, Cory, thanks for this conversation.


CORY: Thank you so much, I appreciate it. Take care. Thank you, everyone.


MELINDA: Thank you to each of you for listening or watching. Please do take action, and we will see you next week. 


Thank you for being part of our community. You’ll find the show notes and a transcript of this episode at ally.cc. There you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter with additional tips. This show is produced by Empovia, a trusted learning and development partner, offering training, coaching, and a new e-learning platform, with on-demand courses focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You can learn more at Empovia.com. 


Allyship is empathy in action. So what action will you take today?