Arthur Satterwhite – Diversity, Equity & Belonging

“My mom was very intentional about teaching me Black History – African and African American history. At an early age, I was beginning to understand my cultural ancestry and background.” -Arthur Satterwhite

[00:00:00] Arthur Satterwhite: If I could leave your audience with one thing it would be: If you wanted to do one thing that would help you to begin this journey of diversity, equity and belonging in your context, but also in your personal life proximity, who are you proximate to? Does your circle look like you? Do the places you shop tend to look more like you? Do the places you worship, if we’re really honest, and again, this isn’t just about white people, black and brown and others do this too. If the people in your space 90 percent of the time look a lot like you, then I would suggest that’s your greatest first barrier. It’s hard for us to empathize, let alone have compassion for people that we don’t know and we don’t understand.

[00:00:48] Tommy Thomas: Today, we’re continuing the conversation that we began last week with Dr. Arthur Satterwhite. Dr. Satterwhite is a recognized voice on leadership and diversity who is passionate about serving and seeing communities flourish. Diversity challenges can be destructive and are some of the greatest barriers to leaders, organizations, and communities in realizing their full potential. Where are they in workplaces or faith spaces? Dr. Satterwhite’s belief that by overcoming issues stemming from increasing diversity, individuals and organizations realized greater human and organizational success. Let’s pick up on the conversation that we started last week.

In full disclosure, people should know that I’ve tried to recruit Arthur at least twice away from ABS and maybe even recently away from Young Life and have not been successful. So, I’m not sure what that says about my recruiting ability or if it says that he knows what he’s doing in terms of God’s call on his life.

But over, I guess over three or four years, I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other and I’m very comfortable with you. And so, I’ve asked Arthur to help me segue into discussing diversity, equity, and belonging on the podcast. We’ve never really addressed that. And that’s a reality in the marketplace.

Let’s go there. You’ve obviously had experience in both. And probably back in the private sector, probably for sure, too, in real estate and with ABS and Young Life. I guess people might argue that diversity, equity, and belonging is either a biblical truth or a social construct.

[00:02:27] Arthur Satterwhite: Yeah, no, it’s not exclusive to the faith spaces we serve in, right? This is definitely across industry and space. Everybody is wrestling with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yes. And belonging. If we just had to jump right in, I think part of the challenge that many organizations and the research highlights is that I think the stat was 75 percent of DEI initiatives fail.

And then when you start to dig into why they fail in most contexts, in most cases, it’s because DEI is approached as a numbers game. We got to go recruit more fill in the blank, more people of color, more women, more whatever that gap in your population is it’s a numbers game.

You just got to go recruit more. The challenge with recruiting more, is that if you haven’t done the work organizationally to address the cultural issues or the systemic issues that say to those more that your place is maybe not safe or that they don’t fully belong unless they assimilate.

Like one of my colleagues often says, Hey, we can get them in the front door, but the problem is they go right back out the back door. And we see a lot of these organizations that are approaching it as if it’s purely a numbers game, it’s just a matter of how do we get more.

The other challenge is how you treat DEB as purely something to regulate, right? Equity. We got to put the policies in to regulate, justice and equality. I love how Dr. John Swinton said it when he came and spoke with our community, he’s like when was the last time you were actually able to legislate love?

When has legislation ever changed the hearts and minds of anyone throughout history? It hasn’t. Right? Yeah, it often just, either perpetuates further inequity or creates, instead of creating allies and advocates, maybe creates more adversaries, because people have resented and everything else.

The goal isn’t diversity or equity. The goal isn’t even inclusion. As much as those things matter, the goal is belonging.

Now hear me, you still need legislation, you still need policies, to enforce what’s new, maybe what’s uncomfortable. But the first work. And this is what I am most proud of about our work at Young Life. When we, at least in my tenure, began down this road we said intentionally up front; Hey, the goal isn’t diversity or equity. The goal isn’t even inclusion. As much as those things matter, the goal is belonging.

How do we create a culture and community that says to every person who is called to serve young people, regardless of their cultural background, that you belong here, you belong in and amongst us, and that belonging means you’re welcomed, you’re loved. Shout out to Eric Carter in his work on belonging – you’re invited, you’re needed. I love how he put it that you belong when you’re missed. When you weren’t at that meeting and someone comes up to you after and says, man, ah, where were you? Like that meeting was so much better if you were there, that gathering, that event, that plan, whatever. That’s when you belong.

What I’ve been an advocate for and pushed in our community with the help of Newt, our President, and so many others the fruit of belonging, the fruit of creating a community and a culture where everybody knows and feels and senses that they belong, more diverse people are going to want to be there.

Because they know it’s a good place to be. They’re going to feel equitable, the equity of your community, when they are there, because they’re going to experience and know that their voice matters, that they are empowered to be full members and parts of that community.

They’re going to feel included because, again, if they belong, you want them there. You want to make sure that they get to that table, that they’re at the right table and the right conversation. Diversity, equity, inclusion are the fruit of belonging. So that’s been our work.

That’s been our aim. What are the things in our context, in our culture, in our organization, in our systems, our structures, holistically, let’s be honest about our community and really get intentional about rooting out where are those things, conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit that may say to someone, you don’t fully belong, or you can’t belong unless you come and assimilate into this.

And again, we’re not fully there, like many other organizations who are having the same conversations. We’re not fully there. We still got our issues. We’re still wrestling with places where we haven’t yet fully been able or already to remove the blinders, but we’re being intentional.

Being intentional about needing to first be people who see, because once we become people who see, we can be those who then create belonging for others.


[00:07:01] Tommy Thomas: I know one of your superpowers is strategy so how does or does strategy overlay into this discussion?

[00:07:13] Arthur Satterwhite: Oh, absolutely. I think inherently we must all become more strategic leaders. I forget who said it, one of these leaders was probably Drucker. If it’s something smart, we don’t know who it is. We just say it’s Drucker, right? We’ll just say Drucker once said change is the only constant.

My dad used to ask me “What are the implications of each decision?  Are you comfortable with the implications?  Are they taking you where you want to go?”

And to understand change and to navigate change towards whatever that end result is, we have to be thinking strategically. My dad said when I was younger, what are the implications of each decision? And are we comfortable with what those are? Are those implications going to move us towards that next thing?

I’m told that war analogies are just bad, we should stop using them, but it’s like in war. Just taking this hill in front of you, moving you towards the victory that you’re seeking in, but to win the war or, by taking this hill, do you spend all of your resources such that you’re going to lose every hill after that, as we think about, D.E.B.

The work we’re doing is about being strategic. It’s about understanding all of the battles that we’re going to have to fight. Let’s not be rainbow eyed and rose-colored glasses wearing, let’s be real about this – it’s hard work.

It’s change work. It’s work that isn’t simply about getting more people, putting more policy regulation. This is heart work. We’re changing the heart, which means we’re touching on, even in professional context, issues of identity, issues of power. Real world cultural implications that we’re now having to struggle with in our boardrooms.

If we are to create spaces that truly see the difference in gaps. Every time I give a talk around belonging, especially in our spaces, I often start with one or both of two sort of soliloquies. The first one is belonging is a gospel issue. It’s not a cultural impetus. It’s a gospel issue.

Why do I say that? What happened at the Fall? We all lost our access to the Kingdom. We no longer belonged. Right? We got kicked out the garden. We were set aside because of our sins, so we no longer belonged. And that was the work that Jesus did. It was, that whole, starting with calling out the Israelites, and everything through Jesus on the cross was God’s effort to create belonging for each of us so that we can once again belong in his Kingdom.

And then what did Jesus do? He said, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. Go do what I did. That means we should be those who create belonging for other people. I often open with that so people can see that this is a gospel issue. This isn’t a cultural issue. As much as there is a cultural zeitgeist happening around us, right?

We’re in but not of the world, but let’s not forget that we’re still in the world. The second thing I often open with, and in these rooms there are a lot of white people, especially white men, we need you to belong to, I think too often this conversation is seen as a zero sum argument, and either, or, this false dichotomy that in order for people to belong, that means you’ve got to give up your seat.

No, I think that is a really minimalist view. And I think the real opportunity, at least from a Kingdom perspective is really, how do we build bigger tables? How do we build bigger tables that have room for more seats? And often when I start with those places, it helps us to then have some conversations.

Hey, can we talk about privilege? I know it’s a big trigger word, and it’s maybe been used to make you feel guilty, but from a Kingdom perspective, from a biblical perspective, God’s always been about blessing people. The people throughout the Bible, some have had more, and some have had less.

The question is, what are you doing with what God has blessed you with? Are you hoarding it and using it for yourself or for your own? Or again, from a Kingdom perspective, as we saw with Jesus, are you using it to benefit others? Are you using it to create space for others? You were blessed, not for yourself, but you were blessed to be a blessing.

If I had to shout out some of the preachers that I’ve had the privilege of sitting under, I think those two things really help. They’ve helped our community, but as I’ve been around other communities, they’ve helped them to then enter in to have some real conversations around race and gender and generations, even abilities. Shout out to Johnny and friends and Daryl and the team over there, Laura and the team over there, they’re doing some amazing work.

What they have to wrestle with. And as they look to serve our friends with disabilities is very practical realities, right? John Swinton came and talked to us about, let’s talk about time. He has a great book, being friends with time and for able bodied people. Our relationship to time is very different.

I’m a three on the Enneagram. I’m an achiever. I’m productivity and pace is just wrapped up in who I am. But what Dr. Swinton helped me and others to see is hey, your relationship to time is based out of your able-bodied cultural experience. So, when you approach the disability community and, sometimes you have to slow down.

You have to factor for other things. Like you can’t just keep running at that because in doing so you are intentionally, maybe unconsciously and unintentionally, whether it’s discriminating or just not being mindful, all of those things. Something as simple and practical as that as an example of, where else does that exist?

How do we unconsciously or unintentionally say to women in our context that you’re less than or you’re not equal that maybe you don’t bring as much, where do we say to younger generations, you don’t know enough yet, you’re not smart enough yet.

The things that we just say in passing that we don’t think is hurtful. We don’t think is minimizing. We don’t think, stunts belonging, but does, right? Where did we say to people of color, black and brown and others, maybe, your cultural context and experience, you got to tweak some things.

It’s less than, it has less dignity. Maybe, again, we don’t say that outwardly, but maybe unintentionally, unconsciously, our systems, our structures, our processes, our policies, our approaches, our culture can send messages that we don’t think are there because they’re normal to us and they’re comfortable for us.

But because we don’t stop to think about them, to look at them, to turn the Rubik’s Cube and see them from a different perspective, we miss the, Oh, when I did that, I thought I was saying this, but that’s what you heard. Oh, okay. That’s different.

[00:13:46] Tommy Thomas:  Let’s go back maybe to your upbringing in Jersey.  You probably were raised in a fairly ethnic diverse community, I’m guessing.

[00:13:55] Arthur Satterwhite:  My upbringing was a tale of two cities. And really my education probably speaks to it the most. So, from kindergarten to fourth grade, I went to this private Christian school there in Central Jersey that I was one of five African American students. In the whole school, not just in the class.

And yeah, that’s five years of being a super minority. And the amount of time you spend at school, that was my community. Fourth grade, ended up leaving there and my parents moved me to the public school, which was the complete opposite. Now it’s 80% black and brown.

So, talk about culture shock, right? My parents, my mom, especially, was very intentional about pouring into me black history, African American history, African history. I got comfortable and understood my cultural ancestry and background.

My mom was very intentional about teaching me Black History – African and African American history. At an early age, I was beginning to understand my cultural ancestry and background.

When I look back at that through life, it has been this series of going from one cultural extreme to another. When I went to Monmouth University, I don’t have these specific stats, but black and brown folk, we were the super minority when I was there in the early 2000s, and the majority of us played sports.

The rest of the population came from pretty well off spaces. And again, I don’t say that as a knock against Monmouth, that was just the reality. It’s a private school that was very expensive. Fast forward my early career, I’m in now boardrooms in New York City.

Those rooms, again in the early 2000s, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me. Again, not just skin color, but then also generational. So I learned at a young age how to navigate these cultural extremes which I think has benefited me, where we’ve had to call out another superpower.

And I’ve been told I’m a very effective bridge builder. Even a cultural translator, helping folks to begin to hear one another when they maybe lack that competence, that really comes out of exposure, if I could leave your audience with one thing, if you wanted to do one thing that would help you to begin this journey of diversity, equity, and belonging in your context, but also in your personal life proximity.

Who are you proximate to? Does your circle look like you? Do the places you shop tend to look more like you? Do the places you worship, if we’re really honest, and again, this isn’t just about white people, black and brown and others do this too. If the people in your space 90 percent of the time look a lot like you, then I would suggest that’s your greatest first barrier. It’s hard for us to empathize, let alone have compassion for people that we don’t know, and we don’t understand.

[00:16:45] Tommy Thomas: Go back to your sports team. Did they create a sense of belonging and how did that work out?

[00:16:50] Arthur Satterwhite: Again, I had the privilege of sitting under some great coaches. I would say the sports teams I sat on, to steal a line from some of my military friends, you go into military and the only color is the red, white, and blue. As I’ve heard the other colors fade away because you’re in the trenches. These are the people that, I need to know you’re my brother, my sister, you’re going to have my back. I got your back.

We’re going to get through this together. Playing soccer, especially at a high level, there is a bit of that where that the team culture is like, hey, everything else is about us together going out. Taking this hill, whether it’s a game, practice, whatever. But in that because we built those relationships and because, soccer, at least at the spaces I played, tended to be more diverse.

Playing soccer in Spain, Peru and other international cities helped me to appreciate the value and dignity of people from different backgrounds.

I was exposed to some more diverse cultures, I got to travel the world. The relationships created the opportunity for me to learn more about whether it was my Latino friends, my Asian friends, my Indian friends, having the privilege of going down and playing in Peru and over in Spain and in other places helped me to just see and appreciate the value, the dignity that each of these, cultural backgrounds, people of different ethnicities bring to the table. I say that’s a unique experience because many of the people that I know, especially in the evangelical religious spaces, a lot of them have not had that cultural exposure. They have not had that intentional, proximate relationship with people that look different, that think different, that come from different backgrounds.

And I’d say that’s maybe one of, again, just the biggest stumbling blocks as I engage with folks in our community to try to help them begin to take steps towards belonging. It’s man, we have to create understanding and relationship before we can then circle back and begin to have those other conversations.

So what do we do? How do we actually go and create belonging? Because there’s a difference between centering oneself. Because I’d say that’s the other problem that I see in a lot of this work. There’s a lot of research and a lot of writing out there on allyship and advocacy and it’s good.

It’s necessary. But the challenge is when the allyship and the advocacy is less about the people that you’re trying to be an ally or an advocate for, and it’s actually more about yourself being seen as that advocate or that ally that can be just as dangerous and just as detrimental because those who don’t belong when they see that your advocacy and your allyship is, disingenuous it further otherizes them.

Now they’re a victim. You’re still disempowering them, disenfranchising them, even as you were trying to advocate not being an ally of them.


[00:19:34] Tommy Thomas:  We read in the news every two or three weeks something about, I guess particularly in education, affirmative action and representation. Can you give us, at least from your perspective, the difference there?

[00:19:47] Arthur Satterwhite: Yeah, affirmative action, as I’ve read it and, as I’ve seen it, it was a strategy. And you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It was a reaction to, people not being invited, not being recruited, not being, you’re having access to many of our spaces. As good government does, government treats everything with a broad sword, right? If you’re a hammer, then everything’s a nail. So, we came out with legislation, which, again, was, I think, good in spirit and nature and intent.

But the challenge is, again, we just replaced oppression with oppression. It’s okay, so we’re not going to look at this. We’re only going to look at this. We’re not going to recruit this. We’re only going to recruit this. And I think, again, the spirit and intent was yes, we don’t have these people in here, so we have to go recruit them.

I’d say part of the opportunity and representation, when we change our perspective, it’s not simply about legislating, getting different people in the seats. It really is about a value and an appreciation and seeing the dignity and necessity of having different voices, diverse voices at the table.

Then all of a sudden, we start to think about who’s not at the table. And why they’re not at the table. Many of the organizations that I’ve had the privilege to consult for, even now, work for, as we’ve had this conversation I had one leader in a former organization, they were hiring for a senior level position and they really wanted it to be a diverse hire because they saw the gaps and they truly valued the, oh man, we’re missing this perspective around the table. So, we want to make sure that we be our intentional about looking for that. Again, it still was about, we want to hire the best person, but you can’t ensure that you’re hiring the best person if you’re not being intentional and looking in diverse places.

So, the occasion point in this situation, they were going back to the same places that they always recruited from. Which those places tended to be more white, came out of more Christian schools, which trend more white and more male. And they were just like, man, I just, I don’t understand.

Like all we’re getting is white men applying. And their takeaway from that was that there was no women or black and brown people that were qualified for the role. And I was like, ah, I don’t know, that’s the takeaway. The takeaway might be, maybe we need to go, if the pond you’re fishing in is only giving you one type of fish, then you probably need to go figure out, are there other ponds that offer me a broader diversity of fish, right?

If this stream only has salmon, you’re not going to catch trout in it. If you want trout, you got to go figure out where the trout are. And that’s one thing that, at Young Life, we’ve been trying to be really intentional about as we are looking to recruit for roles up and down the organization it really is, it’s not about, oh, we’re only going to hire black people or brown people or women, I think again, that intentional, while there’s good intent in that it does diminish the opportunity.

Which is no, let’s go find the most qualified people. But to find the most qualified people, that means we have to look in more places. That may require more work. It may require more uncomfortable conversations because we’re going to places we’ve never been, and we don’t have relationships, but it will help us to see that it’ll actually elevate the bars.

I would suggest that we have, whether it’s a role or an opportunity within organizations, as we are exposed to people who bring diverse qualifications and backgrounds and experience that could be just to steal a quote from the Bible immeasurably greater than we ever asked or thought about.

[00:23:25] Tommy Thomas: Good. I’m going to close out maybe with a little lightning round of maybe lighter questions. Probably shorthand. First though, I guess I’ve learned that not always, but what’s a small act of kindness that you were once shown that you will never forget?

[00:23:46] Arthur Satterwhite: I’ll point back to that experience I shared earlier -that mentor who punched me in the nose at the moment did feel kind, but it was kind because it came from a truly genuine and caring space. It was like, I want the best of you, and I want the best for you.

So, I’m going to say some hard things to you right now, because I need you to hear them in the hopes that they help you to begin to see and reflect more.

[00:24:20] Tommy Thomas: What’s the best compliment anyone’s ever paid you?

[00:24:24] Arthur Satterwhite: My wife, that she loves me first and foremost, and I still don’t understand why at times. I had to point to my team recently, as we were just reflecting on the last year and just talking about collaboration there, it was just a simple hey, we get it, yeah, we get it. We get why we’ve been doing this intentional work to learn how to collaborate, to build a familiarity with one another and then the clarity around one another’s roles. And then the intentionality that I’ve called them to their acknowledgement lately.

We get it. We see it. This is good. That was really good.

[00:25:00] Tommy Thomas: If you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself something. What would you tell him?

If I could go back in time and tell a younger version of myself something, I would tell him – You’re enough, Dude, you’re enough!

[00:25:07] Arthur Satterwhite: Oh, I’ve thought about this one a bunch. I would tell him, dude, you’re a head case. Go get some help. No, I would tell him you’re enough.

When you’re from a non-dominant culture, whether that’s black or brown, racial ethnicity, non-dominant or generational non dominant, most of our communities have some version of the talk that parents are giving their kids, you need to be smarter, you need to work harder.

You need to be better. There’s rightness in that because it pushes us to be successful, but then the downside of that can leave you with a complex where you’re wrestling with, am I enough, am I enough in these rooms and these spaces, when will I be enough? So, if I did could go back and tell my younger self anything else is just let him know you’re enough, dude.


Tommy Thomas This has been a great conversation. I appreciate you carving out this time out of your schedule and you sharing these things with us. And I’m sure as I unpack this you may be on the list of people that get invited back. Thank you so much.

Arthur Satterwhite Tommy, Thank you for having me. It’s a privilege and an honor.  Just grateful for you and your leadership, my friend.

Tommy Thomas In addition to Arthur’s day job with Young Life, he does a lot of speaking and training around diversity, equity and belonging. I’m posting a link to his personal website in the episode notes. Next week, keep doing your part to help make the nonprofit sector more effective and sustainable.


“My dad used to ask me ‘What are the implications of each decision?  Are you comfortable with the implications?  Are they taking you where you want to go?’” -Arthur Satterwhite


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