Legacy can have different meanings for each of us, but for most people, it’s important to know that they have made some sort of impact on the world, whether big or small. While we may each be, as Elton John sings, a candle in the wind, I truly believe most of us seek to provide warmth and light to the people we care most about. Some of us choose careers, families, and missions that we hope leave some impression of who we were during our lifetime. As the third Cardozie of my name, legacy has always been extremely important to me. As a Black man, this feeling of legacy is compounded by gratitude and, at times, pressure—not going to lie—for those who came before me. I exist because of those who sacrificed and survived trauma and brutality of a different kind of legacy.

I don’t know what feelings George Floyd had about legacy, but I do know that I have had the bittersweet privilege of living in the first chapter of what will ultimately be written about his. This blog is about my experiences as a leader in the field of DEI consultancy. However, I cannot separate these experiences from my own identity as a Black, queer man who must navigate the world.

The murder of George Floyd and its aftermath was a destabilizing force unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime, wrapped in the most destabilizing context I have ever experienced in my lifetime: a civil rights movement in the midst of a global pandemic. In times of destabilization, people seek balance. But as we were all shuttered in, while this horrific crime was being beamed into our homes, our hands, our family dinners, our morning coffee, our dreams…many people—seemingly for the first time—became aware of the fact that balance never existed. It never existed as it related to the equitable allocation of resources, safety, and rights, nor did it exist in the relationship between our complex identities and how we are expected to show up in our professional communities. While I believe the over intellectualization of our institutions is endemic, and regards all people as severable components, this is uniquely felt by individuals who have been historically marginalized and systematically oppressed.

The presence of anti-Blackness and racism came into sharp focus for many organizations and institutions, prompting a need for tools and skills to counter and reimagine their spaces as more equitable and anti-racist. As a result, many organizations reached out to consultants and firms like True North EDI. As we had been doing this work for years prior to 2020, our primary challenge was translating the three-dimensional facilitation and keeping the spirit of that alive in two-dimensional spaces like Zoom and other virtual platforms.

This single life taken prompted a new urgency in organizations full of individuals for whom the callouses created by a lifetime of unjust treatment could no longer protect them from the pain. For so many, it was too much—too much on top of too much. As time went on, the reality that what we were all experiencing was connected more than a single life and act of violence, but a society in which people like Floyd live and die in a system that grants egregious privilege to some over others.

George Floyd’s immediate legacy was an awakening and a reckoning. I want to take this time, three years after his life was taken, as COVID-19 continues its shift from pandemic to endemic, to reflect on where we are now. How have organizations, companies, and institutions changed? What aspirations have evolved into action? What initiatives began with the best of intentions but have slid back toward the status quo?

Learn. Reflect. Re/imagine. Act. These four words constitute the framework of True North EDI’s Theory of Change. They represent an imperfect and iterative order of operations that we believe lead to meaningful change within organizations. They are also the structure through which I will share my own experiences and insights on the landscape of DEI over the past three years as CEO and Principal Consultant of True North EDI.


Our clients who have seen the most positive engagement amongst their staff and other stakeholders have worked with us to tailor sessions that are relevant and responsive to the needs of their organization. We capture who they’ve been, who they want to be, and then design a learning experience that lives and blossoms in the gap between those two spaces. 

What happened to George Floyd forced all of our brains into interpretation mode (among other responses). While we were all making meaning and creating connections based on what we were seeing, we weren’t all seeing the same thing. Many people couldn’t see the connection between this brutal act and institutional racism. Many people didn’t see themselves as a part of what was happening. Many didn’t see a homicide.

In the decade or so leading up to 2020, a lot of DEI work was sought out and facilitated in a way that more closely resembled the selection process for college liberal arts courses than they did a part of institutional change. Introduction to Microaggressions, Implicit Bias 101. The only difference is that unlike college courses, a large percentage of these workshops were being facilitated in one-off sessions.This is not to negate or diminish the vital and meaningful work that was happening in the field. But the boundaries of engaging in organizational change work can sometimes leave us with dulled and disconnected understandings of important concepts. While topics like microaggressions and implicit bias are important, they don’t matter when they are severed from the larger tapestry of how oppression operates and is reproduced. The frequency of organizations seeking single sessions has gone down greatly, at least in the nonprofit sector. There seems to be a common understanding within that sector that a “one and done” can do more damage than good. Most clients in the learning phase of the work are seeking a multi-engagement partnership. Companies and corporations, perhaps not surprisingly, have generally been slower on the uptake. While we’ve worked with some amazing outliers, there is an opportunity for more companies to see the connection between this work and their ability to engage and retain talented and passionate people who are seeking spaces where DEI is prioritized in actualized ways.     


During and immediately following the summer of 2020, a large percentage of our work was dedicated to holding spaces. For individuals who were unable to maintain the societal expectation of separating the personal from the professional, these spaces were an important step in acknowledging that employees are whole and complex people. The spaces illuminated two important things. First, organizations’ often lack the faculty to facilitate spaces around listening and sharing. Such spaces are rarely associated with the inherent desire for productivity. The second truth that found its way to the surface was that many BIPOC employees had been suffering and sequestering their emotions long before organizations decided to “allow” space for it.   

Today, reflection is less the goal of the work, but rather a part of the equity process. Learning does not take root without the opportunity to reflect on what’s been learned. Trust cannot be built if there is no room for processing and structures created for feedback. Some of our longest running and most successful partnerships continue to thrive because they’ve built in the time to reflect as part of the overall EDI work. Last year we partnered with Penguin Random House to create a learning program for their 4,500-person staff. What allowed the learning to take root was the creation of spaces for participants to reflect on and process the content with the support of True North EDI facilitators. One of the spaces was designed specifically for BIPOC staff to share their experiences of the program and what it meant for them as members of the PRH community. Another space was created for staff interested in being internal leaders of the company’s equity work to grapple with what it might look and feel like to hold the work in this way.

Partners who chose not to prioritize institutional reflection as part of their DEI work often found themselves with staff who felt the work was performative. When the thoughts, insights, and experiences of staff are not valued or given air to breathe, resentments form, and attrition compounds. Reflection is how we begin to make meaning, reconcile, and move toward the reimagining stage of the work.


The system we currently occupy and navigate was imagined for us. It was imagined for us by a relatively small, self-appointed group of powerful people whose self-interest was built into its design. Some of our most important work as consultants is to help professional communities reimagine that system—at least within their own spheres of influence—in ways that are more equitable and just. It is the bridge that connects reflection to action. But it is also one of the most challenging aspects of what we do.  

During the summer of 2020, a call to “defund the police” both pervaded and polarized the country. At a high level, the call was an attempt to get a collective to understand the genesis of the police, grapple with and reflect on its ongoing impact on Black communities, and reimagine a public service branch that truly serves the public in ways that are holistic, needs-based, and community-centered. During this time, we saw clearly the backlash that can occur when we are asked to imagine things differently from how they’ve always been. 

As consultants, the same response is what makes the reimagining aspect of our work challenging. We understand the human instinct to resist change. Even when we ourselves don’t benefit from the way things are, or have articulated a desire for change, the reality of change can go against a primal desire to adapt. But we can hold space for that truth while making visible the costs of it to our equity goals. As our vice president, Erin Dunlevy, puts it, our job is to help professional communities expand the horizons of what is possible. If the needle has moved over the past three years, which I truly believe it has for many organizations, this may be where it’s slowed if not stalled for many. But this presents us with a point of targeted intervention. It allows us to focus on supporting individuals and communities to design new possibilities that help them align their reality with their declared beliefs.  


A lack of meaningful action is one of the most common issues raised during the ‘discovery’ phase of our work when we are capturing insights and experiences from professional communities. From this, an underlying tension is made visible. Few people expect their leaders to take action around something they haven’t declared is important to them. But when leaders make claims about wanting to create change, or ask people to go through DEI processes (focus groups, training, committees, etc), there is an accompanying expectation of meaningful action. As we at True North say, tension exists when the inside doesn’t match the outside.  

Meaningful action is informed by community participation, especially with those who have been made most marginalized. It aims to address rather than ignore historical harm, and it is part of a larger plan that ties into other aspects of the culture and work of the organization. It is here where even the most successful organizations struggle. This is partly because organizations haven’t inherited the tools necessary to operate this way. Part of it is because there is simply no action that will make “everyone happy,” and so paralysis can take over. But this is why our approach goes through the process of learning, reflection, reimagining, and then to action.The biggest challenge to our process is that, unlike other processes that take place within organizations, it rarely thrives when governed by urgency. Reverence, care, importance, yes; but not the kind of urgency that is typically just coded capitalism. Capitalism is part of all of our context, but working within it means being sophisticated enough to know when and how it is operating.

I would never tell anyone who experiences oppression to be patient. But I do want to experience collective progress, and like everything else, time is a part of the equation we must consider—along with capacity, resources, and commitment. The necessary conditions for actions to take root and grow can change from organization to organization, but one thing I’ve learned is that they require space to grow, and it’s up to organizations to decide what that space looks and feels like.


So much has shifted over the past three years. When it comes to what we are seeing through our work as DEI practitioners, the well of knowledge seems to run deeper, and the ability to reflect and ask critical questions of ourselves and others is a more common skill. But the organizations and the people within them who are truly moving beyond learning and reflection are those who have taken the risk of imagining a new possible future for themselves, and have begun the steps necessary to construct it. 

This is challenging work. But not more challenging than living with the fear that you or someone you love will be harmed simply because our society regards them as disposable. We have all the tools necessary to dismantle what we’ve known to be true, and rebuild something in which we can all thrive. Let’s not wait for the “next” George Floyd. Let us honor him, as well as all those who came before and after him, with actualized change that truly reflects the ideals of truth and justice that we as a society so ferverenty invoke.


Cardozie Jones