Roundtable Discussion: Parenting and Dismantling Racial Injustices


16 votes

In unison with people around the world fighting racial injustice, the co-op is challenging itself and its more than 19 million members to act against the racial inequities in our society, including in the outdoors. As part of this commitment, we’re amplifying the voices and stories of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities, including several of our partner organizations that are working to create a more inclusive outdoors 

Adina Crawford, an REI member and ambassador for REI partner organizations Black Girls RUN! and Black Girls Do Bike, earlier this month shared with the co-op her perspective on the current moment along with her personal story as a child and parent. She then conceived the idea to organize a conversation about why dismantling racism begins at home and how parents can have an impact.

To make this happen, Adina brought together a group of panelists in a recorded roundtable texplore the topic and offer actionable advice for parents raising kids to be anti-racistEach panelist offered a unique perspective. Among them, Mark Williford, a former police officer, talks about raising a biracial son. Cynthia Steele, an arts manager, shares how she explains systemic racism to her 10-year-old. Sierra Grigsby, a senior executive assistant, talks about what her 27-year-old daughter has taught her about taking anti-racist action. 

In this hourlong discussion, the panelists—moderated by Black Girls RUN! CEO, Jay Ell Alexander—shared how they talk about racism with their kids, the ways they continually educate themselves as parents, and how they create a diverse environment for their children. Read on for roundtable high points and to learn more about the panelists. Click on the video for the full discussion. (Individuals in the video describe firsthand experiences. Language could at times be sensitive.)


Mark Williford

Forensics Expert, Retired Police Officer

About Mark

Mark is the proud father of two wonderfully amazing children: one boy and one girl. As a retired veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, Mark has experienced, seen and heard more than his share of life’s stories. Being retired, he has a very unique perspective on what people are seeing now. The lenses that he sees life through are twofold. One perspective is from the law enforcement ideology. The other is from the civilian side.   

In 1974, after his father was killed from gunfire in Philadelphia, his life (he was 4 at the time) changed forever and solidified who he is today. Growing up without his father and the void of true love, Mark did not know the requirements to be in a nurturing and loving environment. He did not see a father raise a child. Those things that are taken for granted, Mark was forced to figure them out on his own. Being the youngest of six, he preserved those feelings of absence and abandonment until he had children of his own. As a father, he willfully and intentionally made sure that his very children never knew those feelings he experienced as a child.       

Currently, Mark is an active steward of change and education. Working with various social organizations and universities, he believes that experience is life’s best teacher. Mark insists that in life we must be comfortable being uncomfortable, and there is a lesson in listening.  

Mark Williford

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Faithful: “I think that if you base all of these things on your faith and your belief, fear doesn’t exist. Inability doesn’t exist.”

On raising kids with diverse perspectives:

“When it comes to raising a son who’s biracial growing up in this world, it’s not about his race. It’s about are we all educated about how each other feels and those components that will make us go on as a society and as a culture? It’s not about Black, white, different ethnicities. It’s about the educational component of saying you are my tomorrow, so, therefore, I have to give you a diverse lens to look through and therefore push him forward to say it’s up to you to change the landscape.”

Cynthia Steele

Arts and Event Management, Steele Solutions LLC

About Cynthia

Cynthia Steele spends her life balancing her two passions: the arts and fitness. In her career in arts management, she holds positions as executive director of the National Society of Arts and Letters and ambassador to the Arts for Threshold Acoustics. Cynthia also manages a consulting business that spans projects in the arts, from producing live events to managing social media in the arts and fitness industries.  
Cynthia is an outdoor enthusiast and an REI member since 2013. Her primary outdoor passions are triathlon, running, sailing and hiking. She trains for Ironman races and marathons, leads the local triathlon club’s Women’s Group, and teaches indoor cycling and group fitness classes. She has a passion for encouraging others to be active and juggle their big goals with “real life.” 
Cynthia lives in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her three kids, ages 14, 10 and 8, and loves to travel the world seeking new adventures. 

Cynthia Steele

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Listening: “We should listen to [our children] as well. What are their questions? There’s no stupid questions that my 10-year-old can ask because it’s all new. This is something that we need to talk about.”

On talking about racism and current events with young children:

“What I’ve found is particularly with my 10-year-old is he won’t automatically know anything about what’s going on in the world unless I tell him. He doesn’t watch the news. He’s not connected on social media. He didn’t know anything about what was going on, so I made sure that we were watching news reports online, that he was understanding about protests and that we talked about it.”

Sierra Grigsby

Senior Executive Assistant

About Sierra

Sierra was introduced to Black Girls RUN! in 2012. She was quite skeptical in the beginning due to lack of running experience. After watching the Facebook page for a few weeks, she gave in and hit the pavement. After the first group run, she knew running would be added to her weekly routine. She also knew running would fill the void when her daughter left for college.   

After becoming an empty nester, she had a lot of free time and running helped bridge those gaps of time. Sierra continually made her presence known within the BGR! community, which came along with increased responsibilities. She became a Group Run Lead, meeting with her local chapter twice a week for 3- to 4-mile runs. After a few years, she volunteered to be an ambassador in Atlanta. As an ambassador, she ensures that the city of Atlanta operates according to BGR! standards. Having standards allows BGR! to be a cohesive team, which includes setting goals for success. 

Each year, Sierra has set goals for herself. In 2017, she became a member of REI Co-op and made a goal to support businesses that supported her. REI has continually shown up for BGR! through races and by providing meeting spaces and informational seminars in their stores. The goal partnership is a win-win for all involved parties. 

This year is an enigma at best, but two things Sierra knows to be certain: Black Girls RUN! and REI will do their part to be a constant in ever-changing times.   

Sierra Grigsby

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Fearless: “If they ask a question, be bold in your response. If someone wants to make a change, take a chance on them and tell them how to do it.”

On learning from your kids (in this case, from Sierra’s 27-year-old daughter):

“[My daughter] is adamant. [She tells me], ‘You stay out of store X. You’re only going to store Y.’ Or she’ll tell me that we’re boycotting this one and this is why. And I asked her, ‘Don’t you get kinda tired sometimes of this information overload?’ And she was like, ‘Nope, I’m 27. I’m built for this life.’ And she said it so many times that I took a step back, and I’m like, this is the right way to do it.

I have to listen to her. I have to support her. I have to do the things that she tells me. I’m a little bit scared of her [laughs]. It’s one of the things that I’m watching her be bold in her purpose and in her movement. She grew up in an all-Black neighborhood. We shopped at an all-Black Kroger [and went to] an all-Black church. So we’re on the other end of the spectrum with not having a lot of diversity just in our personal area, and I sometimes wondered if it helped or hurt. But when I see her blend in and can navigate conversations with people that are not Black, I’m like it’s OK because she has paid attention and she is doing the right thing. I’d say my biggest thing is I listen to her every single day, and I get it. And I was not that smart at 27. She’s light-years ahead of me.”

Lisa Fowler Roberts

Senior Director, HR Business Partner & Leader of Diversity & Inclusion

About Lisa

With more than 20 years in human resources, Lisa has a broad range of industry expertise and has held related leadership positions with several government contractors in the Washington, D.C., area, including Abt Associates, BAE Systems and MITRE. She was a run coordinator for five years with Black Girls RUN!, where she started the local chapter in Germantown, Maryland, to continue to promote women’s health and fitness in the Black community.  

Lisa is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she studied business management. She furthered her education with an executive education program at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds a senior professional in human resource (SPHR) certification from the HR Certificate Institute and a SHRM-senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP) from the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Lisa Fowler Roberts

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Intentional: “I think that we have to be intentional to speak out. We also have to be intentional on listening and really wanting to learn and change, so I think a lot of it starts with us really having the mindset and focus that there is a better opportunity for many of us that have been stifled over the years, and I think that it’s gotta be on both sides to be intentional.”

On encouraging talks about race with your kids:

“[Our family has] friends of all backgrounds. And we really try to make our circles very broad intentionally to make sure our that our kids don’t feel like they can’t be a part of something. We always tell our children to be unique in their own ways and don’t follow a particular crowd or a particular thing. A “flavor of the day” is kinda what we call it. But I think that it really starts in the home for our children and how we talk about race openly. … If you think about it, racism really starts around how you were raised. So many of the continued racist problems that we have today are based on how you were raised. So I think a lot of that has to do with having those conversations and being open with your children and sharing your experiences and making it safe and be brave about asking those questions because how they learn is really from us.”

Tara Foley

Founder and CEO of Follain

About Tara

Tara Foley is a clean beauty advocate and entrepreneur. In 2013, she started Follain, a retail brand dedicated to selling safe, effective and luxurious nontoxic personal care products. Follain curates these products in its six stores across the country and also has its own line of products that is sold in Ulta, Anthropologie and on QVC. Tara is an active community member in Boston, where she lives, and loves to spend time outdoors with her husband and two young children. She has been a proud REI member since 2012.

Tara Foley

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Integrity: “I want to see the future for my kids and everybody here’s kids as one filled with integrity, where that’s the No. 1 value. It isn’t making money. It isn’t how you look. It isn’t anything. It’s one where we’ve held each other accountable over the years and people with integrity are the most important people in our culture.”

On talking with kids about making an impact:

“I realize that my son knows me as his mom, but he also knows that so much of my identity is wrapped up in what I do for a living. So he knows that I sell soaps and lotions for a living, and he knows all about that. But one of the things that over the past couple weeks I’ve started to focus on is just the fact that there are a lot of unsafe products marketed to Black women more so than other communities, and it’s something that I’ve started to talk about at the dinner table with my husband. That’s some of the only time we have together, and my kids are there at the same time. And it’s something that I want him to hear. I always thought I was making a change with what I did, but that’s now how I’m going to be fixated on making a change. And I want him to know that even though you can sell soaps and lotions for a living, you can also make an impact. And you can help people, and you can educate people, and you can make a big impact on different communities. I think just recognizing that so much of my identity is in what I do for a living and making sure he knows that you can always make an impact in every part of your life.”

Adina Crawford

Police Management

About Adina

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ―C.S. Lewis

Adina Crawford is a certified PYTT 200 and 50 YSTT yoga teacher. She is a mentor, motivator, advocate and community influencer. She is an ambassador for Black Girls RUN!, HoneyStingerNUUN, Black Girls Do Bike (Shero), ZOOMA national ambassador and a FitPro for Athleta. She also serves on the board of directors for Black Girls RUN! Foundation. She has her own blog on fitness, she has been featured in various online articles, podcasts and participated with the Brooks Running shoe campaign. She has been with Black Girls RUN! for several years, starting as a participant, run coordinator, and now ambassador and board member for BGR Foundation.  

Her calling to teach yoga has been about diversity and community with the understanding that each person is unique and everyone is at a different level and growth. Diversity is the community coming together. Her specialty in yoga is vinyasa, sculpt and restorative. In addition, she has taught at various locations, including Lululemon, Athleta, private events, family reunions, private schools and local fitness centers. 

Adina was born and raised for part of her life in the Bronx, New York, and spent her later years in Massachusetts. She now resides in Maryland. She is happily married with one son, who lives in Boston, and a stepson in Maryland. She is a graduate of Bay State College and a recipient of the Humanitarian Award for outstanding leadership and academics. Adina started out her career with  a management group in Boston as a customer service representative. She later moved on to work at Marriott Hotels as a concierge. Then, she was given an opportunity to relocate to the nation’s capital at MCI/American Express as an account representative. Fast forward several years later, she has been with a local law enforcement agency for more than 20 years, serving as a management professional overseeing two units. 

She is heavily involved in the fitness community in several realms. Besides yoga, she runs, cycles, swims and participates in various community events to promote wellness. In 2016, she completed her first marathon (Chicago), numerous half marathons, several indoor triathlons and cycling events in various cities.  

Adina is recognized as a strong motivator and advocate for health, fitness and wellness to her communities. Her goal is to bring more diversity and awareness to the mat and spread the love of all the benefits of yoga coupled with other activities. YOGA IS FOR EVERY-BODY. REI member since 2012. 

Adina Crawford

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Educate: “You gotta educate, and it starts in the home. Educate your children about everything when it relates to race.”

On setting an example at home:

“Parents: They see what you do. They repeat what you do, so you have to bring it in 100 percent and not display that negativity in the home.”

De Bolton

Certified Personal Trainer

About De

De Bolton is a quirky wife and mom of three girls. Over the last four years, she has adopted a healthy lifestyle through an 85-pound weight loss journey. She earned her degree in fitness and exercise science and became a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and fitness nutrition specialist. De is on a mission to help women live a healthy lifestyle. She shares healthy lifestyle information, through workouts, healthy eating guidelines, recipes and informative lifestyle tips on her blog, FaithFueled Mom. 

De Bolton

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Engaged: “You have to be actively listening, not just hearing. And then you have to respond.”

On the importance of educating yourself as a parent:

“It’s how you speak in the home. It’s the things that you say, the comments you make when you watch a television show. Those little things they listen to. They’re sponges. We realize that when they say things we don’t want them to say, so you have to be aware. … It’s not the conversation you’re having intentionally with them. It’s the actions that you’re doing when you don’t realize they’re looking. So that’s where you need to educate yourself.”

Jennifer Blackburn

Regional Group Fitness Director at Equinox

About Jennifer

Jennifer Blackburn is a dynamic group fitness instructor, cycle coach and personal trainer. Jennifer holds multiple certifications, including Schwinn, Stages, TRX, Bosu, NASM, ACE, AFAA and AAAI/ISMA. Her style is dynamic, and her customized classes and training sessions use the latest conditioning technologies, which are the backbone of her results-driven programs.

Currently, she is a regional group fitness director for Equinox, an ambassador for LifeFuels and a director of training for Just Ride in India.  Her television appearances include NBC4, Discovery Health, Good Day Live, Great Day Washington and Comcast Sports. She has provided publications for The Washington Post, Women’s Health and SELF magazine. With more than 20 years of experience, Jennifer specializes in educating and motivating her class participants and celebrity clients to achieve extraordinary results. She resides in Urbana, Maryland, with her five children and husband, Brent. 

Jennifer Blackburn Steinmetz

A word that describes how you want to see the future for your children:

Vocal: “My kids don’t realize if they have 5,000 friends on their social media platform, that’s 5,000 people that will hear their voice on the subject.”

On creating a diverse upbringing for your children:

“I honestly feel the intention of how you raise your children literally comes from the second they are born—the intentions that you set in the house and the consequences you set in the house if the actions that you want to see are not being set forth. … It starts with [kids’] parents, and I feel like there has to be consequences. You have to teach these children the acceptance.

We actually pulled our kids out of school, and we moved away because the community that we lived in was not diverse. It was just all white, and I was like, this is just not reality. This little box is not reality. So now our daughters go to a [school that is] mostly, I would say, probably 60 percent Indian and then African American, Asian and just a couple white children, and then our sons go to a predominantly all African American school. So it was really important that we create this huge diversity of all cultures.”

Moderated by Jay Ell Alexander

CEO, Black Girls RUN!

About Jay Ell

Jay Ell Alexander has established herself as a public relations and communications professional with a true commitment to community engagement through her passion for public relations. She is the owner of The Vaughn Strategy and also serves as the CEO of Black Girls RUN!, after serving as their brand manager for six years. Alexander has worked in the communications industry since 2008, including positions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, BET, City of Richmond, City of Petersburg, The Balm In Gilead and Bank of America. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Mrs. Alexander graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications, a concentration in journalism and a minor in Spanish. She also received a Master of Science degree in Strategic Public Relations from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Mrs. Alexander has a passion for running and loves shopping and traveling. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Public Relations Society of American Richmond chapter. She resides in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, Chris, son Chris Jr. and their dog Luna. REI member since 2012.  

Jay Ell Alexander

Editor’s note: REI has partnered with Black Girls RUN! for nearly a decade and with Black Girls Do Bike since 2017. Through these partnerships, each organization receives financial sponsorship, in-kind benefits and support for events the organizations host, among other efforts.