Let’s go deeper: How to work with me

Just my semi-annual PSA that my anti-racism work extends far beyond this site. In addition to serving as the executive director of one of the longest continuously running anti-racism organizations in the country, I also offer other services for deepening your anti-racism praxis. 

This past fall, I started offering anti-racism coaching sessions. This is a one-hour Zoom session or call where we discuss current issues that you may be facing in your personal or professional anti-racism work. My work is to serve as a sounding board and resource to help you both deepen your work and navigate the thorny and messy issues that often arise in our practices. I work with clients on both an as-needed and ongoing basis. The cost per session is $125. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session.

If you want to bring me to your group or organization, consider the following options: 

Authentic Dialogues: Talking About Racism and Moving to Action 

This interactive session is designed to look critically at racism in our communities and our nation by examining the roots of white supremacy and how the past impacts our present. A key goal will be teaching, sharing, and learning practical tools for working in our own communities to combat racism and to start conversations on addressing racism and difference in predominantly white spaces. This session is a mixture of lecture and small-group work, which will allow participants to deepen their knowledge of racism, examine their own biases, and learn techniques for starting conversations on racism and how to be an effective ally. Prices vary based on location and organizational budget. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session

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Tell Me the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations

How can we speak openly and honestly in cross-racial conversations? What would such a conversation even look like? Shay Stewart-Bouley (Black) and Debby Irving (white) show us as they share racism’s impact on their lives and how cross-racial conversation has been instrumental in their own understanding of 21st century racial dynamics. Shay and Debby will explore the common fears and pitfalls of cross-racial conversation that keep people isolated in their own racial groups, at the expense of personal, professional, and societal growth. They’ll also help audience members understand how interpersonal social patterns hinder organizations from living up to their own ideals for diversity. No two conversations are alike as they step on stage with no agenda. Finally, Shay and Debby will offer suggestions to create racial justice habits that can move us from isolated events to sustainable connections. 

Remaining Winter 2020 Dates for Tell Me the Truth

  • Monday ~ February 3 ~ anytime
  • Tuesday ~ February 4 ~ anytime
  • Sunday ~ February 23 ~ anytime

Cost: $2,500*

Previous Hosts

  • Black Heritage Trail ~ Portsmouth, NH
  • Harvard University Health Services ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Colby College ~ Waterville, Maine
  • Central Square Theater ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry ~ Roxbury, MA
  • Marblehead Racial Justice Committee ~ Marblehead, MA
  • SURJ Southern Maine/Seacoast ~ Kittery, ME
  • University of Maine ~Orono, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Bangor, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Augusta, ME
  • Nevins Library ~ Methuen, MA
  • Natick Coalition for Change ~ Natick, MA
  • American Civil Liberties Union ~ Portland, ME
  • Bar Harbor Maine YWCA ~ Bar Harbor, ME
  • Families Organizing for Racial Justice ~ Newton, MA
  • Seattle Equity Summit ~ Seattle, WA
  • Friends School of Portland ~ Portland, ME
  • Highline Public Schools ~ Seattle, WA

Contact cynthia@debbyirving.com for more information or to book a date

* travel may be extra if location greater than 80 miles from Boston or Portland, ME


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

The college admission scandal is just one blossom from a deeper set of roots

(Following up on the recent post here at BGIM Media, a piece by one of our contributors on the pervasive inequities throughout the educational system that hold people back, often because of race)

So I’m sure y’all have heard by now about this college admissions bribery/scandal/mess with this white dude, William Singer, the two white actresses, and the other 50 parents, administrators, and coaches in the thick of it. To summarize, Singer, for about 10 years, had been falsifying documents, doctoring photographs, rounding up test scores and hiring his own proctors to control tests—all to get students into prestigious programs in exchange for money from the parents (who knew what he was doing). And I’m sure some of you are surprised by this.

Well, if you are, that means you’ve been privileged by the education system.

The education system in America privileges you if you are white, wealthy, and have connections (and yet so many of those people still have to cheat to get in—using a whole extra layer of privilege and connection allowed by wealth). Anyone else attempting the right way to get in by working hard? Good luck.

Black and Brown people have been fighting the education system that ultimately privileges wealth and whiteness (Think all the way back to Ruby Bridges). And what’s happened to these families? One Black mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar in Ohio, falsified her address to send her children to another, better school than the one in her district. When she was found out, she was told to pay over $30,000 in back tuition and when she couldn’t, they made an example of her by throwing her into jail for 10 days and giving her three years probation, along with community service. All for attempting to enrich her child’s educational experience because the system disadvantaged her kids by ignoring the schools where she lived.

There is blatant inequality because of race and wealth in education. It sadly does not matter if these Black and Brown students work hard. Privilege can get you far when you’re white and wealthy. Ashely Alese Edward writes in their article “This Mom Went To Prison For Enrolling Her Son In A School Outside Her District”about another Black mother, Tanya McDowell, who “falsified” her address about where she was staying (her and her son were homeless at the time).

Edwards writes: “All public education in the U.S. is not created equal, which oftentimes forces parents from low-income backgrounds to use the addresses of friends and family members to get their child into a better school district. It should come as no surprise that those most impacted by this disparity in funding are people of color: A recent study found that white school districts have gotten $23 billion more in state and local funding than predominately nonwhite districts”

This sums it up perfectly. Underfunded school districts force parents to intercede in their child’s education. They have no choice. Williams-Bolar and McDowell’s move of falsifying their address isn’t hurting anyone; what these other parents did is, they had a choice. Their choice is keeping brighter and more capable students out. It’s fixing the system in their favor. These Black women should have never been charged; their children should have been given an equal chance at education.

There is so much I could go on about within this topic: how the hardworking student of color lost a spot to a privileged but less deserving white student, how the student of color might be lost in student loan debt because of all of the loans they had to take out, how the student of color isn’t heard at their university with regards to their experience,  how the student of color is passed over for job opportunities in the future…

However, what we need to start with is educational opportunities suited for all students. We need to reward hardworking students, instead of letting them down. The whole educational system needs an overhaul with all parents, instructors, administrators, coaches, and the community working towards the betterment of the students’ education. Every student. The education system is far from equal when it comes to race and wealth. This need to change.

Referenced articles:


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Making the grade or paying for it: Meritocracy is a lie; so are quotas

So, let’s talk a bit about the college admission testing scam, bribery, fraud story that involves dozens of parents with enough money to try to buy their kids’ way into college but somehow not enough to educate and raise them well enough to make it into college on their own.

This is the part where, probably, those of you who don’t like me much will mutter, “She makes everything about race” and even those of you who agree with me a lot here might say, “Are we really surprised that people with money buy their kids’ way into college?” So, there may be a bunch of eye-rolling as people read this, because it may not seem like a racial issue.

But it really is. A good chunk of it anyway.

I mean, on one hand it’s both absurd and funny. We have a list of people who may or may not go to jail but nonetheless are facing serious federal charges, among them the actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman (though somehow Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy dodged being charged with anything). And jokes about “Aunt Becky” from “Fuller House” going bad or Macy possibly somehow avoiding arrest for what some of his iconic characters get nailed for are all well and good out there on those social media streets, and I’ve made some of them myself, but this is serious business.

And I need to say it again: Race matters here.

A New York Times article talked about some of why it matters, including as one interviewed source said: “This scandal exposed the fact that there is a misplaced emphasis on so-called affirmative action inequities, rather than privilege.”

I mean, you’ve heard people before gripe about “quotas” and people only getting into college because they’re not white, right? Maybe even had some of those thoughts yourself. You may recall a few years back Abigail Fisher, a white woman who sued claiming she didn’t get into the school of her choice because some person of color got her spot instead (instead of because her grades weren’t good enough), which ultimately failed but points to how pervasive this belief is, given that she actually decided to ram her case through the courts even though she didn’t deserve the admission. And think about it: How could she possibly know a person of color got her spot anyway?

Black parents in particular often have to tell their kids that they will have to work twice as hard to get as much as a white person does—and the reality is that we often get half as much for working twice as hard.

So much of the country buys into the lies that students of color, especially Black ones, are getting into schools without any qualifications and effort. People have accused me of getting my degrees only because I’m Black while also suggesting that I got a free ride for them for being Black. Let me tell you, the more than $100,000 I owe in student loans says otherwise. And after working my ass off for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I spent years in low-paying positions (which people still assumed I didn’t deserve because I was Black) before getting the one I have now that actually pays me something approaching what I’m worth, and people still want to say I’m not qualified despite my continued successes.

I’m not alone. Black women, for example, are among the most educated people around and yet they have massive debt as a result and continue to be underpaid and under-represented in high-level positions.

To be honest, it’s really galling to me that the Lori Loughlins and Felicity Huffmans and William H. Macys of the world (and their non-celebrity ilk) have been getting away with this kind of thing for years and people shrug and say “That’s the way it’s always been” and then have the nerve to question the right of someone like me to be in a school or to prosper from my degree.

Here are some other random thoughts about why this scandal matters in terms of race for a lot of non-white people but most especially Black ones:

  • We are constantly told that we’re held back by laziness or lack of ability and told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and yet the mediocre white people get to ascend the ranks constantly (remember slacker George W. Bush with his “gentleman’s C” grades in the Ivy League who got to be president…or the even less academically minded orange guy currently in the White House). That means mediocre (or worse) white people with fewer qualifications get to regularly and typically exert power and authority over smarter, more competent non-white ones.
  • Nobody questions that some partying, slacking white person in a college or university got there on merits, but we get questions about whether we’re part of a quota only because of the color of our skin, while we’re often making the grade and working our asses off to earn money.
  • People in this current scandal were faking sports participation/talent by their kids with doctored records and photos because their grades weren’t good enough, while non-white kids who get athletic scholarships and have good grades get accused of being idiots who only got into college because they can dribble or kick or pass a ball.
  • Black people who use other peoples’ addresses (like Tonya McDowell or Kelley Williams-Bolar) to ensure their kids can go to decent high schools under safe conditions have been given felony convictions and jail time—just for trying to make sure their kids get basic education. And I will be very surprised if the white people in this current scandal get much, if any, time at all in the end (possibly not even convictions). And even if they do, there are all those white people out there who did “less illegal” ways of getting their kids into college who probably think jailing those Black parents for faking an address is just fine, and that ain’t right.
  • Meanwhile, while people complain about “affirmative action” that doesn’t really hold white people back from opportunities at all and those same people claim to be all about real educations for people who “deserve it,” yet they also tend to be silent on the lack of funding for schools in largely non-white areas, leading to a $23-billion funding gap between mostly white schools compared to most non-white ones. They ain’t about educational equality; they’re about trying to ensure that Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are as under-educated and given as few opportunities as possible and that the social status quo of white’s first remains intact.

In the wake of this admissions scandal hitting the news, white America and Black America in particular are having two different discussions about it. And while it isn’t all about race, the problem is that in too many of the white discussions there isn’t any time devoted to the racial implications at all. And that’s why the affirmative action myth and all the related myths will continue to dominate for so many of them when they see a Black or brown person in a university setting and question their right to be there or look at their degree on a resume and disregard its validity.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash