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Dr. Rassheedah Watts of the Inclusive Action Institute: “Without hope, we have nothing”

If you’ve noticed, from a human, social perspective, the pandemic initially caused an almost collective silence in the first few months where everything seemed to go still, heightened by the stay-at-home orders. There was a lot of time to be in our thoughts. To process, debrief, rethink and reimagine things, without the typical fun run […]

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If you’ve noticed, from a human, social perspective, the pandemic initially caused an almost collective silence in the first few months where everything seemed to go still, heightened by the stay-at-home orders. There was a lot of time to be in our thoughts. To process, debrief, rethink and reimagine things, without the typical fun run to Starbucks to break the silence. I found myself thinking about priorities, opportunities, and creating a legacy for my child. My husband, being one of the many thousands of Americans without jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis, really made me think outside of the box as far as creating an independent revenue mechanism. I come from a worker bee mindset, where just having a good job was sufficient. While in past jobs, I’ve been responsible for overseeing large national projects through completion, the aspect of being solely responsible for my own business was new to me. So, I had to shift my mindset from worker bee to the queen bee running the show.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rassheedah Watts.

Dr. Rassheedah Watts, The Inclusive Community Architect, is founder and owner of the Inclusive Action Institute which provides professional and personal development solutions in diversity, racial justice, leadership and inclusion for positive change agency and sustainable transformations. As a certified social justice trainer, educator and C-suite diversity officer, she felt compelled to broaden her reach to help committed individuals and organizations move from knowledge to action, which is how her socialpreneur journey began. Dr. Rassheedah credits the transformational outcomes of her work to the integration of her 20 years professional expertise and personal experiences, which help inform her compassionate-based approach.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Most definitely. First and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to share my story! Since I enjoy story-sharing and the value it brings in human connection, I will try my best not to give you the archival version of my life, I promise. Where I am now and where I come from is a pretty transformational story. My upbringing was a life of little means, although I wasn’t reminded of it daily, I was aware of it. It was instilled in me from an early age to be fiscally responsible, which helps me to this day.

I’m originally from San Francisco, California and mainly grew up in the Mission District, 24th Street neighborhood. Growing up there in the 80’s and 90’s, it was an area that had a known gang reputation. I was largely oblivious to those things as I never had any run-in’s or bad experiences, but my classmates would remind me that the area was the “dangerous zone”. Truly, God protected me because there were plenty of people who were murdered in those streets.

I was raised in a single-parent household, to an immigrant mother with Central American and Puerto Rican ancestry. Ethnically she was a mixture of African, Indigenous, and probably Spanish. They called her negra, a spanish word of endearment meaning Black. She and her siblings flew to the U.S. when she was in her teens. Later in high school, she met a handsome man, my father, an African American man, and the rest is history.

My childhood and cultural awareness shaped me, and drives my passion for working in diversity, equity and social justice. Being a little girl, tagging along with my mother, I would see Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds treat her in diminishing or devaluing ways because she spoke with an accent. As an 8-year-old child, I would observe these contentious interactions, and its forever impacted me by raising my compassion and empathy for others. There are bad apples in every tree, as well as good apples in every tree. Of course, using today’s language, the interactions I witnessed were overt microaggressions and others were incidents of racism.

Growing up in San Francisco, in my Mission district neighborhood was an incredible gift in racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. It was beautiful! My neighborhood had a mixture of whites, Blacks, Latinx, Asian, queer couples, and we were all friendly neighbors. It was a bubble of normality which I thought existed everywhere. I have memories of walking down the main road on Mission Street, and having the option to get delicious burritos, Filipino lumpias, or Salvadorean pupusas, all within a 2 to 3 blocks. It was a global food paradise.

All of this to say, the work I now do in diversity, racial justice and inclusion is intrinsically in my blood. I look at things from multifaceted lens (and always a multicultural lens) which really helps me elevate human connectedness. Because of this, I have the ability to help people see things from alternate viewpoints they may not have considered in the past. For example, when Covid-19 hit and the stay at home orders commenced, the first group of people that came to my mind were cash-paid housekeepers, because my mother was a housekeeper. Although I knew stimulus checks were being sent out, I knew there would be a large group of cash-paid workers who would not get a thing. This concerned me greatly.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen and observe” is the advice my mother gave me, which has served me well. I am a sensor, an INFJ in the Myers-Briggs personality chart, which makes a lot of sense for my career path. I have learned quite a lot about people and organizational cultures by listening and observing behaviors. Although I am more of an ambivert (as opposed to an introvert), listening and observing has helped me better understand people’s perspectives and their learning roadblocks. It’s also made me more attuned to diagnosing the level of safety or toxicity within organizational leadership and its employee culture within the diversity and inclusion space.

From a purely personal vantage point, when I have conversations with friends or family members, I can sense when something is wrong. I’ve been able to gently tease out information to help them find a solution to their problem. So, listening and observing has been absolutely rewarding in both my personal and professional life.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The 1983 movie, El Norte by Gregory Nava is a film that I cannot recommend enough. I first saw it on our local Public Broadcasting channel, when I was around 8 years old. El Norte translates into The North, and it’s about the idealistic view that a Central American brother and sister have about the United States of America. The movie does a great job of highlighting the false narrative that is so often told about Latin American immigrants.

In the first part of the movie director Gregory Nava, introduces us to a beautiful indigenous community in Guatemala. We are then shown the massacre that occurs in that community which forces the siblings to flee for their life, only to endure more pain and grief through their journey to the U.S. Once they enter the United States, they initially don’t comprehend why they are marginalized and mistreated, as their only perspective was gleaned from American soap operas where everyone’s interaction was pleasant, and above reproach.

From other characters in the story, we see displays of internalized superiority (a belief that one is better than another person) based on language capability, indigenous appearance, and other factors that are quite fascinating. El Norte is an incredibly layered story that touches on many social justice themes, which is why I appreciate it so much. I’ve successfully used it as a learning tool when teaching my post-secondary Social Justice Leadership course. It is a narrative-changer and I can’t speak highly of it enough.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge its resonance with me given its familiar connection to my mother’s homeland. She would tell me stories about the campesinos, the peasant farmers, and the indigenous customs she was raised with. It was always so fascinating to hear her stories which were so different from my North American way of living. So, when the initial scene of the movie opens up showing the traditional clothing and food among the indigenous community, it was like touching a bit of my own history. Seeing it as a young child probably weighed heavy on me, but the story itself is just so impactful. It’s a wonderful awareness-building tool and you stream it on Amazon.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

Sure. I have over 20 years professional experience, and more than a decade of that time dedicated to working within higher education. As a C-suite diversity officer and social justice educator, I’ve been blessed to work in my passion-zone. The passion-zone is that thing you would love to do even if you weren’t paid to do it. Teaching students in the classroom, or leading equity and inclusion solution-oriented strategies are my passion. As a matter of fact, I will adjust my passion-zone definition a bit. For me, this work goes beyond what I love to do, it is what I must do. I will always stand against injustice and work toward elevating human value. This is not just a career; it is my life.

I’ve worked in both the public and private sectors in a variety of fields. So as an eventual Jill-of-all-trades, I felt as if I had done it all. However, the one thing I had never done (nor knew how to do) was establish my own business as an entrepreneur. Not knowing much about this new lane I was entering, I was excited and hesitant. I realized there were a few things I had to do to get out of my own way and move past my fears.

Awareness-building was my first step toward this, because I needed to research information to learn everything I didn’t know. Courage was my next step in this process, as this entire venture involved risk-taking and overcoming a fear of failure. Once my confidence grew, I understood that the lives I would positively impact far outweighed any fear, so my action step was to form the Inclusive Action Institute. Awareness. Courage. Action. The A.C.A. pillars TM are a trusted 3-step process I developed to help build knowledge and move toward action. Had I not followed this process, I would be immobilized with fear or information paralysis.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

If you’ve noticed, from a human, social perspective, the pandemic initially caused an almost collective silence in the first few months where everything seemed to go still, heightened by the stay-at-home orders. There was a lot of time to be in our thoughts. To process, debrief, rethink and reimagine things, without the typical fun run to Starbucks to break the silence. I found myself thinking about priorities, opportunities, and creating a legacy for my child. My husband, being one of the many thousands of Americans without jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis, really made me think outside of the box as far as creating an independent revenue mechanism. I come from a worker bee mindset, where just having a good job was sufficient. While in past jobs, I’ve been responsible for overseeing large national projects through completion, the aspect of being solely responsible for my own business was new to me. So, I had to shift my mindset from worker bee to the queen bee running the show.

The pandemic’s collective stillness also resulted in a heightened awareness.

None of us could escape the horror we saw unfold on television, showing George Floyd’s life leaving his body right in front of our eyes. Police violence toward unarmed African American men is not new, but this incident, during such a still time, sent a loud shockwave throughout our nation. Our human collective was in grief. I was horrified. I felt an unshakeable duty to use my expertise beyond the reach of my C-suite diversity role. Our new virtual reality made it possible to offer virtual nationwide support to individuals and organizations committed to racial justice, inclusion and diversity. This made it easier to pivot to my current online business model.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

As a C-suite executive in higher education, I’ve had to design innovative diversity programming that touched the heart of people, the core of change and justice, all through a zoom platform. It was something that I had never done before, and once implemented, it went incredibly well. I received paid business offers for my services, which I initially turned down since it went beyond the scope of my role. I admit, I was thinking small. That’s the worker bee mindset I spoke about earlier. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize I could design and offer businesses something distinct, that was my own. I also realized that I could offer nationwide support. After all, why play small when I can play giant!

How are things going with this new initiative?

Great! With time and planning it will go even better. I have an upcoming Healing and Racial Justice Conference aimed at teaching effective allyships skills and community building. I am deep diving into action planning, accountability measures, and I’m really focused on moving people from knowledge to action, which is the core of what I do. Hence, the name, Inclusive Action Institute. Many people have attended other trainings over the years, and have learned a wealth of information, but they don’t know what to do with it. People want to take action and Inclusive Action Institute teaches people how to do so.

Some of my clients are from Iowa, Texas, New York…truly from across the nation, and I’m currently in Minnesota. It’s amazing seeing my vision come to fruition. My Allyship Learning Academy for C-suite executives and highly committed learners is also starting soon, so I’m excited to see the transformations that will take place. I know that people want to be a part of the solution for racial justice. Many just need the right environment to learn and implement changes.

From a business-logistics standpoint, I am self-funded, which limits me in many ways, such as marketing. As the saying goes, you can be the best at what you do, but if no one knows about you, it’s as if you don’t exist. Therefore, I’m working on innovative ways to market online using a shoestring budget. I’ve created a Youtube channel by the same name to help me establish an online presence, and I also use LinkedIn to advertise some of my services. I’ll continue to look for other opportunities to advertise, but I’m looking for investors committed to racial justice to help broaden my reach.

Being a socialpreneur is different. There is a revenue piece that is certainly a part of the business, but the social transformation is the core of my work. I am driven by clients committed to change rather than the financial aspect alone. If an organization is seeking to check off their diversity checklist by throwing their dollars for show purposes only, but they’re not invested in true change, then I am not the company for them. C-suite diversity roles can run into similar challenges, given the varying degrees of internal priorities and commitments. There are also different political factors involved that make deep organizational change slower than desired. However, with paid clients, the politics and competing priorities are non-existent. If a client is seeking me out, it’s because they are committed and ready to be a part of the solution. This has been a refreshing aspect of my business. No convincing needed, just solutions and transformations. This allows me to support clients in the best way possible, and I love it!

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

4 transformational women have impacted my life, in this order.

My mother, who helped me learn how to stand independently from a very young age, and how to make something out of nothing. I can go anywhere, do anything, and not only survive but thrive. I am grateful for those life lessons which serve me tremendously today.

Crystal Rae Coel, Esquire, an award-winning lecturer, attorney, and seasoned educator who was the first Black female scholar that I met, who took the time to get to know me and inspire me to achieve more. I saw in her what I never imagined I could be. I was an administrative assistant at that time we met, and I remember she clearly stated that I would be a doctor. I thought she was out of her mind, but years later here I am, a scholar-practitioner. I am grateful for her mentorship, support and friendship.

Dr. Lynn Richardson, financial guru. I’m a former client, and she taught me how to consider alternative revenue streams, and how to do it the right way. She role modeled for me how she could be her most authentic self, while running an incredibly successful business. She would incorporate Bible verses into her training materials, which is something I had never seen done, and I greatly appreciated it. I learned how to be a savvy financially minded woman, and I’m really grateful for the business-minded seed she planted in me.

Mia Redrick, is an expert-level transformational coach and my mentor. She is extremely gifted and is definitely the next piece in my life quilt. She (and God) is responsible for elevating my mindset and helping me stand in my value. She helped me expand my business-minded seed into a tangible business. Inclusive Action Institute is definitely a result of working under her expertise. She is transformational, authentic, fearless and results-driven! All the qualities that I love. I am so thankful our paths crossed because she has shown me how to live large, which I do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Definitely. I don’t know if this has happened to anyone else, but once I started, I had a moment of clarity when I wondered why it had taken me so long to start my business in the first place. It was similar to a person going from store to store, looking for the perfect jewel, only to discover that the perfect jewel was one they already owned. They simply had to open up their jewelry chest to find it. That’s how I felt after I started my business, and I think that is pretty amazing.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/89c918afddab70c63dc22731570d5dab

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Racial battle fatigue is huge in my line of work, and for people of color, in general. Everything else in the new cycle has heightened fear, anxiety, and fatigue. One huge step for me was to step away from the news cycle. I need to be informed by the news but not consumed by it, and I found that I was definitely letting the latter happen to me. My philosophy is that in order to pour into others, our own glass must first be full. So, I’ve taken a step back by deliberately only looking at the highlights of the news. I’m also a believer in prayer and I find respite in the word of God. I need the time to refresh my spirit and soul in order to continue living with a right-mind. Otherwise, I would be overwhelmed with anxiety and depression when looking at our current state of affairs. Yet, because of my current practices, I am still able to hold my head up and have hope in my heart. Without hope, we have nothing.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to create an A.C.A. Pillars TM movement (awareness, courage, action), as I see it as a foundational process for positive change agency. You don’t know what you don’t know, whether it’s making harmful assumptions about others or living within a limited mindset. Both of these groups need their minds to be transformed to make the most positive impact in our world. I say that from my own experiences. Whether it is teaching folks how to be inclusive, racial justice allies, or whether it was my husband and I working on our poverty mind-set. When you are socialized to believe certain things about yourself and others, the toxic cycle of injustice continues to be perpetuated. People need to be set free, but it starts with moving from awareness to action.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Dr. Joy DeGruy, a prolific researcher, educator and scholar. Author of the Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome. I have listened to her teachings over the last several years, and she gives me “Aha moments” from beginning to end when talking about the history of America and the long-lasting impact of chattel slavery. She is phenomenal at sharing many of these hard to hear historical truths. I have learned a lot from her wealth of knowledge and grace, and by observing Dr. DeGruy’s style. She is definitely inspirational in my racial justice journey and her information is infused throughout the work I do. It would be an absolute honor to meet a speaker of truth and healing, an absolute honor. I admire her strength, resilience, and courage. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I honor her for standing in the truth.

How can our readers follow you online?

Get on my newsletter at www.inclusiveactioninstitute.com to stay informed of upcoming learning opportunities.

@Blackwomanseen is my personal twitter, and I would love followers.

https://www.facebook.com/InclusiveActionInstitute and https://www.linkedin.com/in/inclusiveactioninstitute/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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