MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Last year, Denica Gordon-Mandel and her three sisters were sitting around talking about what it was like to raise children of color in this country.
They began to ask questions like what really creates a solid foundation for their children? What kinds of conversations did they need to have with their children? What are their values?
The end result of that conversation was the establishment of Raising Compassionate Leaders, a leading resource for parents to foster dialogue around diversity and inspire children to respect different cultures, interact from an inclusive perspective and protect themselves and others from harmful “isms” (racism, classism, ableism, sexism and more).
“The ultimate goal is to have parents take a pause and look at what’s happening in the world and reflect on all the ‘isms’ and how its had an impact on their lives and others and create a foundation in the family about fairness and equity,” said Gordon-Mandel, who launched Raising Compassionate Leaders in 2019 with her sister, Christina Johnson, an educator. “They can teach their children to step into this role of being compassionate. Depending on the child, it could be quiet participation or assertive.”
A licensed therapist specializing in evidence-based therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, Gordon-Mandel has experience providing therapy to adults and adolescents, treating anxiety disorders, mood disorders, relationship concerns, as well as female maturational transitions such as pregnancy, infertility, menopause, navigating work/life, dating and partnership issues.
When she launched the company, Gordon-Mandel said she and her sister wanted part of the organization’s role to include providing parent resources as well as corporate and employee anti-bias education, by offering a series of training webinars focused specifically for work environments.
These training programs leverage its research-backed frameworks to help parents, employees and other participants in a corporate setting to better understand multicultural perspectives, race, diversity and other pertinent topics. Parents, educators and industry leaders can use Raising Compassionate Leaders’ free tools, videos, podcasts, discussions with experts and other resources.
With a focus on parenting and age-appropriate resources and tools, Raising Compassionate Leaders leverages a specific framework called FEEL: Foundation, Exploration, Engagement and Leadership.
Gordon-Mandel, a married mother of two, said parents using FEEL can actively and conscientiously shape the thoughts that fuel their children’s feelings in complex situations regarding culture and community.
According to Gordon-Mandel, children as young as six months notice color and can pick up on certain behaviors.
“That process starts early,” she said. “Children turn to their parents to see if that person is safe and if parents have anxiety or tense up around people with differences. At 3 or 4 they start to see stereotypes on TV. They start to see who is popular, who is in, and who is out. They start playing out racial play. Who is the princess, who is the leader, and more importantly, who can’t be the leader? All of that starts early.”
Gordon-Mandel, who has a master’s degree in social work from USC and a master’s in psychology from Pepperdine University, said it’s all about adults and parents “re-educating themselves.”
“If we can get adults to have these conversations with an opening where parents are more willing to educate themselves and then educate their children, that would be a start,” Gordon-Mandel said. “More than ever before, we need to teach our next generation how to address and talk about issues of race, inclusion, and diversity.”
When it comes to the current climate in the country regarding race and cultural conflicts, Raising Compassionate Leaders is providing a framework to help bring people together.
“The catalyst for this is what was happening in our country,” Gordon-Mandel said. “Things like Trump, police brutality, Black Lives Matter. It was interesting for us to know we were all having these conversations. It was also interesting what people didn’t know about Black people in this country.”
Due to COVID-19, Raising Compassionate Leaders is unable to physically return to businesses and corporations to conduct the program.
“Working with corporations has been phenomenal,” Gordon-Mandel said. “People are open to having conversations. They haven’t had someone come to them and say, ‘Hey, let me educate you.’”
When it’s safe to return to in-person training, Gordon-Mandel said her organization will “go back into corporations to conduct webinars and training.”
“We’ll be bringing in experts and thinkers for public member consumption,” she said. “Our resources, videos, training programs,and other tools give parents and adults the knowledge and frameworks they need to engage in uncomfortable dialogue.”
Gordon-Mandel said most people “shy away from real conversations.”
“The emotionality that people have when you bring things up, like the ‘isms,’ is fascinating,” she said. “How do you get people to sit and have the discomfort and have meaningful dialogue?”
Gordon-Mandel said the question becomes how to address the conversation and not make it combative.
“The identity of being a Black woman is something we always carry with us,” Gordon-Mandel said. “White is considered the norm and everything else is compared to that. They are in a place where they haven’t had to consider us. The notion that ‘If you work hard, you get your just reward,’ that hasn’t been the case. It takes being open and honest to understand our lived experience.”
Gordon-Mandel’s “experience,” includes growing up with her sisters and a brother in a diverse, multi-racial cultural landscape.
“When we were growing up, we had a serious foundation that provided scaffolding,” Gordon-Mandel said. “We set a framework and explored what it is for us and our family and what kind of engagement that is for us. We’re talking about in-laws, extended family, schools, and them talking about conversation and how those can sometimes be hard to have. You have to be an advocate for yourself and ask yourself what does all of this look like?”
Asked what has to happen in order for her to feel Raising Compassionate Leaders has been successful, Gordon-Mandel said, “I believe in the ripple. If I can just reach one person, I’m successful. If I reach one parent I feel good. If we can influence one, they can influence another. This is a lifelong journey. There is always work that has to be done. We have to self-reflect and grow and be better. We do what we can in our sphere. We can all become a little more aware. We all have to start showing up.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.