A conversation with Michelle Davis-Howard, MS, LPC, ORSCC
At the heart of Michelle Davis-Howard's 20-year career lies a deep belief that we all have the capacity for change, to be better for and with one another. This belief carried Michelle into a career within the field of child welfare and recognizing that children are one of the world's greatest resources, and that we as adults have an obligation to be better for them.
Since she began her career as a juvenile probation officer in 1995, Michelle has progressed from working one-on-one with children and their families to shaping the larger systems meant to support them. Her interest in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) was piqued by the recommendation of a colleague, who recognized her desire to create holistic change at a systems level.
In addition to being an ORSC-certified coach, Michelle is a licensed professional counsellor and Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator. Michelle holds a master's degree in counselling from the University of Nebraska. She has written over 100 training curricula, and worked across more than 30 states facilitating culturally responsive practices in areas including child welfare, and diversity and equity within child and family serving systems.
CRR Global USA is honored to include Michelle in the team of professionals leading our Diversity & Inclusion initiative.
In this conversation, Michelle shares her thoughts on why diversity and inclusion is critical, and her approach to healing division by “getting rid of the yuck between us.”
On what lights her up
My purpose is to be the bridge that brings people together. If I were to name a superpower - it would be that I can rise above the noise, get on the balcony and discern what really matters and have a conversation from truth and meaning. How can we create from that? How can we give and let go at the same time, offer grace, offer learning, and be influenced and influence-able? Bridging all of that gets us to a place where we can be in right relationship.
All that I've done in my career has opened my awareness about inequities that are in the system - smaller systems that we work in and the larger system we live in. When I look at the child and family serving systems and the criminal justice system - and we all know this - black and brown people are highly overrepresented. I ask myself, why? Why is this particular group of people more likely to be incarcerated, to be poor, to have worse health and educational outcomes or, in the field of child welfare, more likely to be removed from their home?
All of these negative outcomes carry significant consequences to members of those communities, many related to race-based trauma. It’s hard for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) children and families to recover from that. Some may ask, why is that? There have been a number of theories put forth as to why overrepresentation of BIPOC exists, however, the final analysis of each theory will land us at the same place – racism. And ultimately, the reasons don't change the circumstantial impact on BIPOC that is rooted in the belief the dominant group has about another group based on the color of their skin. That's not okay with me.
That’s the fire that gets lit inside of me, my reason for taking action toward the inequities and biases that uphold racist practices - particularly when it comes to children who are born innocent of these matters and are taught how to hate. We owe them better. We owe them more.
On actively promoting diversity and inclusion
It matters. Seeing humanity for humanity's sake matters. We get introduced to so many things that attempt to separate us, particularly through media and political agendas.
As humans, we have diversity – we think differently, hold different perspectives and ideas – that’s what makes us unique and different, and should be celebrated. Once we start to create fear, based upon those differences - due to skin color - we begin to dehumanize groups of people, and lock them out of opportunity.
What is so beautiful to me about ORSC is how the tools help us see deeper into one another – see truth and meaning – that allows us to be in right relationship with the human, bringing that out in front and actually experiencing real connection and relationship. People start to see - “Yeah, maybe I have been operating in a way that is counter to relationship, in a way that is not consistent with the impact I want to have.” Coming to recognize the dissonance between what we’ve been taught, how we’ve been shaped and what is actually true and honor perspectives outside of our own experience is when we rise to the true nature of who we are.
You need to wrestle with that, so you can understand the need to be different for humanity's sake. That's why it matters. Love matters first, and racism has people behaving outside the way of love.
On the value of ORSC
There is a lot of talk about white privilege. People get defensive about that. White privilege essentially means that an opportunity is afforded more to members of the dominant white group than to people of color. Privilege doesn't mean people are competing to see who has had the most difficulty in life. It is more about opportunity - who has had the table set for them and who hasn't even been invited into the house. It drives me a bit crazy and definitely makes me sad that people in positions of power made decisions that intentionally sought to demonize and dehumanize a group of people, people of color, for the sake of elevating their own opportunity, security and well-being. Unfortunately, it's been allowed to go on in this country for centuries. That is the meaning of white privilege.
Defensiveness rises fast in conversations about race. People on both sides of the argument get really offended when their self-perception or lived experience is called into question or denied. The belief that you are being judged creates defensiveness and hijacked emotions. A conversation in this state is no longer productive. ORSC offers an opportunity to build language around how we can be in relationship with this thing that's between us, to move it out of the way for the sake of our connection and healing. Dropping our defenses and opening ourselves to influence allows other aspects of ourselves to come forward; a willingness to be authentic and share those parts of ourselves that coalesce into our common humanity.
On why relationship is key
At the foundation, it’s about relationships. We are meant to connect. We are hardwired for connection, as Brené Brown says. If that's the truth, the question becomes - how can we be in relationship and connect in a more skillful way? We all have historical baggage that makes us unskillful in moments, but if we want relationship, ORSC offers the tools that help people be in relationship with their baggage and in connection with another human.
I’m also certified in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead and Daring Way. One important element she discusses is shame. Revealing that, shining light on that shame inside, releases its power. Once you work through that, the question is how to skillfully move and navigate in a relationship with another.
The more aware I am of the shame that I carry, of the stories that I make up, the more skillfully I can walk into building and creating relationship with somebody else.
On her favourite ORSC tools
ORSC tools have a magical element that helps people see what they don't usually see about themselves, and what they don’t see in their relationship with others.
I like exploring Myth Change and working with Lands and Deep Democracy. I think these tools allow you to peek inside to see the story and how it has and is unfolding. They also share the story of a system through diverse and shared perspectives. I also enjoy exploring using Edge Work which builds insight in a way that allows us to see our primary way of operating and the opportunity to integrate a secondary way, one that may provide more of what the coachee is wanting. Edge Work is about change and change is what is needed now. Our entire country is trying to cross over an edge, some refusing, others confused and some open and willing. It is interesting to witness.
On her heroes
First and foremost, my heroes are my mother and father. Without them - their sacrifices and commitment to me and my brothers and sister - I might not be sharing this now. I also consider the Obamas inspirational heroes. Despite multiple obstacles placed in front of them, that kept their head up, stayed focused on their true north. They preserved, stayed strong, and led with authenticity and dignity. It reflects what many black people have done in this country for centuries.
On the key thing she hopes to accomplish in her work
Fostering the understanding that fear is a prison, love is freedom, and guiding people towards behaviors which reflect love and offer freedom.
Listening & Viewing
Want to connect with Michelle? Get in touch via her LinkedIn profile.
Interested in ORSC training?