Click on photo to watch TEDx Talk: Finding Myself in the Story of Race






Frustrated?  Stuck?  Feeling Like Something is Undermining Your Best Intentions?

It’s no wonder. Racism taps into our deepest fears and longings. Understanding how it works is the key to breaking down barriers that interfere with best intentions. If you’re white, chances are you’ve been taught not to talk about race. If you’re a person of color, you may be wondering what it is that white colleagues aren’t (yet!) understanding. 


Custom Keynote
Theme and length designed with host organization. See January 1, 2018 speech at Cambridge Public School District school committee inauguration here. Select Jan 1 Inauguration video. (Apologies for the extra step) Debby’s portion begins at minute 19.

I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough?
90 – 120 minute presentation and community dialog

Using historical and media images, Debby examines how she used her white-skewed belief system to interpret the world around her. Socialized on a narrow worldview, Debby explores how she spent decades silently reaffirming harmful, archaic racial patterns instead of questioning the racial disparities and tensions she could see and feel. This workshop is designed to support white people in making the paradigm shift from ‘fixing’ and ‘helping’ those believed to be inferior, to focusing on internalized white superiority and its role in perpetuating racism at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels. This presentation includes pauses for reflection, dialog, and Q&A.

How to Explain White Privilege to a Skeptic
also sometimes titled: Leveling the Playing Field: Interrupting Patterns of Power and Privilege

90 – 120 minute workshop 

Who doesn’t know a skeptic? Maybe you’re even a bit skeptical yourself. Using a series of pointed questions, Debby works with participants to build a graphic map of the groups people belong, and have belonged to, because of social locations and roles throughout U.S. history. Participants will think together about how various groups have and have not had access to rights, resources, representation, and respect, ultimately revealing the social positioning and impacts of white privilege and dispelling illusions of a level playing field. Once the graphic has been created, Debby then leads participants in an exploration of social dynamics and dominant cultural attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate power and privilege patterns, even when best intentions are in play. Ultimately this workshop explores how we can begin to level the playing field by interrupting common patterns of power and privilege. Participants will leave with two powerful tools to analyze power dynamics and cultivate transformative cultures in their circles of influence. This workshop is highly interactive and works for groups as small at 10 and as large as 150, as well as those new to the topic and those deeply versed in it.

Courageous Conversations: What Do They Look Like and Why Do They Matter?
90 – 120 minute workshop 

Debby starts with a brainstorming session about what courageous conversations are and how they differ from “regular” conversations. Groups ultimately discover that leaning into conversation despite fear of a negative outcome defines courageous conversations. Participants create a list of fears, some shared by all, some specific to one identity group or another. Once the group has opened up to the concept that unaddressed fear drives communities and relationships apart, Debby introduces a set of conversational approaches designed to deepen understanding in the name of relationship building and collective goal attainment. This workshop has two objectives: to increase awareness and vulnerability around the presence of fear in ALL of our lives; and to develop skills to engage effectively in moments when fear threatens to shut us down and divide us, wreaking havoc on our relationships and our communities.

We the People: Who is “We?”
90 – 120 minute workshop

 Using historical and media images, Debby explores the social forces that undermine best “diversity and inclusion” intentions and initiatives. Blending history, personal storytelling, data, and human behavior, Debby helps participants think together about why creating authentic relationships and equitable institutional practices is so much easier said than done. By examining the roots of racial and class divisions in the United States, this presentation provides context, as well as strategies, for those struggling to create sustained community and collective action for greater peace and equity at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels. This presentation includes pauses for reflection and small group discussion.

Tell Me the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations
90 minute on-state conversation with Shay Stewart-Bouley (aka Black Girl In Maine) followed by community dialog

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. Current events, in their own lives and in the larger world, inspire the organic conversation they engage in. Finally, Shay and Debby will offer suggestions to create racial justice habits that can move us from isolated events to sustainable connections. Learn more here.

Not In My School! How White Supremacy, White Privilege, and Other Forms of Oppression
Undermine Best Intentions

All-day workshop with Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr.

Why do events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and McKinney drive our school communities apart? How can they be used instead as teachable, community-building moments? As the ongoing surge in highly visible racial incidents impacts students differentially along racial lines, schools have a unique opportunity to deepen understanding of self and society as well as develop campus engagement. This interactive and challenging all-day workshop explores how these headline stories relate to the impacts that power, privilege and oppression can have on student and family engagement, teacher preparation, curriculum development, and everyday campus interactions. We will explore U.S. institutional history, media messaging, and cultural habits that have led to where we are today. With raised awareness, we’ll develop new skills and habits for sustainable, effective personal and institutional transformation. Learn more here.

Black Women & White Women: Reconciling Our Past, Redefining Our Future
All-day workshop with A. Faith English

Why do we too often find ourselves divided, competitive, and avoiding one another? Despite best intentions, relationships between black and white women can be inauthentic, lacking empathy, depth, and mutual support. This disconnection limits our ability to understand and negotiate shared issues — from daycare to the office. This session should particularly benefit women seeking inspiration and connection across the black/white racial boundary as we move participants into and through difficult conversations about our shared past and the impact of our history with each other. We’ll identify historical and personal barriers to creating authentic cross-cultural relationships and explore a common vision and action plan for moving forward. Enhanced relationships between black women and white women holds the promise of creating the unity, teamwork, and reconciliation necessary for personal, professional, institutional, and social growth. This is a challenging workshop designed to uncover unspoken tensions in order to move beyond them. Learn more here.

The Color of Culture: Reshaping Ourselves and Our Communities for Racial Equity
All-day workshop with Tiffany Taylor Smith

Without a shared framework to understand U.S. history and dynamics of power and privilege, institutional and individual hopes and initiatives for a more equitable world can be illusive. Good intentions can yield surprisingly lackluster results if we don’t have a grasp of the cultural context in which we are operating. What are the unwritten rules of success in U.S. culture? Who determines them? Monitors them? Challenges them? Without making visible the unwritten rules of race, class, gender, religion and other differences, patterns of power and privilege, we can — despite our best intentions –unknowingly reproduce them. Join us for a day of transformational learning about how cultural assumptions, communication styles, implicit bias, micro aggressions, and engrained social habits influence our daily experiences and shape our community cultures. Participants will leave with tools to better understand their personal and professional environments as well as to be effective equity change agents. Learn more here.

To book Debby please email
Check out Debby’s schedule here