Workshops & Keynotes

Debby speaking in front of a slide of a white group of business men

Hire Us

"I've been lucky enough to work with Debby and her planning team for in-person events and Zoom presentations. Each event was filled with honest moments where participants were asked to  consider new information; to sit with their discomfort; and most importantly, to consider new ways of being in the world - strengthening our language, building our connections, and committing to continued knowledge-building and personal growth and change. Debby reminds us that she is not an "expert" - she is someone willing to make her learning public - mistakes and all! I want to especially shout-out the power of reading (and re-reading) Waking Up White, and how returning to the final chapters, about the ways we can take action, have been fuel for ongoing personal work. I am grateful for Debby's personal stories, historical context-building, anti-racism pushes and resources to ensure we don't stall out when the work is hard."

–Lisa Vahey, co-chair of Shaker Heights' Racial Equity DEI Committee

Virtual, In Person, or Hybrid?

In our experience, online events are no less impactful than in person. Rich learning, lively conversations, and next-steps thinking/planning are all available to us in virtual spaces. It’s more a matter of tradeoffs. In person, we get to gather before and after the engagement for a meal, I’m able to tour your physical space, and participants are able to read body language and connect before and after the event. Often we find groups lingering in the parking lot long after the venue’s doors have closed. However, online events have their own upsides. For many, it’s emotionally and physically easier to attend an event from a space of their own. Additionally, resource sharing, email swaps, chat interactions, and small group breakouts offer surprisingly impactful intimacy and relationship building. The latest option - hybrid events - bring their own tradeoffs. On the upside, they make events much more accessible. On the downside, they add a layer of complexity in terms of technology and community conversation. All are great options in our opinion, as long as the decision is intentional and well thought through.

Still unsure? Cynthia Pesantez is here to coach you through the entire planning process, offering insight into building buy-in, logistical considerations, and overall setting your team up for success. 

What will the costs look like?

Fees vary based on organization size and type as well as scope of engagement, starting at $2,500 for nonprofit organizations, and of course, in-person engagements incur a travel fee. Please know that we are experienced in coaching hosts to maximize community impact and momentum regardless of budget.

We offer pro bono engagements to women of color led organizations and initiatives. 

--Cynthia and Debby

Can I see examples of your talks?

See client list here.

The best way to get a sense of my voice and message is to check out my media page.

For engagement inquiries, click here.

To set hosts up for success, Cynthia and Debby design engagements based on hosts' specific needs. Below are some of the building blocks we use. Please note: this is not a menu. Our process is highly personalized.

Cornerstone Offerings

Fireside Chats and Panels

Time determined by host.

Conversation is the way human beings think together, and I love being in conversation with anyone also seeking to better understand white supremacy past and present as well grow their antiracist/social justice practice. Fireside chats can take the format of an interview or a conversation among peers. For panels, I'm happy to facilitate or participate. What I most appreciate about these non-presentation style engagements is the organic flow and collective wisdom that emerges. Not only is conversation the way we human beings think together, speaking candidly about one's own racism - from the white progressive perspective - is something many white people need role models for. I present never as an expert, only a committed antiracist and an ongoing work-in-progress.

I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough?

2 hour presentation with time for community conversation. Can be shortened to work as keynote or webinar and expanded to include more dialog and reflection.

Using historical and media images, I examine how I used my white-skewed belief system to interpret the world around me. Socialized on a narrow worldview, I explore how I spent decades silently reaffirming harmful, archaic racial patterns instead of questioning the racial disparities and tensions I 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.

Leveling the Playing Field: Interrupting Patterns of Power and Privilege

Alternate title: How to Explain White Privilege to a Skeptic

2 hour workshop, cannot be shortened but we welcome lengthening for more reflection and discussion time.

Using a series of pointed questions, I work with participants to build a graphic map of the groups people belong to because of social locations and historical roles in U.S. society. Participants will explore with me the social beliefs, attitudes, and dynamics that can perpetuate patterns of power and privilege. Understanding that the more versed we become in the ways of whiteness, the more able we are to set our individual and institutional intentions to actively counter it. This workshop offers a reframing of DEI work to shift current power and privilege dynamics to equitable shared problem solving, envisioning, and co-creating. Participants will leave with powerful tools to analyze power dynamics and cultivate transformative cultures in their circles of influence.  Requirements: Previous participation in I’m a Good Person! Isn’t that Enough? 

Transformational Conversations: Moving from Fear to Curiosity

90-120 minute workshop

Because dominant white culture encourages us to avoid conflict, many of us raised in it have not fully developed the insight, skill, and emotional stamina necessary to broach and navigate differences of perspective and opinion, especially when harm to a member of a marginalized group is part of the mix. Too often these conversations are completely avoided or broached only to go from bad to worse, leaving people in divided camps teeming with assumption and anger that further divides us and wreaks havoc on our communities. There is a different way. In contrast to the social norms of whiteness are norms designed to develop the vulnerability, skill, and courage necessary to create deep connection and resilience; ways of being that sustain and grow us personally and collectively. This workshop will explore how to embed new, transformational norms into our personal and institutional practices.

Custom Workshops

Longer and multi-day workshops are available and combine elements of the above and below as well as additional material, exercises, reflections, and facilitated conversations designed to create a deeper experience and shift the racial power dynamics in your community. Submit an inquiry to receive further information.

Collaborative Offerings

Ten Things Every DEI Council Should Know

90-minute coaching session with Cynthia Pesantez

DEI councils have a big and crucial job: they advance equity; create initiatives and set expectations that are both realistic and ambitious; and inspire a thirst for the work. They drive equity work at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and institutional level. But can we do this work effectively while preventing burnout and ensuring real and lasting impact? How can we find and foster joy while digging into this challenging work? How do we disrupt the patterns of power and privilege that creep into our committees despite best intentions? How do we move beyond the choir, and draw new people and ideas into our DEI ecosystem? Cynthia and Debby break down 10 key concepts that help your team explore these questions and more as you embark on or deepen your journey together. 90 minutes includes time for reflection and discussion. Can be expanded to include more activities and group process time. 

Tell Me What To Do! Strategies for Cultivating Cross-Racial Relationships

2-6 hour workshop with Kimberlee Yolanda Williams

White folks, are you afraid to say the wrong thing? Are you afraid that what you do is going to come off as racist? Does this fear keep you from engaging in relationships across the racial divide? Does this prevent your relationships from going deeper and getting to a place of authentic engagement? Are you screaming inside, will someone just tell me what not to do, what not to say? Come learn how to move past this fear and engage in resilient bonds that can weather the intricacies of relationships we were never meant to have. We’ll offer concrete strategies, reframes, and an awareness of the historical context that can make cross-racial relationships so much harder than we’d like them to be.

Folks of color, are you receiving inauthentic vibes from white folks and wondering what that’s all about? Are you desiring to share truth in an environment where you can be confident it will be heard and affirmed, and your safety will be prioritized.

Decolonizing: Placing Indigenous Peoples in the Conversation

90-minute live conversation with Claudia Fox Tree followed by community dialog

Join Claudia Fox Tree and Debby Irving for a live conversation as they explore how U.S. narratives have shaped their understanding of themselves, one another, and the complex world we live in. 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.

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

90 minute on-stage 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.

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

One to three 3-hour workshops with Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. plus option of 2 hours leadership coaching with Debby and Dr. Moore

Easily adaptable to non-educational organizations and corporations 

Why do racially charged events 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.


“Irving’s presentation was shocking and extremely raw. It informed audience members and sparked a yearning for more knowledge inside of many. Springfield College moves forward in working on its own diversity and inclusion every day, and having Irving come to speak was an opportunity for this campus to continue that process.” Caitlin Kemp, The Elephant in the Room at Springfield College

“Holy crap! BIGGEST thanks for last night! I couldn’t have been more pleased. I love the conversations that were had and the questions asked. Your talk was absolutely incredible. I know that many seeds were planted and nourished for further conversions and action to dismantle racism and white supremacy.” Sara Gerrard, Pastor, Old West Church Boston

“Debby is a dynamic speaker and educator who engages large audiences and small groups. She is expert in placing personal storytelling at the forefront of discussions, moving beyond the head to the heart in how we learn about and discuss race racism, and anti-racism.” Emily Schorr-Lesnick, Educator, Riverdale Country Day School

“Your presence was so important for so many reasons. You shared what only you can in your warm, open, and welcoming way that engages and melts the icy barriers of apathy and fear.” Karen Spiller, Food Solutions New England

Engagement Tips for Hosts

The best events are packed with intention setting and planning. Following are community engagement practices that previous hosts have used to set my visit up for maximum impact. When done well, the process you create around the engagement actually builds/expands your capacity; the process is part of the product.

Contact us for engagement inquiries using this form.