Dia Penning

Director of Curriculum and Education

Dia Penning, in addition to being a facilitator, serves as the Director of Curriculum & Education for World Trust.  Dia designs Racial Equity Learning Modules, which offer transformative and creative ways for educators to engage people in community building and learning about systemic racism.

As a diversity workshop facilitator, Dia brings the following strengths:

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  • She knows how to challenge assumptions without evoking guilt or shame.
  • She asks questions that lead to transformative thinking.
  • She is a calm and inviting presence that makes people feel okay with confronting difficult or unpleasant ideas about themselves.

“Dia is a brilliant educator,” says Shakti Butler, Founder of World Trust. “Her background in the arts brings creativity to her style of workshop facilitation, and tremendous depth to the Racial Equity Learning Modules we design together. “

Recommendation from a World Trust Client

“Dia has been a wonderful partner in helping us explore different ways to approach the subjects of oppression and institutional racism!” says Laurie Lober, Clinical Director for the Ann Martin Center in Oakland, California. Dia has facilitated three training sessions with the staff at Ann Martin and is helping them to coordinate a yearlong diversity initiative.

“She is able not only to focus on individual experiences and big picture dynamics but also to move fluidly between these two ends of the spectrum,” Lober continues. “She shows great flexibility, creativity, and knowledge about the best ways to work with a large staff group, and we appreciate her guidance in approaching staff training.

“She’s been so helpful in guiding the pace of our conversation about white privilege and race. She is respectful, inviting, non-judgmental and open. She makes people feel safe in difficult territory.”

Dia’s Work with World Trust

Dia has conducted single day workshops for the Lincoln Child Center and the Oakland Unified School District. She is engaged in an ongoing initiative to build awareness about racial issues to the 75-member staff of the Ann Martin Center, an organization that provides psychotherapy and both clinical and educational assessment for at-risk youths.

“Building a longer term relationship with an organization lets everyone go deeper into the issues,” Dia explains.

In this case, white and staff members of color are learning to have authentic conversations, a process that will ultimately help the white staff to work more effectively with the youths in their programs. Dia is engaged in ongoing assessment of the Center’s needs in order to develop an effective plan for continuing the conversation.

“Holding the Paradox”: A Closer Look at Dia’s Methodology

At the Ann Martin Center, Dia is working with a staff that has considerable awareness about racism but doesn’t feel comfortable with day-to-day discussions about race. “People like this,” she says, “tend to believe they are not affected. When they are able to make the leap [to seeing that they are part of system], they feel some shame.”

She explains how one of the social workers had a “yucky” insight during a workshop. She realized that she benefited from systemic racism. It paid her bills. She wondered how she could reconcile her desire to change the world with that personal benefit.

“This is the paradox,” Dia says.

“I let people hold the paradox,” Dia says, likening this process to yoga practice. “It’s like that middle point between hard work and relaxation when you are holding a pose.” Using breath work to relieve tension, Dia encourages people to examine their role in institutional racism without distancing themselves emotionally — to make them “comfortable with the discomfort of the situation.”

Finding that balance — between comfort and discomfort, margin and center — has been a lifelong process for Dia.

“Growing up a child of color in a white household with two moms,” she says, “I learned early on that points of difference invoke a crazy amount of injustice. Thus, I have a commitment to the belief that we are all one. [My goal] is to remove the blinders that divide us so that we can see that we are in the same boat. What pulls one down pulls everyone down.”

More About Dia

Dia has over 15 years of experience as a facilitator and a long career in the field of education, developing curricula at institutions like the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Department of Cultural Affairs in Chicago. She is a certified yoga instructor who founded My Prana Project, a group that offers sliding scale and community yoga for start-ups, non-profits, and the self-employed.