Community leader expanded racial equity workshops to thousands in Montgomery County

Thousands of people have participated in Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s racial equity workshops, called Groundwater and Phase 1, which have been presented since 2018. As part of a special report on the program, we are presenting stories of people who experienced the workshops and how it affected their lives. This is the fifth in that series.

About 3,000 people in Greater Cincinnati have experienced the deep examination into the history of racism in this country by participating in the Racial Equity Matters programs offered by Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The word has spread north to Montgomery County and Dayton, Ohio, where another 2,000 people or so have taken part in the workshop sessions.

The Racial Equity Matters program is a series of trainings and sessions ranging from half-day sessions to two full days of intense dialogue on the foundations and structure of racism in the U.S., both historically and present-day. Several years ago, Helen Jones-Kelley took part in a session hosted for her and fellow leaders at her office.

She is the executive director of the Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Montgomery County. After that first session, her agency has helped sponsor sessions for the public three or four times a year, she says.

“We believe this plays a role in the well-being of the community,” she says.

The programs, conducted by the Greensboro, N.C-based Racial Equity Institute, include Groundwater, typically a half-day, large-group session that presents a data-driven, historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism. 

That can be followed up with a program called Phase I, usually a two-day workshop with fewer people that involves more interaction and dialogue among participants.

Helen Jones-Kelly, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Montgomery County.

As one of the conveners, Jones-Kelly has observed the programs many times, always with new insights.

"I always learn something. I still pick up nuances every time I experience it," she says.

Her agency follows up with participants. After letting them process the information for a few days, they are invited into small groups for a debriefing and discussion. That sometimes leads to action. “So often people want to know what they can do,” she says. “Some want to continue to get together, others want to volunteer.”

READ MORE: 'The change starts with me': After racial justice justice training, some keep the conversation going

The chief result though is people who come away with a broader perspective, an open mind, and a willingness to continue to interact and talk with others of different backgrounds.  

“It is transformative,” she says. “We are slowly creating a mass of people who have self-awareness and a commitment to making a difference.”

To learn more about Racial Equity Matters, please visit

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.