In advance of a virtual event with 'White Fragility' author Robin DiAngelo, EMH&T President Sandy Doyle-Ahern describes the origins of a new, informal collective stacked with 13 local leaders

The common thread was undeniable. Every time EMH&T President Sandy Doyle-Ahern met up with another Columbus woman in a leadership position, the conversation would always turn to the concept of community — how to lift up the community, push for equity and drive change forward.

It happened enough that Doyle-Ahern wanted to talk about the topic as a group, so she got in touch with a dozen other women, including Crane Group CEO Tanny Crane, ice cream magnate Jeni Britton Bauer, Columbus Urban League President Stephanie Hightower, City Auditor Megan Kilgore and several other local leaders, and invited them to meet for dinner at the Guild House in the Short North in February.

“I sent an email out to all of them and said, ‘I've talked to each one of you individually about different community issues over the years, and it just seems like we all feel like we need to do more,” Doyle-Ahern said recently by phone. “And the reaction was, ‘I'll be there.’ ‘I'll be there.’ ‘I'll be there.’ ‘I'll be there.’”

By the end of the meal, the 13 women had already marked their calendars for the next three monthly dinners. Then the pandemic hit. But instead of losing momentum, the friends grew even closer through weekly Zoom meetings. “It started on a Wednesday in March, and we have been on this call every week since then,” Doyle-Ahern said. “In the midst of the pandemic, instead of it falling apart, it actually jelled. … It's been kind of remarkable.”

Along the way, Huntington Bank’s Central Ohio Region President, Sue Zazon, jokingly referred to the group of friends as “The Edge Sisters,” riffing on the women's collective edgy-ness. The name stuck, and on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 5:30 p.m., the Edge Sisters will host its first virtual event: “Seeing the Racial Water with Dr. Robin DiAngelo,” featuring the author of best-selling book White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The online discussion isn’t a fundraiser for a nonprofit. There’s no corporate sponsor (the women all chipped in to fund the event themselves). The Edge Sisters merely saw an opportunity for the community to learn and grow via a purposefully uncomfortable conversation.

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Both Hightower and KIPP Executive Director Hannah Powell had separately seen DiAngelo speak and were impressed by her, and that was good enough for the rest of the group, which initially planned to hold the event in person. Hosting an online discussion, though, has its own benefits.

“The silver lining of this whole thing has been that because we're able to use a platform where anybody can sign on, now we can offer this to a lot of people,” said Doyle-Ahern, who also readily acknowledged the challenge of hosting an event involving “white fragility” in these divided times. “We’re not coming at this saying we know better than everybody or that we have all the answers. We're just trying to be a platform for pushing forward an agenda that helps organic conversation occur.”

“I would hope that the people who want to learn about how to understand equity better or how to understand what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes are going to sign on at least to listen,” she continued. “There's a lot of really good people out there who want to grow and learn. They just don't know how to do it. … You can't let polarized society stand in the way of trying. That’s way too defeatist, and I don't think any of us are wired for that.”

The Edge Sisters — which, in addition to the aforementioned women, also includes Donatos’ Jane Grote-Abell, YWCA President Christie Angel, Ohio State’s Trudy Bartley, Columbus Zoo VP Janelle Coleman, United Way CEO Lisa Courtice and Fifth Third Central Ohio President Francie Henry — won’t be focusing its efforts on policy, Doyle-Ahern said. Rather, the group will concentrate on “changing people’s hearts and minds,” she said.

And while Doyle-Ahern hopes the group can host more events in the coming months, don’t expect the Edge Sisters to formalize with official mission statements or branding initiatives. “Maybe the important point about all of this is it really doesn't take a big fancy organization,” she said. “You’re not going to see this turn into some formal organization. That’s not what it is. We all are part of those already, and we do a lot of work to support those other great, formal organizations. That will continue. But this is going to continue to be a group of friends that collectively come together and see what we can do in our respective circles to keep pushing for equity and change and positivity.”