Meet a dedicated leader working to break the cycle of racial inequality
Dr. Cynthia Estremera Gauthier has shown an uncanny approach to this, ranging from the nonprofit sector to government and academia.
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If there is one commonality that can be traced in all of Dr. Cynthia Estremera Gauthier’s work, it’s her focus on addressing and promoting racial equity.
Currently, she works at Strategy Arts, a West Chester-based consulting firm, as Director of Racial Equity and Engagement.
“I lead our equitable community engagement service area, which I’ve created through the work that we’ve been doing in strategic planning and collective impact,” said Estremera Gauthier during a recent AL DÍA interview.
Strategy Arts’ consultants travel to support all its clients, whether regionally or nationally, while also supporting nonprofits and government agencies.
“Our focus is to make sure that all of that is being done with a racial equity lens and to ensure that barriers to engagement are being eliminated or minimized in the process,” said Estremera Gauthier.
Given her understanding that many of the barriers for historically marginalized communities are deeply rooted in racism and other systems of oppression, Estremera Gauthier works diligently to address those root causes.
Her goal of finding ways to amplify people’s voices in rooms where they’ve traditionally been silenced or left out is a testament to her drive and commitment.
All About Community
Estremera Gauthier was born and raised in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood.
“I’ve been here my whole life,” said the Conwell Middle School and Kensington High School graduate.
During her time, she’s seen the neighborhood evolve quite a bit, especially as it pertains to the boom of the opioid crisis.
As a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, Estremera Gauthier has taken part in and supported several city initiatives seeking to make a positive impact on the community.
Namely, she was hired to facilitate the peer learning cohort of the Kensington Community Resilience Fund by AFE Strategies.
“That was a group of 40 nonprofit organizations doing work in Kensington, where they came together and they talked about collaboration and the best ways of connecting with the communities they serve,” she explained.
More recently, Estremera Gauthier was hired by The Scattergood Foundation to support the facilitation of the participatory grantmaking process for the Overdose Prevention and Community Healing Fund Grant.
“I feel really humbled to be able to authentically be in my own community, supporting work that really uplifts my community,” Estremera Gauthier highlighted.
That work allows her to keep herself grounded, while also supporting her neighbors.
Be Your Full Self
Throughout her educational journey, Estremera Gauthier has shown an unbridled commitment to furthering her knowledge.
Perhaps nothing displayed that commitment more than during her Ph.D. program at Lehigh University, in which she welcomed two pregnancies.
Those experiences were challenging for her, as she pursued her doctorate while also teaching English to first-year students at the university. However, it was also an enlightening experience.
“I think that what it was able to teach me was how you need to show up in institutions the way that you want to be seen and not let people scare you from showing up as your full self,” she said.
As Estremera Gauthier went through the program, it further reiterated her professional goals, which she had already begun.
“I want to make sure that I’m focusing on work that amplifies women like me, and talk about institutional oppression and the issues that I’ve literally faced in real life,” she highlighted.
In addition, she wanted to discuss the ways in which her culture shows up across different platforms.
For Estremera Gauthier, music, particularly hip-hop, served as her coming of age and helped her learn about her own cultural identity. As a result, she built her dissertation around hip-hop culture and how Black music producers amplify the Black experience living in the U.S.
“That’s a testimony to the ways that folks have been able to thrive and survive in a society like this,” noted Estremera Gauthier.
She added that hip-hop is an encapsulation of what needs to be known about finding joy and liberation in that process.
As an extension to this, Estremera Gauthier uses her career in academia to help her students create a more heightened awareness of the ways in which they show up in society.
“I operate from a Black feminist framework… [which] tells you we are differently impacted by systems of oppression in our society,” she underscored.
Currently, Estremera Gauthier is a Women & Genders Studies adjunct professor at Moravian University, where she applies that very framework while teaching her students.
“For me, teaching allows me to reinvigorate the work that I’m doing,” she noted.
A Deeper Dive into Racial Equity
During our interview, Estremera Gauthier defined racial equity as: “removing barriers for people who have been historically marginalized in our society.”
“Specifically, the way I talk about racial equity is about focusing on the ways that anti-blackness shows up in our society… because I think that if we don’t focus on the ways in which folks who are experiencing the most harm in our society needs to be uplifted, then we’re not solving the problem,” she added.
Estremera Gauthier often speaks on ways to create strategies of inclusivity and has presented at various local and national conferences to share how nonprofits and government agencies can engage historically underrepresented and underserved communities.
The historical component is key to the conversations, as the residual effects of being underserved for so long continues to be felt across society today.
“I think that there’s a necessary conversation that needs to happen, where it’s a two-fold transformational process,” said Estremera Gauthier. “People need to change, and then policies and practices need to change.
It ultimately comes down to leadership.
Advocacy Over Allyship
To truly enact change in policies and practices of racial inequity, it takes a concerted effort.
However, it goes beyond those who have been historically marginalized. This is where advocacy comes in.
“Whether they impact you or not, if you show up as an advocate, then you’re able to demonstrate why that particular policy or practice is harmful or not beneficial for people of color who are experiencing this system every single day,” Estremera Gauthier explained.
“If you don’t innately have the lived experience of what it looks like to walk through the world as a person of color experiencing structural racism, then your job is to use your advantages to be able to dismantle privileges, to be able to change the way the system works so that differential advantage no longer exists,” she added.
That, in turn, leads to equity.
As a piece of advice for those who are seeking to advocate for racial equity, Estremera Gauthier noted that it starts with unlearning your personal biases and the things that you may have been conditioned to learn.
“Reading is essential,” she said to this end, in addition to showing solidarity with those you are advocating for.
A key point she stresses regarding the latter is that advocacy and solidarity isn’t always the optic of standing alongside someone who is doing the grassroots work.
It can also be standing up for the marginalized and oppressed when they aren’t in the room and supporting an anti-racist society within your particular institution.
“If someone else shows up for us, it just shows that we’re not doing this alone,” Estremera Gauthier said.
“I think that’s incredibly important and critical to how we’re going to make some transformational system change,” she concluded.