Smiling Black man in button down shirt standing in a field with a city skyline behind him
Outside Business Journal

Portraits of Allyship: CJ Goulding

CJ Goulding focuses on building “constellations, not stars”

Smiling Black man in button down shirt standing in a field with a city skyline behind him

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Jose Gonzalez and CJ Goulding serve as partners in The Avarna Group, a well-established consulting firm in the Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (JEDI) space. As consultants, educators, and facilitators, their work has helped companies and organizations beyond the outdoor industry. They are not only a fascinating and layered example of an allyship-centered relationship, but a necessary one.

Learning about Black culture only from school curriculum and media, Gonzalez “didn’t grow up with a very well connected sense to the experience of what Black identity meant in the United States.” Goulding has, in part, bridged this gap for Gonzalez. “Having CJ as a friend, colleague, and ally has been incredibly helpful to be able to not just understand, but really continue to polish and reframe my perspective,” said Gonzales. “Other friends of color, or just people of color, are not meant to be your educators. They’re not, it’s not their job to have the emotional labor for your learning. I support and respect that. What I’m grateful for is that CJ, just like myself, has chosen and agreed to take on that educational role at times.”

Two men (allies) jumping for joy on a wooden porch.
Allyship is hard work, but it also brings great joy. (Jose Gonzalez, left, with CJ Goulding) (Photo: Courtesy)

For Goulding, allyship is the base layer of a larger concept. “I see a difference between just allyship and being an accomplice,” he said. To him, the difference is that an ally sees and understands the struggles of others; an accomplice consistently takes action in support of others. “To be a true accomplice, I have to be connected with the person who’s experiencing the situation. And then, I have to listen to what their needs are. And then, I have to take bold action to make sure that I’m supporting them in the way that they feel is supportive,” he added. Gonzales agreed, but also recognized that historical hurt makes some people prefer passive allyship. Some folks ”just want to know that you’re out there helping and doing work on behalf of what affects them,” said Gonzales.

“Too many spaces suffer from ‘star-centered’ leaders such that it can lead to displays of more competition over community. And when such stars burn out or disappear, the work may suffer the same,” said Gonzales, referencing a paper called Four Network Principles for Collaboration Success (Jane Wei-Skillern, University of California at Berkeley and Stanford Graduate School of Business and Nora Silver, University of California at Berkeley). Goulding works hard to apply that framework to help us quit our obsession with stardom through creating constellations, not stars, said Gonzales. “The way that CJ approaches the [JEDI] work, and leadership, may seem more subdued than some. But he’s focusing on building the constellation so that it exists beyond an individual, and the impact is on a network scale.” 

On creating constellations of leaders, not individual stars

“I think as individuals, as part of a community, our goal shouldn’t be to shine like the brightest star in the sky, but to join with other folks to be able to tell a larger story and have a greater impact,” Goulding said.

On accountability in allyship

“I can hold myself accountable if I know what is expected or what was asked of me,” Goulding said. “So listening and following the lead of folks who are most impacted helps set those accountability measures. Then, checking in with those folks helps you realize when you’re hitting the mark.”  

On cultural humility in allyship

“Cultural humility is to understand that folks you meet have something to teach you. You may show up in a space with some expertise, but you aren’t an expert on it,” Goulding said. “Approaching things with that mindset allows you to learn from every interaction that you have. And it allows you to step into spaces with other cultures and communities and be open to what they have to share; not holding on to some version of absolute truth.” 

On the importance of consistency

“Some people show up to communities once or twice, and that relationship is going to die out. But when you show up again and again and again and again, you build a stronger relationship that can survive through any attacks, through any mistakes,” said Goulding.

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