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Sarah Oquist
Sarah Oquist

2020 Diversity & Inclusion: Sarah Oquist

Oquist McFadden Consulting

In 2018, when Sarah Oquist received a major award for the law firm she co-founded, Sapientia Law Group, she spoke publicly about her experiences and fears in being the only Black person on her high school basketball team and having to play in a city where the KKK is headquartered. When the response was overwhelmingly positive, she set a goal to speak two times in 2019. What she didn’t know was that it would change the trajectory of her career.

“When I got up to speak, I realized this is a gift I’ve been given, it feels like a calling,” she says. “People who have limited experience with diversity, inclusion, and race are listening, and they are thinking about what I’m saying. That’s powerful. I knew I had to keep saying yes to this.”

She’d initially resisted the opportunity to speak on diversity, concerned about being put in a narrow category. Even before the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, people were experiencing intense frustration, fatigue and pain around systemic racism, she says, and she was worried about being labeled the “angry black woman,” an incredibly harmful and pervasive stereotype.

But after every speech and keynote, she had numerous people come up and talk about being inspired, and more informed, and Oquist realized how valuable her perspective on the topic could be. She began putting more sessions together and addressing issues like microaggressions and discrimination. Although the recent protests triggered her childhood and adolescent trauma, reminding her of every difficult and scary experience related to her race, she also recognizes her own privilege in being able to take a step back and focus on self-care.

“That combination of the two people inside me, the trauma-driven person and the one who is privileged to be able to limit my exposure, is at the heart of what I talk about,” she says. “That resonates with people, because it inspires conversation around what we can all do to work with who we are and where we’re at to create a more inclusive environment.”

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