Sphere Spotlight — Dia Penning

We are please to introduce you to Dia Penning, our second Sphere Spotlight volunteer! Read on to learn about this fascinating diversity and equity consultant, yoga instructor, loving parent, ex art educator… the list goes on!

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Sphere: Thank you for meeting with us, Dia! We are so excited to hear more about you. First off, are you an Oakland local?

Dia: I have lived in Oakland for about 15 years, with a couple years in Chicago squeezed in there. The thing that I love about Oakland is that it's super diverse which is part of the reason I'm raising a kid here. It's no bullshit, like what you see is what you get, and it's kind! People are really nice, like genuinely nice. 

Sphere: What do you do for work?

Dia: I do a couple of things but I'm primarily a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. I also teach yoga, but my main business is racial justice.

Sphere: What about that are you most passionate?

Dia: I think the thing that really drew me to the work was understanding the complexity of human interaction, all of the things that go into it and all the ways in which we can really try to be doing the best that we can and still have major blind spots. Passion... It's such difficult work that it's hard to say that I'm *passionate* about it but I keep coming back to it. I think that I see the potential for collaboration and more community and more harmony. I see the possibility that things really can be much better than they are.

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Sphere: Was there someone in your life that inspired you to get where you are today?

Dia: Yeah, so my previous career, before arts education was in government and in universities doing big arts productions. I went on maternity leave and realized that I probably couldn't continue at that capacity. My jobs were my entire life. So a friend of mine, Shakti Butler, got a grant to write a curriculum for the films she made, and she hired me as one of the curriculum writers. I spent 3 years doing research with her and mentoring with her. She really taught me to understand systems in a very specific way and to take what I knew intuitively and apply it to organizations and apply it to analysis and being able to support people and understanding both of those things.

Sphere: What is your advice for a young person who wants to be a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant?

Dia: I think that the biggest piece of advice that I would have is to make sure that you have a solid support system. It is work that requires you to constantly be investigating your own motives and your own analysis of the world as well as being able to be responsive to the things that are going on around you. So it's constant meta-cognition—you're always thinking about thinking—and so being able to have people reflect back to you and be like, "you're over thinking this," or just provide a space where you can really land and don't have to do anything because you hold a lot. Especially for young women of color doing this work: you hold a complexity that is sometimes not your own. You have to think a lot about white folks and it's hard.

Sphere: What conversations make you light up? What topics make you feel like ‘hey, that's my thing’?

Dia: So many things! I like talking to people just period and I'm really interested in their journey and how they got where they are and how they think about the world. I also love beauty and beautiful things, and beautiful people so I get really excited. Right now, I'm rehabbing my house and I get really excited talking about lighting and tiles—all of that stuff. I also get really excited about parenting conversations and raising this next generation of complex unicorns. Everyone I know has children that make them all think they are doing the worst job... We're all great parents we just have these really complex and really evolved children and it's so exciting. I have one child and they are eight. And I get excited about fashion, I love clothes.

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Sphere: Do you have a hidden talent or superpower?

Dia: I was a costume designer, so in my 20’s I lived in Chicago and I did dance costuming and some theater costuming. So I've been sewing since I was nine and I still do it. I make quilts for friends that are getting married or having babies. Occasionally, since I have that one toe in the art world, I'll have people invite me to work on creative projects and sometimes will do creative costuming or wardrobe for someone's performance.

Sphere: Thank you so much, Dia!

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You can find Dia at  theequitycollective.com and on Instagram @diatschirkipenning. Beginning July 29th, Dia will be running a 200 hour Yin Yoga and social justice teacher training in Alameda with Love Light Yoga out of Vancouver! Find more about that at lovelightyoga.com.

Dia also brings her Yoga skills into Sphere’s fitness studio weekly— check out our fitness calendar here!