Dallas-based therapist, activist, writer, community leader and speaker Michelle Kinder
examines and teaches conscious leadership “from the inside out.” She offers practical, achievable steps for parents, teachers and others to support children’s social-emotional health, and for business and other leaders to drive transformation in their lives and organizations.
While exploring the lack of mental health resources in southern Dallas, Kinder got to know the work of the Momentous Institute
, a 99-year-old Dallas-based nonprofit organization that has been building and repairing social-emotional health through education and mental health programs. Momentous Institute serves vulnerable children through therapy services, curriculum and teacher training focused on students’ social-emotional health, a school program for young learners, and more. Eventually she became the Institute’s Executive Director, which under her tutelage was named as one of Fortune
magazine’s 100 Best Workplaces for Women and one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Texas.
Each year, the Momentous Institute helps more than 5,000 kids and family members directly through its therapeutic services and via the Momentous School
, founded in 1997, which is a trauma-informed, laboratory school in Dallas serving ages three year old through fifth grade. The school partners with students and families to leverage social-emotional health and strong academics to cultivate a community of change-makers. The Momentous Institute also invests in research and training to help hundreds of thousands of children far beyond the Momentous Institute walls.
Kinder recently departed the Institute after 20 years to follow her tireless drive for ending inequality through “socially conscious leadership from the inside out,” her website
In a recent interview
with the Dallas News
, she says that children cannot be socially and emotionally healthy unless their families and community are also similarly healthy. To this end, she warns that nonprofits need to restructure the way they’ve gone about their work (doing just enough band-aiding to feel better) by going at “the structural inequities from the lens of the wisdom of people impacted by it.” "Nonprofits, many of them put in place long ago to assuage the guilt of the wealthy, have likely gone about their work all wrong." Though their work absolutely helps some people overcome inherent social inequalities, Kinder presses that it’s the inequities themselves that need to be addressed. “No matter how wonderful a program is, if it is done as a bestowing – a certain group of people making decisions for another group – that is never going to bridge the divide in our city.” She notes that “our long-held idea of generosity” must shift towards uncharted territory, which is why she recently began a business in conscious leadership training.
Kinder now serves as a consultant to leaders and organizations committed to promoting the greater good. She is also a nationally recognized speaker known for her humor and ability to “translate science into digestible, applicable strategies.” She embodies and facilitates empowerment with a hopeful belief in humanity that is sorely needed in our current political and social environment.
Amid a string of national shootings, when Dallas was rocked in 2016 by the deaths of five police officers, Kinder published
magazine “10 things you can do to help your children right now,” to make sense of their feelings. These included being aware of any fear-based thinking a child may have adopted and suggestions to avoid minimizing anxiety. in her recent Visible
, Kinder presents three practical directives for white people (like herself) to “drop the pretense and the defensive posture fueled by the narrative that racism is something that happened long ago that we have nothing to do with and to “look deeply and honestly at what we have gained as white people over the many decades by continuing to perpetuate, in little and big ways, the narratives that keep white supremacy in place and undercut the voices, views, vote and veto of our fellow citizens who happen to not have the same skin color as we do.”
Michelle is a fellow of the OpEd Project and has written articles
featured in TIME, Washington Post
, Texas Tribune
, Dallas Morning News
, Mindful Magazine
, Huffington Post and PBS’ Next Avenue. She is a nationally recognized speaker on leadership, outsmarting stress, social-emotional health, trauma and parenting. Michelle is a member of the Stagen Leadership Academy and the Leadership Dallas Alumni Association. She serves on the Episcopal School of Dallas Board of Directors, the Dallas-Fort Worth Teach for America Advisory Board and the PNC Grow Up Great Advisory Council. In 2015, Michelle was honored as CEO of the Year by CNM Connect. In 2018, Michelle was named one of the Faces of Hope by the Grant Halliburton Foundation and Dallas-Fort Worth Teach for America’s Honorary Alum. Juliette Fowler Communities is honoring Michelle as their 2019 Visionary Woman.
Kinder grew up in Guatemala to missionary parents and is fluent in Spanish. She graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts and the University of Texas with a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She currently lives in Dallas with daughters Maya and Sophia, husband Patrick, and four rescue dogs, where her presence as a change-making community leader has touched the lives of many children and families.
Five Questions with Michelle Kinder
What Makes You Come Alive?
Thank you for asking. Learning makes me come alive. Learning combined with contribution has long been a winning formula for me feeling most alive. Over the years I developed the habit of checking in with myself every six months or so with the questions "Am I learning? Am I contributing?" There have been interesting seasons on how the two balance each other. There are times that striving to contribute crowded out the kind of white space by brain needs for deep learning and I have had to course correct. And there have been other times that I was learning a lot, but didn't feel like I was being a good steward in terms of making a difference for other people or for causes I care about. I should also say that because I am currently in a season of more white space and more time for discernment, increasingly, simple pleasures are what make me come alive. Listening to birds, watching our dogs, yoga, running, sunshine, good coffee and the sound of my girls laughing together. Things like that.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
When I was in High School I left my family in Guatemala and came to the states to attend boarding school. It was a transformational experience. The wonderful faculty there saw qualities in me that they nurtured into leadership and I really learned who I was and what I was capable of during those four years. Interestingly, in my previous school, there were teachers who experienced the exact same qualities as problematic, annoying or something to control. Having that experience has made me very interested in how adults show up in the lives of children in a way that respects the enormous privilege and responsibility. I always say there are no neutral interactions when it comes to our relationships with children - all interactions are either positive, negative or missed opportunities.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
When I was in college, my 24-year-old sister died suddenly and it was an enormous challenge to go back to school while navigating the grief process. Several weeks into it, when people had stopped checking in, I found a card tucked into one of my books. It was from a classmate I knew somewhat, but not super well. It said something like, "I know time has passed but your hurt hasn't." I still tear up thinking about that act of kindness. It meant so much and it has shaped my desire to show up for others in similar ways.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Have the kind of flexibility to visit different places for a month at a time and work remotely while folding into the local scene.
One-line Message for the World?
Regardless of the situation, if you ever aren't sure how to be most helpful, regulate your own nervous system.