Our Vision

We envision a just and thriving world where no one stands alone. A world where our differences and our common humanity are seen, honored and celebrated…where we all are supported to go after what we love, to dream big, and to be the people we want to be.

We know there is a different way to go about communities, organizations, economic systems, and most importantly, our lives that is empowered, rich, just and joyful, and connected to each other and our environment.

Our Mission

We grow this vision by supporting internal inquiry–always within ourselves first, with gentleness AND ferocity…never blame or shame. We do this through our model itself. We do this through our assessment that measures unconscious patterns related to race, culture, religion, gender, class, disability, and sexual orientation. We do this by giving people a supportive, individualized “road map” of their gifts, learning edges, and recommendations. Lastly, using this map, we walk with people through what can seem like a “fearful swamp” using experiential learning, high feedback, and accountability…online or in-person.

We don’t have all the answers but we have the tools, experience, and genuine commitment to support people’s (and our own) process and meet people where we are when we’re ready.

Are you ready?

Our Model

The Power of Difference Model (PDM) identifies 3 primary patterns of behavior, thought, and feeling related to our differences of race, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic class, religion, disability, and culture. These patterns operate unconsciously within us, between us, in our communities, organizations, and society. The more we become aware of, and  integrate, the assets of all three primary patterns, the more we experience:

                • greater effectiveness across difference
                • recognition of our own privilege and how to use it effectively
                • impact for others, generally, as intended
                • a sense of solidarity across differences
                • pride without prejudice
                • an ability to “courageously refuse both silence and violence”
                • the courage to withdraw participation in violent aspects of systems
                • the capacity to catalyze meaningful systemic change without effort
                • greater internal stability: less rising and falling on external conditions
                • greater personal clarity, mission, and fulfillment
                • an ability to hold others accountable without blame or shame
                • less burnout and overwhelm related to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Our Team

Executive Director/Founder

Elliott Butler-Cisneros

Board President

Lucero Castro-Frederick

Board Treasurer

Steven Petersen

Board Member

Crystal Byrd Farmer

Board Member

Tamia Spells

Co-Director in charge of  Outreach

Cathy Butler-Cisneros

Board Member

Alyssa Tulabut 

Board Member

Darshan Savaliaer

Executive Director/Founder: Elliott Butler-Cisneros

The roots of Elliott’s purpose sprouted before he was born, with his father’s early life. Elliott’s father , Moises— who died when Elliott was five — grew up as a Latino man (his genes being 50% indigenous and 50% Spanish) in a racially and culturally diverse community Southern Colorado. In the 1940s, Elliott’s father did cross-racial, cross-cultural leadership work, especially with youth. Elliott only found out about his father’s work later in his life, after he had already invested himself deeply in the same line of work! Whenever Elliott feels lost, his father’s story reminds him why he is here.

Elliott’s work began on the Navajo reservation, where he taught special education. He then directed a school district transition program serving students with disabilities. Later in life, he worked as a school principal both at a predominantly Latino elementary school and at a progressive, experiential middle school. Still later, Elliott taught social justice classes at Naropa University and directed the Human Rights Office for the City of Fort Collins. He founded The Sum in 2006 and moved to Charlottesville, in a camper, after the death of Heather Heyer and the Unite the Right Rally in 2017.

Board President – Lucero

Lucero Castro-Frederick, originally from Mexico City, is our Board President.  She has a Master’s degree in social work and her passion is working in a therapeutic capacity with Latino immigrants, families, and young children.  She was voted Woman of the Year for the city of Fort Collins in 2000 and has served her community in the Strengthening Latino Families Program, the Hispanic Latino Leadership Institute, and the Latino Action Task Force for the local school district. She loves dancing, nature and cooking. She has been a Buddhist practitioner for 20 years. Her son, Omar, is 19 years old.

Board Treasurer – Steven

Steven Peterson is our Board Treasurer. He has a degree from Colorado State University with a major emphasis on the Social Sciences, a minor in Economics, and has had a career over 30 years with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. currently working in Consumer & Small Business Banking operations support. Steven is a member of Wells Fargo’s “Pride Connection” and “Black & African American Connection” Employee Resource Networks and has been a certified facilitator in the Wells Fargo Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion employee training course. A native to the Northeast Colorado plains, Steven now resides in his Colorado home along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Through his professional career and time with the U.S. Navy Reserves he has had opportunity to work and travel in 45 of the United States and 4 countries abroad. Steven identifies as a cisgender, gay, Caucasian male and has a partner in Detroit, MI.

Board Member – Crystal

Crystal Byrd Farmer is a writer and speaker active in the intentional communities movement. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering and Russian and worked as an engineer for six years, earning her Six Sigma Green Belt. In 2016 she began working as a diversity trainer and consultant as owner of Big Sister Team Building. She also co-founded Gastonia Freedom School, an Agile Learning Center for children with disabilities. She published The Token: Common Sense Ideas for Increasing Diversity in Your Community, in 2020. Crystal was previously the website editor for Black & Poly, a resource promoting healthy polyamorous relationships for Black people. Crystal identifies as autistic, Black, disabled, female, and bisexual, and she draws on her experiences to help others understand and amplify the voices of marginalized people. She has one child and lives in Gastonia, NC.

Co-Director in charge of Outreach- Cathy

Cathy loves connecting with others and herself through her joyful embodiment of movement. She brings her experience as a dancer, mom, actor, player-with-kids, Feldenkrais PractitionerⓇ, Occupational Therapist, and musician to her work as the Sum’s Co-Director in charge of Outreach. She finds deep satisfaction in exploring and combining quiet listening with exuberant expressiveness in celebration of her own and others’ self-discovery in the work (and play) of The Sum…whether it is in problem solving, accountability, project oversight, or collaborative design. Her life as an able-bodied, straight, Anglo woman from a Quaker family with middle and lower class experiences also informs her work as do her early experiences living in Costa Rica.

Board Member – Tamia

Tamia Spells is an educational professional passionate about authenticity, family, liberation, equity, and justice. As a native of Washington DC, Tamia grew up with an interest in and love for policy and government. She attended the SEED School of Washington DC, the nation’s first public college-prep boarding school and went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Communication from Virginia Tech as a first-generation college student. She joined Teach for America: Miami-Dade’s fight to eliminate educational inequity in 2014 and has since served as a champion for scholars and families who are most often overlooked by our systems.

Tamia enjoys spending time with her daughter, bonding and participating in service and social action activities with her Sorors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and creating Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and Divine 9 Sorority and Fraternity-inspired apparel for babies and toddlers through her business, The Baby 9.

Board Member – Alyssa

Alyssa Tulabut is a dual degree MBA/MPP candidate at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Prior to graduate school, Alyssa spent over five years in Washington, DC, at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), a civil rights nonprofit that specifically advocated for and with Southeast Asian American communities. While at SEARAC, she oversaw the organization’s field work – leading SEARAC’s coalitions of community-based partner organizations and managing their community engagement campaigns and programs. This summer, Alyssa will be interning at The Bridgespan Group with the aim of helping nonprofits maximize and scale their impact. She hopes to use her MBA and MPP degrees in tandem to direct strategic partnerships and facilitate multi-sector collaborations to advance civil rights. In her free time, she enjoys painting and dissecting horror movies.

Board Member – Darshan

My name is Darshan Savalia, and I am an adventurer at heart. Growing up in Mumbai, I found peace amidst the beautiful chaos of the city, exploring everything from narrow alleyways to vast mangroves. As I pursued my career, transitioning from engineering to the complex world of finance at Barclays, I always made time to explore the villages of India, immersing myself in new experiences and forging meaningful connections. My love for my country and its people inspired me to create a health tech startup that uses AI to detect skin diseases, addressing the severe shortage of dermatologists in India, where there is only one dermatologist for every million people. As I travel and explore, I find that people are eager to share their life experiences with me. A pen pal battling cancer taught me the true meaning of resilience, while a National Award-winning film director regaled me with stories for my nascent storytelling club, Storycellar.

 Currently, I find myself in the United States, living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am excited to explore the challenges faced by this country and collaborate with fellow change-makers (the sum) to make a positive impact in the world.

Selected Clients

  • The Colorado Commissioner for Education and his cabinet
  • FEMA
  • The University of Colorado
  • Colorado State University
  • Denver University
  • Adams State University
  • Regis College
  • Northern New Mexico College
  • Western Export Services
  • Staples
  • The Colorado Resource Center
  • The Summit School District
  • Thompson School District
  • Boulder Valley School District
  • Colorado Association of Multicultural Educators
  • National Association of Multicultural Educators
  • Denver Water
  • Poudre Health Services
  • Larimer County
  • Larimer County Women’s Center
  • Larimer County Sherriff’s Department
  • Fort Collin’s Police Department
  • Mankind Project of Colorado
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • City of Boulder

Rather than some work of this nature that uses shame and blame to address issues of race, gender, etc., Elliott and his team’s approach honors perceptions of both self and others. Before we can dismantle unjust systems and institutions, we must understand ourselves. This work does that.

-Susan Sherman, Executive Director, Shenandoah National Park Trust, Charlottesville, Virginia

  What are your answers for some of the most critical questions of our time:


“What can I do about issues of race and racism?” 

“How can I live in solidarity across our differences?”

“How do I cultivate a workplace, community, or school that is safe for, and honoring of, everyone?”

“How can I ‘Be the change I want to see in the world?’” 

Often, we go after change in the world instead of the most important work which is INSIDE each of us! This is where change in the world must begin.

Supporting this internal, challenging, and ultimately joyful journey, is why The Sum exists.

We do this in three main ways: 

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