Cultivating Connection via Online Learning – a Whole New World

February 4, 2021
Tammy Briant Spratling, chief executive officer, Community Tampa Bay

For many nonprofits, the ability to come together in-person – to hold hands, to hug, to connect is mission-critical. Inherently, nonprofits are in the business of human connectedness. Yet, since March, we have been challenged to create meaningful connections online. I am proud of the work Community Tampa Bay has done to pivot its in-person programming to an online world and cultivate meaningful human connection.

At Community Tampa Bay, we create space for difficult conversations and empower people with the tools to have hard conversations with others who don’t look like them, live like them, or love like them. We envision a community free from discrimination in which every individual is treated with dignity and respect, with regard to their race, ethnicity, citizenship, sex, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, faith, and age.

Our work is inherently interpersonal, and until this year, was done entirely in person. For years, with the rise of email as a communication tool, and social media for everything from connectedness to advocacy, we’ve learned that difficult conversations are better had face to face. Imagine the challenge then to move our programming online with virtually no notice.

And our work took on even greater meaning as our nation collectively responded to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

Accordingly, four cornerstones served as the foundation for our virtual programming: 1) the need for anti-discrimination work is essential as conversations about racial injustice have heightened and virus response has had a disparate impact on marginalized communities, 2) marginalized humans (especially the youth we’ve come to know through our programming) need safe and affirming spaces, 3), many humans have lost their usual routines and support structures – our program offerings must be consistent and reliable, 4) every human needs space to connect, grow, and maybe even have a little fun.

With these cornerstones in mind, Community Tampa Bay created the following initiatives. We hope our framework might affirm or inspire what other non-profits are doing to make their extraordinarily important (usually in-person) work go virtual.


Creating Space, an Instagram Live program, creates space for dialogue about communities most affected by COVID-19 and how decades of systemic discrimination reveal themselves in challenging times.


Hard Conversations, a YouTube program, emulates how to engage in difficult conversations around topics such as identity, privilege, and systems of oppression.


Virtual Community Circle, a daily Zoom community, creates an online community so we can all energize each other in the morning and reflect together in the evening.


Community Tampa Bay created anti-Black racism workshops to assist individual learners who desire to engage in anti-racism work.

While online learning may provide a new set of challenges, it also provides space for genuine and necessary human connection.

For more information about Community Tampa Bay visit You may reach the author and Chief Executive Officer of Community Tampa Bay, Tammy Briant Spratling by emailing