By Robert Francis, 2021-03-14
Reducing Racial Disparity and what ABCD has to contribute…
March 14, 2021
In an effort to discover the power of utilizing ABCD principles and tools to reduce racial and ethnic disparity as well as polarization, I had two very informative conversations with George Terrell and Ron Dwyer-Voss, two of my fellow ABCDI stewards, about what they have done and are doing to address the issue through their ABCD work. George who lives in Valparaiso, Indiana where he lives and Ron in Rancho Cordova, California where he was asked to help. I hope their stories will spark conversations and action among ABCD practitioners in the cause of reducing polarization and racial and ethnic disparity in our communities and eventually much broader.
Valparaiso, Indiana, is a small city of 30,000 people 85% White and 9% African American. In 1968 there were no Black people living in Valparaiso and when surveyed as to whether people would sell their home to a Black person, the answer was universally no! Valparaiso is a very conservative Republican city in one of the most Republican states in the country.
A few years ago, George, who was concerned about the separation between the races and the underbelly of bias spoken and unspoken, started having get togethers in his home with the initial goal of raising community awareness of the effects of bias on their community. They read books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, The Groundwater Approach by Bayard Love and Deena Hayes-Greene and How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and held discussed groups. The readings led to organizing and conducting community forums with over 200 people in attendance. As part of “Valparaiso Next,” a group concerned about the future of the city, they formed an Inclusion and Division Subcommittee; they did public relations and Black Lives Matter signs, posters and materials; they wrote editorials and spoke at public meetings; they monitored city council meetings and they formed a Police and Schools Work Group. Some of the more financially secure group members took out second mortgages and donated money to Black groups for them to more effectively do their work.
They started their work with students and educated them about the effects of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and separate but not so equal policies, Civil Rights legislation, the power and culture of the “N word” and how city and state policies impacted negatively on people of color. The students published articles and presented papers on the effects of racism and then took their new knowledge and grievances to the school board and the city’s leaders. Their work resulted in a ban on police chokeholds and new city policies on the duty to intervene and the duty to report acts of bias and violence in Valparaiso. They educated teachers and fostered curriculum changes to include the history and the effects that formal government policies had on Black people in America. In effect, they raised the community’s awareness about the effects of racism and bias on their community.
The overriding theme of their work in the city was based on the principles of ABCD – inclusion building on the gifts of the young people and adults in their community; the power of diversity and how it makes everyone’s lives better, not just Black people; starting small and place based in a single neighborhood and collaboration between the citizens in the community and the powers at be to foster real change.
In Rancho Cordova, a diverse suburb of Sacramento, California with 73,000 people, 55% white, 13% Black, 12% Asian and 20% Hispanic, Ron was asked by a by the city to support their staff working with the community to apply ABCD principles to identify the community’s gifts and apply those gifts to addressing the neighborhood’s concerns. This neighborhood was racially diverse with a large number of monolingual Spanish speaking residents affected by the highest crime rate in Rancho Cordova.
All of the relationships that existed seem to be associated with the schools where students, parents, teachers and community leaders had relationships. Ron talked with students to identify their assets. Parents who wouldn’t go outside the home except for school or church were also invited to participate and to listen to their children. When the children were asked what they wanted to see in their community they said they wanted a soccer league where everyone could play. The adults in the community thought that the city should make it happen. City leaders having an overall thought that the quality of education was tied to the quality of the community asked what they could do. So the city provided balls, jerseys, other equipment and a place to play. The community on the other hand had to provide the coaches and other volunteers to organize the opportunities for the young people to play.
Parents were then asked what they could do to promote community building and they suggested a festival drawing on the assets of the people who lived in the neighborhood. The city once again supplied 20 booths with materials for residents to set up the events. In return they required each booth to be staffed by two community residents, which involved 40 people from the neighborhood. The amazing thing about this was prior to this time, other agencies had trouble getting more than a handful of residents to work on anything at the school or in the community for its improvement. Even more amazing is that over 400 children and adults from the neighborhood showed up for the festival.
The festival acted as a catalyst for greater community involvement and has a new sense of power for the residents. Some outcomes of the newfound power of the residents were a 75% reduction in crime in the neighborhood; increased home ownership, and a greater sense of the power of community control to have a positive impact on the quality of life in their neighborhood.
These are only two examples of reduced polarization through the power of community and working from the assets of the people who live in the community working closely with city leaders. In Canada and Australia, they are approaching the issue of polarization between Anglo populations and indigenous peoples by forming national commissions which may even lead to reparations for past discrimination and subjugation.
These examples provide proof of the power of community and the utilization of ABCD principles and practices to mobilize the assets of citizens to strengthen community. In addition, if you have a good story of utilizing ABCD to address polarization and racial inequity, please share it in response to this posting.
I will write soon about my example of working on juvenile justice reform efforts in Connecticut and how we used the ABCD principles of inclusion and community engagement to reduce mass incarceration and over-representation of youth of color in the criminal justice system.
By Robert Francis, 2020-11-23
Race, Equity, John Lewis and the ABCD Institute
In the spring of 2019 after retiring from nonprofit work, I decided to take a trip to Montgomery, Alabama to reflect on my lifetime of work and see if I could devise a plan to continue advocating for equal justice. My pilgrimage to the heart of the pro-slavery South promised to do that. You see, Montgomery the Alabama state capital, is no longer the bastion of Southern slavery. It has become a city of hope for racial and ethnic equity. It is the home of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute that created two incredible museums; The Legacy Museum that traces the history of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow and the Memorial for Peace and Justice that documents (using eerie metal coffins) over 4,000 Black Americans who were lynched for crimes as dastardly as trying to register to vote or flirting with a white woman. It is the home of the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy College, The Freedom Riders Museum and the Dexter Street Church in the shadow of the state capital where Martin Luther King preached and strategized peaceful nonviolent marches and sit ins. One wonderful surprise is the Alabama State Museum that sits next door to Jefferson Davis’ Confederate White House and is one of the best exhibits of the civil rights movement beginning before the Civil War to the present day.
In my lifetime, one of the great and often unsung civil rights leaders was John Lewis. He put his body on the line every day of his life marching, sitting in and preaching to undo segregation, Jim Crow laws, separate and not so equal practices, lynchings and prejudicial treatment by police and other authorities toward people of color. On my journey to Alabama, I got to retrace his footsteps across the Norman Pettus Bridge in Selma. As I made this trek my knees buckled thinking about the horrific beatings inflicted by the Alabama State Police that Mr. Lewis and his fellow marchers suffered on the other side of the bridge. I also reflected that had it not been for him and his supporters persevering in the struggle for civil rights, we may not have been able to dismantle many of the racist practices of our country. I reflected on the evil defenders of segregation and the belief that Black people were less than human – George Wallace, Orville Faubus, Bull Connor, James Jackson, James Eastland, Strom Thurmond and many others who either directly ordered violence against the protesters or turned their heads as Black churches were bombed, Blacks were beaten and lynched, their homes bombed or burnt to the ground and leaders such as Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and the young Emmet Till were murdered.
Jon Meacham in his masterful biography of John Lewis “His Truth Is Marching On” calls Mr. Lewis a saint and places him in the company of Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lewis discovered at an early age his calling to be a peaceful nonviolent protester against segregation and Jim Crow laws from his early roots in Pike County Georgia and throughout his life. Arrested over 40 times, severely beaten by police and hospitalized often simply for peacefully protesting, Lewis soldiered on never losing faith and even after being challenged by Blacks who were fed up with peaceful protest, he never gave up his principles of nonviolent protest.
Later, motivated by what he saw as progress with the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and housing legislation, he moved his fight to Congress where he was eventually elected to the House of Representatives from his home district in rural Georgia where he served up until his death over 40 years later in 2020.
Two weeks ago, we voted to end 4 years of the most chaotic national leadership in my lifetime by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I wish John Lewis were here to witness this historic moment of having a multi-racial woman serving as Vice President of the United States! I pray for this administration for there is so much to be undone and still so much to do; leading us forward to an era of renewed global respect and a breaking down of barriers that foment racial, economic, educational and criminal justice inequality for so many Americans of color. There are still many race and equity issues to be confronted.
The ABCD Institute worked this past year to incorporate anti-racism thinking into all of its work starting with a statement of guiding principles approved by the board of directors (https://resources.depaul.edu/abcdinstitute/about/Documents/7.10.2020%20ABCDI%20Policy%20Statement%20on%20Anti.pdf). The Institute’s work builds on the organizing work of Black Lives Matter following the senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. It also reflects a long history of working in neighborhoods throughout the world helping build community based on the gifts of the people who live there. John Lewis was a beacon for us to emulate especially as ABCD practitioners. In our work, there is much we can do to influence others. Race and equity should be a major element of our message of inclusion every time we speak of asset-based community development. What a wonderful way to honor his work and his life.
So where do we go from here? I just listened to an inspiring speech by Bakari Sellers, a young South Carolina attorney, activist and author of “My Vanishing Country” talking about where we and I might start. One of his thoughts really touched me: “As a country we suffer from an empathy deficit. Our opponents are not our enemies. It is through listening to people’s pain; we might reach their hearts.”
And so, especially during this time of Thanksgiving, let us listen to each other with kindness in our hearts. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
November 23, 2020