By Mary Virtue, Project Director, Racial Equity and Economic Security (REES) Project from The Promise: The Magazine of the Community Action Partnership Summer 2009
Seven community action sites are part of Community Action Partnership's Racial Equity and Economic Security (REES) Project. This two-year project, funded by the Ford Foundation, explores whether place-based strategies to reduce poverty and enhance economic security are more effective when they take the racial inequalities that are a result of structural racism into account in their program design.
Teams from each of these sites have had the opportunity to attend a four day Seminar on Racial Equity and Society presented by the Aspen Institute. When they returned home, they began to build partnerships and educate people in their community. The REES page on the Community Action Partnership's website has two PowerPoint presentations that team members are using. These both provide a very good 45 minute introduction to Structural Racism and are extremely valuable tools for the community action network.
In addition to these introductory presentations, some communities are looking for deeper training opportunities. The Aspen Institute has prepared Training for Racial Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Selected Programs to allow community leaders to compare a variety of available programs. This guide describes ten programs in terms of whether the focus is on individual, intergroup or structural racism; their approach to training; and, their intended outcomes. You can download this guide from http://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/training-racial-equity-inclusion.
Most of the programs in the guide require trained facilitators, but one is designed to encourage communities to move forward on their own. The Study Circles methodology fosters dialogues that explore public issues and challenge current practices through a process that emphasizes democratic discourse and action. This model offers clear materials on its website to support peer facilitators. Go to http://www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Issue.1.aspx .
The Guide also raised a few overall concerns about the training programs they assessed. One is that too few programs are "grounded in sociological, political and economic theories that directly address the structural dimensions of racism - and too few programs transcend the individual and intergroup relations to address systemic racism." Another challenge is to translate awareness into action. These are exactly the points that our REES teams are working to address as they engage partners in their work to eliminate racial disparities in education, employment, asset development or child care.
A valuable resource from one of the REES sites is Weaving Diversity into the Fabric of America, written by Deborah Clements Blanks, CEO of Social Development Commission in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This book includes background information, diversity stories, self- tests and tools for specific work situations. It aims to help us appreciate the vantage point of others and be better able to gain from the insights of people whose race and background are very different from ours. This book may be purchased from www.kairocom.com.