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"“Within Our Lifetime:” Take Action to End Racism,"

by Lloyd Y. Asato, Susan M. Glisson, Dushaw Hockett, Jeanne Isler, Maggie Potapchuk, Robin Toma & Mike Wenger November/December 2013 issue of Poverty & Race

The “Within Our Lifetime” Interim Working Group
“Within Our Lifetime” is an emerging network of racial healing practitioners and racial equity advocates who are committed to ending the impact of racism in our lifetime.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, did not claim that he had an “issue.” He proclaimed that he had “a dream.” So noted Dr. Manuel Pastor, a well-known professor of sociology and American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California, in commenting on our progress toward achieving racial equity in the United States in the 50 years since the March. With this aspirational commitment in mind, a group of racial healing practitioners and racial equity advocates has launched an effort to build a Network, under the banner of “Within Our Lifetime,” that can help to shape and sustain a racial equity/racial healing movement.

At the heart of our formation is a bold proposition: that we can eliminate or significantly reduce racialized systems and structures—and the practice of racism—in ways not yet imagined. And we can do so within the average lifespan of many of us currently engaged in this work. There are three reasons for such a provocative declaration: One, we truly do believe that it is possible. Two, we choose to challenge ourselves and others to push the limits of imagination and creativity with respect to racial justice work.  And three, we want to inspire you—racial equity and racial healing practitioners and advocates from across the country—and others to tap into the belief many of us held as children—and maybe still do—that we can change the world. This is not a vague or knee-jerk aspiration; there is a plan behind it that has been informed by the many people who have been involved thus far.

Designed to connect organizations and individuals from around the country who are working to achieve racial equity and healing, the idea of the Network began with informal conversations among several people in attendance at an “America Healing” Conference hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in New Orleans. The America Healing initiative emerged from the recognition that addressing issues of structural racism in the society requires simultaneous efforts to heal and repair the wounds of racism. While strategies may focus on different aspects of racism, multiple strategies are necessary to tackle the accumulated and current impact of racism in our society and to create enduring change. The initiative also recognizes that all of us, no matter how strong our commitment to racial equity and racial healing may be, have some of our own healing to do because of the insidious nature of structural racism.

"The "Within Our Lifetime" Network will build upon and extend the work on racial equity and racial healing that is occurring in hundreds of communities throughout the country. It will connect, both electronically and in person, these efforts so that the organizations and individuals involved can share ideas, learn from each other’s experiences, and support each other during especially challenging occurrences, such as the deep concerns surrounding the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder trial and the substantial weakening of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The shape of the Network has been evolving during the past two years. In the Spring of 2012, a group of about 20 people met in New Orleans to discuss the formation of the Network. This first meeting yielded a number of ideas about the value of such a Network and how it could help to build and sustain a movement to end racism in our society.

Following the New Orleans meeting, two meetings were held in Chicago to discuss the potential value of such a Network and how it could help to strengthen the momentum of the racial justice/racial healing movement. Approximately 30-40 key practitioners and advocates were invited to participate in these meetings, which were convened by the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and supported by the Kellogg Foundation. The deep commitment of the participants was evidenced by the emergence from the discussions of the “Within Our Lifetime” banner. Following these two meetings, seven people stepped forward to volunteer as an interim Working Group to discuss the nuts and bolts of building such a Network and how to do so in the most inclusive and equitable manner possible.

Because previous efforts have taught us that it is critical for organizations and individuals to collectively create the structure, activities, vision and principles for such a Network, we recognize that for the Network to be a powerful collective force to end racism in our lifetime, it is critical to invest sufficient time in relationship-building, establishing working principles, addressing tensions that inevitably arise, and seeking common ground on which all can stand.

To ensure that the Network fully reflects the needs and desires of those working at the community level, the Working Group has undertaken four activities. We have surveyed more than 600 individuals and organizations and gotten an enthusiastic response rate of more than 35%. We have developed a vision statement based largely on the results of the survey and the Chicago meetings, shared this statement at the third annual America Healing conference in Asheville, NC in April of this year, and collected more than 70 signatures on the vision statement (see information at end of article). We have created an interactive and growing website at www.withinourlifetime.net, and recently completed a series of six regional telephone conference calls that attracted over 120 people.

Survey Results

The survey yielded valuable information on a number of topics. One of the key questions was about the primary strategies that organizations employ to work on race and racism. From that question, five major themes emerged:
• Building awareness and knowledge of racism.
• Increasing skills and experiences for relationship-building and healing.
• Targeting institutional patterns and practices in organizations.
• Community organizing for action.
• Policy work, including research and development.
A second key question sought ideas on how the Network could be helpful to organizations in facilitating communication and connections among Network members and in building the capacity of Network members. Among the ideas that emerged were:
• Create a listserv and message board for communication at the state, regional and national levels.
• Regularly publish success stories of how racial equity improves social and economic outcomes for all communities.
• Maintain a resource directory of community-based non-profit organizations working on issues of race.
• Create a safe space for authentic dialogue among those with widely differing points of view.
• Provide workshops and seminars and webinars that connect the academy and the community.
• Identify and disseminate funding opportunities.
• Facilitate opportunities to collaborate on specific activities.
Overall, respondents were enthusiastic about the creation of a racial healing/racial equity Network, and four broad major themes emerged regarding what they hope the Network is able to accomplish:
• Create an infrastructure for a racial equity and racial healing movement by connecting people and organizations and supporting them in various ways.
• Build public will for racial justice and racial healing.
• Broaden the conversation from the perspectives of generations, racial and ethnic identities, and the intersectionalities of issues such as race and poverty and race and gender.
• Develop a “road map” and shared vision for collective action.
The following quote effectively sums up the Network’s intent:
“We believe that racial healing and commitment to racial equity go hand- in-hand.There can be no real structural change without personal change; and personal and community healing must include steps toward racially just and inclusive communities.”

Regional Conference Calls

In September, the emerging Network hosted six highly interactive regional conference calls. The purposes of these phone conversations were to:
• Brainstorm the potential structure and governance of the Network.
• Enable people to connect with other people in their region.
• Share and learn about what is already happening.
• Discuss possible ideas for action to continue building the momentum.
The discussions on these calls, as well as the discussions among the interim working group and the comments from the survey, have been thoughtful and thought-provoking, and they have yielded numerous ideas, as well as posed challenges for participants to consider over the next several months. Among the challenges is the recognition that participants come from different perspectives and have different opinions on priorities and on what works best. There have been frequent discussions about the meaning of structural racism and racial healing, about the interdependence of the various approaches to ending structural racism and achieving racial healing, about the difference between the aspirational and the practical, and about ways to ensure that the Network is truly reflective of a range of approaches and points of view. The glue, however, that holds all of the various points of view together is the common commitment to end racism, eliminate the belief in a racial hierarchy, and create a society in which the playing field is level for everyone, irrespective of race, ethnicity or national origin.

Next Steps

In early October, the Interim Working Group met in person to review the results of these four activities and to consider how to move forward in an inclusive manner and how to engage interested organizations and individuals in co-creating and launching the Network early in 2014. To move toward this launch, the Interim Working Group will be expanded and two more Working Groups will be formed from among volunteers who have expressed an interest in being more deeply involved in the planning. One Working Group will design a governance structure for the Network. At the moment, the thinking is that the Network should be organized around geographic locations (regions and/or states) to minimize logistical challenges, facilitate face-to-face meetings, and promote collaborative activities. The second Working Group will focus on developing a major campaign around a common theme that will include an array of activities in which organizations and individuals can choose to lead and/or participate. This campaign will represent the formal launch of the Network, and it will be designed to communicate a sense of urgency about the Network's mission, serve as a vehicle for energizing and unifying the organizations and individuals who will participate, and help to build the capacity of the Network and the participants.

It is our firm faith that the collective and collaborative efforts of thousands of committed people will end racism in our lifetime. We invite you to join us on this journey.

If you would like to join our journey, please read our vision statement and sign it to indicate your support. It can be found on our web site, http://www.withinourlifetime.net/. If you would like more information about the Network and/or would like to get involved, please e-mail us at network@ withinourlifetime.net. Or, feel free to contact any one of the seven members of the Interim Working Group.

Lloyd Y. Asato is a planner and project management consultant based in Oakland, California. lloyd@buildcommunity.net
 
Susan M. Glisson is Executive Director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the Univ. of Mississippi.  glisson@olemiss.edu
 
Dushaw Hockett is Executive Director of SPACEs (Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity), a national leadership development and community-building organization. He is the former Director of Special Initiatives for the Center for Community Change. dushaw@thespacesproject.org
 
Jeanne Isler is the Director of US Programs at Search for Common Ground. Her department works to find cooperative solutions in the United States, especially around divisions of race, gender, sexuality and other aspects of identity. jisler@sfcg.org
 
Maggie Potapchuk is dedicated to building the capacity of organizations and communities to effectively address structural racism and white privilege for building a just society. mpotapchuk@massociates.us
 
Robin Toma , Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission RToma@css.lacounty.gov
 
Mike Wenger is a Senior Fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an adjunct faculty member in the Dept. of Sociology at The George Washington University. He is the former Deputy Director for Outreach and Program Development for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race.
wengerjm@verizon.net)
 
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