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"Needed: Bold, Groundbreaking New Initiatives,"

by Carmen Joge & Charles Kamasaki November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

When President Clinton first announced his intention to initiate a national dialogue on race, in the Spring of 1997, our first response was one of hope mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Nevertheless, the National Council of La Raza applauded the President for his bold leadership and willingness to bring the issue of race to the forefront and make it a part of his Presidential legacy. NCLR immediately prepared a Memorandum for the Advisory Board making recommendations that focused on the following:

· Need for increased public education and understanding of diverse perspectives on race and related issues;

· Identification of bold policy initiatives that serve to unify rather than polarize; and

· Urgency in identifying a new, all-inclusive paradigm for future discussions of race relations in the U.S.

After a few months of being understaffed, disorganized, and without clarity of mission, the Initiative eventually proceeded forward and made some progress. We remained hopeful, for we understood that the process was not going to be easy, based on our own experiences. We knew from the beginning that engaging the issue of race in an inclusive way would be terribly difficult. But we also knew that progress is possible, having seen the emergence of a more unified, inclusive "Latino identity" over the past decade.

Almost a year-and-a-half later, the Advisory Board completed a set of recommendations primarily focused on policy initiatives in civil rights enforcement, education, economic security and workforce development, community integration and the administration of justice. The Advisory Board also called for a meaningful long-term strategy to advance race relations in the 21st Century, including:

· A President's Council for One America that would coordinate and monitor the implementation of policies designed to increase opportunity and eliminate racial disparities;

· A public education program using a multimedia approach that would emphasize and highlight the common values we share as a racially and ethnically diverse nation;

· A Presidential "call to action" of leaders from all sectors of our society, including the communities of faith, corporate America and educators; and

· A focus on youth, realizing that they too must be encouraged to participate in efforts to bridge racial and ethnic divides.

On one level, we find much in the Advisory Board report that we can support. Many of the proposed policy initiatives are part of NCLR's core policy agenda, and we have invested considerable time and energy toward their enactment; some - such as more funding for civil rights enforcement are already bearing fruit as part of the FY 1999 Omnibus Budget deal. The proposal to use the latest research techniques to publish a kind of national "report card" on the scope and degree of discrimination is also highly promising.

On another level, we note that neither the Advisory Board nor the President has been fully inclusive of Hispanics in their discussions of race, although both came a long way since the beginning of the Initiative.

But most importantly, we believe the Initiative has yet to fulfill its promise, on two major fronts. First, we have yet to see bold, groundbreaking policy initiatives that promise to significantly advance the causes of racial justice or racial reconciliation. Second, not enough progress has been made in constructing and articulating the "new paradigm" of race relations. The vision must include those who too frequently have been excluded or ignored from the conversation Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Afro-Latinos, Arab Americans, African and Caribbean immigrants, multi-racial people, and, yes, White Americans as well.

Sometime around the beginning of next year, the President will publish his own report on the Initiative. We hope and expect that this report will include both a series of bold policy initiatives and a new paradigm on race. We have talked, we have debated and we have learned. It is time now for the President to take the mantle of leadership and use his "bully pulpit" to take this Initiative beyond just dialogue and on to action.

Carmen Joge is Policy Analyst at the National Council of La Raza.
Charles Kamasaki is Senior Vice President at the National Council of La Raza.

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