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"Building Momentum for Racial Understanding and Justice: The NABRE Store,"

by Michael R. Wenger May/June 2002 issue of Poverty & Race

It has become fashionable, particularly among some who held the highest hopes for it, to label President Clinton's Initiative on Race as a failure. Clearly, many people expected more of the Initiative and were disappointed and frustrated by the limited extent of its progress in helping us to narrow our racial and ethnic divisions—to build that “bridge to the 21st century.”

Yet, to label the Initiative as a failure ignores some important outcomes. One such outcome is the Network of Alliances Bridging Race and Ethnicity, or NABRE (pronounced “neighbor”), a program of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A direct result of the Initiative’s effort to identify and highlight nearly 350 promising practices in race relations activities in communities across the country, NABRE responds to a sense of isolation expressed by leaders of many of these promising practices. By linking these leaders, both electronically and in person, NABRE enables them to share ideas, learn from each other’s experiences, provide support to each other, and feel connected to others with similar outlooks.

Utilizing an initial planning grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Joint Center convened a planning committee of 15 prominent national organizations (see Box), diverse in terms of race and ethnicity and in terms of sectors represented, to guide NABRE’s development. Together, the members of the planning committee:
  • Built a structure and a framework for the network;
  • Developed a mission statement and established goals and guiding principles;
  • Conducted both a survey to determine interest in the network and research to identify lessons learned on issues of common concern; and
  • Invited community-based groups, many of which had fostered “promising practices” of the President’s Initiative, to become network members.

The planning committee’s final official act was to disband itself and create an even broader and more diverse 29-member Steering Committee (including PRRAC) --see
Box – to guide NABRE activities in the ensuing years. The Steering Committee also includes several local groups to insure that the grassroots perspective is heard and is reflected in its decisions.

On November 1, 2000, with a three-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, NABRE launched its interactive web site (www.jointcenter.org/nabre). It features an online directory of NABRE’s 156 member organizations, sections on lessons learned and resources, and chat rooms and bulletin boards for its members. The chat rooms have featured a range of issues, including how to move from dialogue to action and how to use film to engage communities in race relations and racial justice activities. The bulletin board capacity, installed in September 2001, has featured topics such as reactions to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, at which NABRE was represented, and Bridging Racial Differences to Improve Education in Our Public Schools. A companion web site, Youth NABRE (www.jointcneter.org/youthnabre), supported by a grant from the Lucent Technologies Foundation, is designed specifically for young people engaged in race relations activities through the 51 “Lucent Links” Projects. This includes projects in Indonesia and South Africa.

In related electronic activities, following the horrors of September 11, 2001, NABRE collected examples of how communities were confronting scapegoating and negative racial and ethnic stereotyping and distributed these ideas in regular e-mails to all its members. And in March of this year NABRE launched a quarterly e-mail newsletter aimed at spotlighting members and highlighting events and activities.

Although the web site has become its core activity, NABRE has undertaken a range of other activities, as well, to further its mission. Three are of particular note.

In February 2001, in conjunction with the PBS showing of the documentary titled Tutu and Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace, NABRE partnered with the film’s producer, Wisdom Works, to engage groups in more than 100 communities in interracial dialogues and activities. People came together to watch the film, which documented an historic week-long discussion on Goree Island, Senegal, featuring prominent American historian John Hope Franklin, who chaired the Advisory Board to President Clinton’s Initiative; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and 21 diverse high school students, 7 each from Senegal, South Africa and the United States. Groups were provided with a discussion guide, and following the film, they engaged in discussions focused on actions that people can take to increase understanding and cooperative action across racial lines. The response was so positive that NABRE has now established a partnership with the Television Race Initiative, based in San Francisco, to engage in similar outreach activities around the showing of other PBS documentaries on race and ethnicity.

To demonstrate how the emerging information technology can be utilized to strengthen local coalitions and widen the circle of allies, NABRE partnered in November 2001, with AOL Digital City Boston and the Greater Boston Civil Rights Coalition (GBCRC) to sponsor a three-week online dialogue entitled “Civil Rights and Security: The Dangers of Profiling.” Supported by a grant from the AOL Time Warner Foundation and called the “Talk to Action” project, it builds on an earlier AOL effort to engage the public in online dialogues on race. Nearly 100 people posted comments during the three-week period, and NABRE is now producing a booklet on racial profiling based on the issues raised in the posted comments. The booklet, due out in June, will be available for use by the GBCRC, which is now addressing the issue of racial profiling in retail stores. It also will be available to all NABRE members for their use in grappling with racial profiling in their communities. A second pilot of the “Talk to Action” project is scheduled for the Fall in a different city.

In February 2002, NABRE convened a How-To Forum titled “Creating Collaborative Approaches to Address Racial Injustice in Communities.” Supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the forum was designed to promote collaborative activities among organizations from across the spectrum of approaches to race relations and racial justice—from groups that focus on raising personal awareness through dialogue to groups that engage in activities designed to confront institutional racism and its root causes and challenge white supremacy. Representatives of 19 organizations came together for two days to explore the perspectives of their various groups, to find areas of common ground, and to develop ways in which they can collaborate on specific racial issues in communities. They discussed principles of collaboration and possible ways to collaborate on specific community issues, and they expressed substantial enthusiasm for continuing the exploration on both the national and local levels. A publication about this forum will be issued this summer

Through these and other activities, NABRE is striving to help local groups build capacity, develop collaborative activities and widen their circle of allies engaged in race relations and racial justice activities. The Steering Committee has been careful to avoid duplicating activities of existing organizations; rather, it has focused on complementing and supporting these activities. Furthermore, recognizing the resource that the network represents, the Steering Committee is exploring ways in which it can utilize the reach and strength of the network as a catalyst for coordinated national activities that can trigger increased public awareness of racial issues, improve understanding of the origins and ramifications of these issues, and energize new allies in the quest for racial justice.

There may well be good reason for disappointment and frustration about what President Clinton’s Initiative on Race was unable to accomplish, but programs like NABRE, and others growing out of the Initiative, such as the Institute for Democratic Renewal at Claremont Graduate University, that are working to promote racial understanding and justice are clear evidence that the Initiative was not without significant outcomes.

Michael R. Wenger is the Director of NABRE.
 

Notes:

Michael R. Wenger (mwenger@jointcenter.org) is the Director of NABRE. He was formerly the Deputy Director for Outreach and Program Development for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race.

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