PRRAC: THE SEVENTH YEAR
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The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) is a national nonprofit organization founded by major civil rights, civil liberties and anti-poverty groups to address problems at the intersection of race and poverty. It effectively began operation in 1991.
The impetus to establish PRRAC was the need for advocates and social science researchers to work together more closely in order to combat the continuing twin scourges of poverty and racism in the United States. The overlapping crises of homelessness, poor educational performance, persistent unemployment and underemployment, declines in real wages and income supports, rising infant mortality and drug-related crime in poor communities have prompted national as well as local civil rights and civil liberties groups to reassess their own priorities. Traditional anti-poverty and legal services advocates have likewise begun to search for new allies, to update their strategies and to fashion new organizing strategies and legal theories that might meet the increasingly complex problems confronting the poor and racial minorities.
Most advocates have concluded that, to be effective, they must, more than ever before, pursue joint or cooperative strategies. Equally important, they have recognized that they must develop a deeper understanding of labor market economics, social psychology and rapid demographic changes in minority and poverty communities. Advocates need an infusion of the best information and social theory from social scientists. They also need a means to direct the research energies of social scientists towards questions of importance to their own clients.
PRRAC has two objectives. The first is to function as a forum for community-based activists, policy advocates, civil rights and anti-poverty attorneys and social science researchers who are working on behalf of the poor and racial minorities. The second is to commission and fund social science research that may advance community-based activism, policy initiatives and litigation on behalf of these same persons. Through a range of networking functions and research funding, PRRAC hopes to fashion, disseminate and replicate new strategies to address the problem of persistent poverty and racism in the United States.
PRRAC seeks to organize and create useful communication and coordination among and between social science researchers and activists working at the intersection of race and poverty.
The long-range goal is to increase the quantity, quality and relevance of such research, and to improve the effectiveness of advocacy work via reliance on such research. We do thisin a variety of ways:
- We organize local meetings of the research and advocacy communities. Ten such gatherings have been held to date: Detroit, Seattle/Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Chapel Hill, Washington DC, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Some 40 to 60 persons attended each, and the sessions have been deemed highly productive, in terms of the contacts made there, information exchanged, subsequent contacts reported and research proposals submitted as a result of the session. With funding from The Kellogg Foundation, projects were undertaken in the first four cities where these meetings were organized (Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles) to create systems for linking community groups to academic resources. A technologically sophisticated but user-friendly model system was created for Los Angeles, which is easily adaptable to other locales. Additional meetings are planned for other cities.
- A bi-monthly newsletter journal, Poverty & Race, was inaugurated in March 1992, originally free, but in mid-1996 converted to a subscription publication. Format for each usually 20-28 page issue includes a major article and/or symposium, reports from grantees on research and follow-up advocacy work, PRRAC news, and an extensive (usually 100-150 item) Resources Section, listing publications, information requests, conferences, jobs and other information useful to the PRRAC Network of readers, consisting of race-and-poverty activists, researchers, funders and persons from the media.
- The leading articles and symposia from Poverty & Race were published in paperback and hardback form by M.E. Sharpe in 1997 as Double Exposure: Poverty & Race in America, a 258-page collection, with Introductions by Bill Bradley and Julian Bond. The 61 articles (plus five instructional quizzes) are grouped under seven topics: Is Racism Permanent?; The Use and Utility of Racial & Ethnic Categories; Immigration; The “Underclass” Debate; Multiculturalism; Affirmative Action & Reparations for Slavery; Democracy/Equality. Contributors include john powell, Howard Winant, S.M. Miller, Paul Ong, Bernardine Dohrn, Benjamin DeMott, Juanita Tamayo Lott, Samuel Myers, Jr., Raul Yzaguirre, Nathan Glazer, Herbert Gans, Douglas Massey, Manning Marable, Henry Hampton. Roger Wilkins, Maxine Waters, Salim Muwakkil, David Rusk, Eric Mann, Melvin Oliver and others. The book has sold well and been adopted as a course text in several dozen colleges and secondary schools.
Two Board-mandated research-advocacy efforts were initiated: the Federal and State Data Reconnaissance Projects (looking at what data sources exist on the impact of government housing, education, health and income maintenance programs on poor and minority beneficiaries); and an examination of the two-way cause-and-effect relationship between segregated school patterns and segregated housing patterns and the government’s role in creating and maintaining residential segregation.
The federal-level portion of the Data Reconnaissance Project produced four commissioned studies documenting the inadequacy of data collection and dissemination efforts on the part of HHS, HUD, Dept. of Education and other federal agencies. A parallel effort for California, undertaken in partnership with the California Budget Project, with funding from The Irvine Foundation, resulted in similar findings. And four additional state-level projects — in Alabama, Texas, Illinois and North Carolina — were initiated in 1996, with Mott Foundation funding, in partnership with state groups working on fiscal and tax issues. At the completion of these research projects, advocacy steps, at the state and national level (using the five states as a representative sample of the 50 states) will be undertaken in order to improve the quality, quantity, relevance and dissemination of data on the impact of housing, health, education and income maintenance projects on poor and minority beneficiaries — so that advocates have better tools with which to fight for program improvements and force the states to evaluate the programs devolving to their level and become more accountable for the results.
The Housing & School Segregation Project involves major commissioned studies by urban historians Raymond Mohl (Univ. of Alabama) and Arnold Hirsch (Univ. of New Orleans), who worked at the National Archives during the summer of 1996, assisted by a group of graduate students recruited by PRRAC. These reports, completed at the very end of 1996, have been supplemented by a similar report on the rural housing programs of the Farmers Home Administration and by a summary of litigation establishing the federal government’s liability for racially segregated housing patterns. Further work on this project will involve additional research covering the post-1960 period, state and local government and court actions, and case-studies, as well as initiation of a range of advocacy steps to inform public opinion and policy and seek remedial actions.
A second element of the Housing & School Segregation Project focusses on St. Louis, site of the nation’s largest voluntary — and highly successful — interdistrict school integration program. The state of Missouri is seeking to end the program, despite its benefits, because of its cost. Lead attorney defending the program is PRRAC Board member William L. Taylor. PRRAC commissioned five expert studies in support of the program, by Samuel Stringfield and Rebecca Herman of Johns Hopkins, Dennis Judd of the University of Missouri, William Trent of the University of Illinois, Michael Puma of Abt Associates, and Junious Williams of Oakland, California. Because of the high quality and broader relevance of these studies, arrangements have been made to have them — supplemented by excerpts from the trial testimony and depositions of Gary Orfield of Harvard and others — published as a special issue of the Journal of Negro Education (scheduled for mid-1998 publication), with a book version likely to follow.
PRRAC’s program of small research grants (maximum amount: $10,000), under which some 75 grants were made during the 1991-96 period (a descriptive list is available from us with a self-addressed, stamped [55¢]envelope), was inactive during 1997 (save for continuing contact with prior grantees to complete the research products and report on advocacy work supported by that research) due to lack of available funds.
Looking cumulatively at PRRAC’s small grants program, the most common substantive area of work is housing (and homelessness); other areas include health, education, employment, criminal justice, immigration, transportation, voting, domestic violence and the environment. Researchers funded include staff of advocacy organizations, academics (working independently on projects that will be of assistance to advocacy groups or in tandem with such groups) and members of grassroots organizations. Where organizations do not have access to appropriate research help, PRRAC draws on its network of researchers to locate such assistance.
In deciding which applications to fund, criteria — beyond the basic threshold requirements that the request be for research support around the intersection of race and poverty, and that the research directly support a planned, concrete advocacy agenda — include the importance of the advocacy effort, the utility and quality of the proposed research, the potential for success of both the research effort and advocacy work, the project’s potential for publicity and dissemination, and its potential for replication elsewhere. PRRAC strongly encourages involvement of minority researchers. As projects are completed, opportunities for replicating the research and/or advocacy will be explored and, as appropriate and needed, advanced.
While the advocacy work advanced by PRRAC-supported research usually takes a while to implement, there are many successes to date. Some examples:
- The Clinica Legal Latina/Ayuda’s research on domestic violence among DC-area immigrants helped in passage of federal legislation protecting the immigration status of women victimized by such abuse.
- The ACLU’s research led to their successful suit challenging Alabama’s racially discriminatory education system.
- The Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago’s research documenting the miseducation of homeless children helped pass state legislation guaranteeing such pupils an adequate education, and produced a litigation settlement with a similar result.
- Ed Kissam’s research on the systematic undercount of farmworkers led to revision of Census Bureau enumeration procedures, in turn increasing population-based program funds.
- Yale Rabin and Joe Darden’s documentation of the government role in creating racially segregated housing patterns in Allegheny County, PA, was a key element in producing an extraordinarily progressive consent decree in the Lawyers’ Comm. For Civil Rights Under Law suit.
- The Labor/Community Strategy Center’s research into racially discriminatory transit planning and implementation by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is being used to support their path-breaking lawsuit; the suit raises a new area for Title VI and Constitutional concern and enforcement, already being replicated and considered in other cities.
- Research by Yale Rabin critical of the public housing replacement plans in New Haven and Providence and his preparation of alternative plans have assisted Legal Service lawyers in both cities to secure improved plans for desegregated housing.
- Occidental College professor Manuel Pastor’s computer-based system of linking community groups with useful local academic resources in the LA area is now available for easy replication in other cities.
A new project initiated at the end of 1997 relates to the President’s Race Initiative (whose staff is headed by former PRRAC Board member Judith Winston). While considerable optimism was generated by the creation of the Initiative, and particularly by the appointment of John Hope Franklin as Chair of the Initiative’s Advisory Board, early signs are that the effort will be somewhat shallow, eschewing an institutional/historical approach to the nation’s racism. Especially disturbing is the fact that the Advisory Board does not plan to issue its own public report, but will report privately to the President, whose White House staff then will produce a report and set of recommendations. In response, PRRAC has commissioned a set of short “Advice to the Advisory Board” essays by critical thinkers and activists. The first set of such essays — by Manning Marable, Julian Bond, Howard Zinn, Peter Edelman, the National Council of La Raza, S.M. Miller, Marcus Raskin, Peter Dreier, Jonathan Kozol and Hugh Price — appeared in the November/December 1997 issue of Poverty & Race. A second round of these essays will appear in the January/February 1998 issue, and discussion is under way about producing a parallel “telling it like it really is” PRRAC report, with appropriate policy and program recommendations that deal with the institutionalized elements of racism throughout the society’s economic, political and social system.
1997 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
John Charles Boger University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill, NC
Kati Haycock, The Education Trust, Washington, DC
José Padilla, California Rural Legal Assistance, San Francisco, CA
john powell, University of Minnesota School of Law, Minneapolis, MN
Phyllis Holmen, Georgia Legal Services Program, Atlanta, GA
Nancy Duff Campbell, National Women’s Law Center, Washington, DC
David Cohen, The Advocacy Institute, Washington, DC
James Gibson, The Urban Institute, Washington, DC
Thomas Henderson, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, DC
Alan Houseman, Center for Law and Social Policy, Washington, DC
Kenneth Kimerling, Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, New York, NY
In early 1997 Kimerling moved from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund to the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund.
S.M. Miller, The Commonwealth Institute, Cambridge, MA
Don Nakanishi, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Jane Perkins, National Health Law Program, Chapel Hill, NC
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, New York, NY
Esmeralda Simmons, Center for Law & Social Justice, CUNY, Brooklyn, NY
Cathi Tactaquin, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Oakland, CA
Bill Tamayo, San Francisco, CA
William L. Taylor, Washington, DC
[Organizations listed for identification purposes only]
1997 PRRAC STAFF
Chester W. Hartman
Steven D. White(until 4/97)
Shanta Rao (from 10/97)
Beth Ginsburg (until 6/97)
Cherryl M. Donahue (from 9/97)
Sara Mellinger (4/97 – 9/97)
Shannon Brown (until 7/97)
Lisa Young (from 11/97)
SOCIAL SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD
Richard Berk, UCLA Department of Sociology
Frank Bonilla, Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Cynthia Duncan, University of New Hampshire Department of Sociology
Roberto Fernandez, Stanford University Graduate School of Business
Heidi Hartmann, Inst. for Women’s Policy Research (Washington, DC)
William Kornblum, CUNY Center for Social Research
Harriette McAdoo, Michigan State University School of Human Ecology
Fernando Mendoza, Stanford University Center for Chicano Research
Paul Ong, UCLA Graduate School Architecture & Urban Planning
Gary Orfield, Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Gary Sandefur, University of Wisconsin Institute for Poverty Research
Margaret Weir, University of California-Berkeley, Departments of Sociology-Political Science