PRRAC: THE TENTH 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 housing/ 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 science researchers who are working on behalf of the poor and racial minorities. The second is to commission and fund social science research that can 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 continued to publish its bimonthly newsletter journal Poverty & Race (Vol. 9, Nos. 1-6), and in 1991 will publish its second “best of P&R” volume (Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America, ed. Chester Hartman, Foreword by Congressman John Lewis, to be published by M.E. Sharpe), containing the leading articles and symposia from 1997-2000.
In early 2000, PRRAC received a Merit Award from the North American Association of Summer Sessions for its 1999 American University Summer Institute, “Racism in America.” The award was “for creative and innovative summer session programming in the credit area… based upon its creativity, uniqueness, impact and adaptability by other institutions.”
In January, PRRAC co-sponsored, with The Loka Institute and others, a working conference in DC to develop a set of protocols to govern community-based resesarch, so as to maximize the benefits of such work to low-income and minority communities.
PRRAC initiated a monthly DC-area research colloquium, based at American University, for academics, policymakers, advocates and journalists. The purpose is to bring important new research on race and poverty issues into the policy, advocacy and public arena, and to create networking relationships among these differerent “worlds.” Sessions were held focusing on education, income support and housing. Presenters included Sam Stringfield (Johns Hopkins Center for the Social Organization of Schools), Paul Weckstein (Center for Law & Education) and Lynn Olson (Education Week); Steve Savner (Center for Law & Social Policy). Deepak Bhargava (Center for Community Change) and David Whitman (US News & World Report); Margery Turner (The Urban Institute), Sheila Crowley (National Low Income Housing Coalition) and Michael Grunwald (Washington Post).
Following up on PRRAC’s October 1999 all-day Institute at Howard University, “Putting the ‘Movement’ Back Into Civil Rights Teaching,” co-sponsored with the Network of Educators on the Americas (NECA) and attended by some 300 K-12 educators from the DC area, a joint project (with NECA) was initiated to produce a similarly titled curriclum for nationwide use, complemented by teachers workshops. Speakers and resource people who participated in the Institute will contribute materials and form an Advisory Committee. Among those involved were/are: Bob Moses, Sonia Sanchez, Howard Zinn, Elsa Barkley Brown, Suzan Shown Harjo, Lynda Tredway, Martha Honey, Ezequiel Pajibo, Arnoldo Ramos, Luci Murphy, Gabriel Torre, Lea Ybarra, Elise Bryant, James Forman, Taylor Branch, Manijeh Gonzalez Fata, Maya Cameron, Charles Cobb, Don Freeman, Anne Gallivan & Sondra Hassan.
In June, PRRAC convened a by-invitation working conference at Howard University Law School, to develop an advocacy and research agenda addressing the causes and impacts of high student mobility/classroom turnover in high-poverty schools and farmworker areas. The conference – “High Student Mobility/Classroom Turnover: How to Address It? How to Reduce It?” — brought together advocates and researchers from the education, housing and child welfare communities. Results of existing research were presented, with respect to causes and impacts. Presenters included Russell Rumberger (Univ. of California-Santa Barbara), David Kerbow (Center for School Improvement, Univ. of Chicago), Elizabeth Hinz (Minneapolis Public Schools), JoaAnn Isken (Moffitt Elementary School, Los Angeles), Todd Franke (UCLA), Becca Garcia (Victoria, TX Independent School District), Roger Rosenthal (Migrant Legal Action Group), Angela Branz-Spall (National Association of State Divisions of Migrant Education), Linda Couch (National Low Income Housing Coalition), Sally McCarthy (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty), Tom Wells (Consortium for Child Welfare), and Deborah Stein (National Association of Child Advocates). A handbook is planned to provide strategies for reducing mobility and addressing students’ and families’ needs created by such mobility.
Eight new research/advocacy grants were made during 2000, through support from the Joyce Foundation. All focused on education reform:
+ Applied Research Center, Oakland, CA, for its Racial Justice Report Card project.
+ Common Sense Foundation, Raleigh, NC, to create a “Standardized Testing Guide” for North Carolina parents.
+ DC VOICE (District Community Voices Organized & Informed for Change in Education), a collaborative of parents, teachers and community members committed to ensuring every child in Washington, DC, a high-quality public education.
+ National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Washington, DC, for research on “shelter schools.”
+ North Carolina Justice & Community Development Center, Raleigh, NC, for a report documenting the achievement gap between minority and majority students in the state’s public schools.
+ Oakland [CA] ACORN to examine racial patterns of use of substitute teachers in the Oakland Unified School District.
+ Rethinking Schools, Milwauke, WI, for research to determine if there is a correlation between inequitable education funding in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and the racial composition of the districts in the area.
+ Jeannie Oakes and John Rogers, UCLA, with the ACLU of Southern California, to develop rigorous curricular opportunities for high school students and policy alternatives to the inequitable role of Advanced Placement courses in the Univ. of California admissions process.
Work continues on many of PRRAC’s previously funded projects, as well as on the larger projects the PRRAC Board has commissioned: the State and Federal Data Reconnaissance Project and the Housing and School Segregation Project.
An updated descriptive listing of the ca. 100 projects PRRAC has funded to date and the products thereof is available from us upon request. It is also posted on PRRAC’s website: www.prrac.org.
We are seeking funding for further grantmaking, in specific areas and more generally –possibly via an endowment for this element of PRRAC’s work. 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 included 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’ Committee 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 has been used to support their path-breaking, successful lawsuit; the suit raised a new area for Title VI and Constitutional concerns 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 Services lawyers in both cities to secure improved plans for desegregated housing.
PRRAC was asked to administer the new Edith Witt Internships – a fund established by family and friends in memory of a former staff member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the Internship is to “help develop a new generation of community activists,” and each
year a grant will be awarded to a grassroots community group working on social justice issues. The first award went to the Women of Color Resource Center in Berkeley, California, and their intern, Jackie Henderson.
2000 PRRAC BOARD OF DIRECTORS
John Charles Boger
University of North Carolina School of Law
Chapel Hill, NC
The Education Trust
California Rural Legal Assistance
San Francisco, CA
University of Minnesota
Institute on Race & Poverty
Shari Dunn Buron
National Legal Aid & Defender Association
Deepak Bhargava [from 11/00]
Center for Community Change
Nancy Duff Campbell [until 11/00]
National Women’s Law Center
Sheila Crowley [from 11/00]
National Low Income Housing Coalition
Tonya Gonnella Frichner [until 11/00]
American Indian Law Alliance
New York, NY
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Chung-Wha Hong [until 11/00]
National Korean American Service & Educational Consortium
Judith Johnson [from 11/00]
DeWitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund
New York, NY
The Commonwealth Institute
University of California
Asian American Studies Center
Los Angeles, CA
Anthony Sarmiento Working for America
Theodore M. Shaw
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund
New York, NY
Milagros Silva [until 11/00]
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
William L. Taylor
[Organizations listed for identification purposes only]
2000 PRRAC STAFF
Director of Education Programs
Denise Rivera Portis
Elizabeth Ellis [until 2/00]
Melissa Best [from 2/00]
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
Heidi Hartmann, Institute 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 of 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