Reports From the Facing Race Conference: Affirmation and Comfort
Pam Brooks, SJM president, and Leland McGee, an SJM founder and board member, submitted these observations from the Facing Race Conference in Atlanta from Nov. 10-12.
During this weekend following the election, it was some comfort to be part of a crowd as shell-shocked as I was, people committed to social justice and racial equity, questioning what the election results would mean to the movements we champion, to the nation as a whole, and to those already excluded by systemic racial inequities and targeted by acts of discrimination.
Facing Race is organized by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, which characterizes the gathering as “the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice.” The Hilton, which served as the conference’s home base, was certainly packed, with 2,000 attendees participating in 50-plus workshops facilitated by 140 presenters! My one complaint is that I had to squeeze through the doors for several workshops I wished to attend.
The positive takeaway from that minor inconvenience is that we at SJM are not alone! We should take comfort in that fact, work to position ourselves within larger networks and get to know the local groups that share our goals and concerns.
As a relative newbie to membership in the social justice movement, I did not know what to expect at Facing Race, and decided I would just keep my eyes and ears open and combat my own preconceptions. It has taken me a while to begin processing my experience in this very intense environment.
Here are a few things I learned about various intersecting movements and myself in the process:
-- For once, I was not surrounded mostly by people who looked like me. There was no more credence or deference given to me as a white person of a certain age (Baby Boomer) and gender (cis woman) than to the other participants, who to my eyes ran the gamut of every race and gender-identification I could imagine, with a definite skew toward millennials. An unsettling, but essential experience for me.
-- I got to listen to leaders in their fields. I heard Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) and Alicia Garza (#BlackLivesMatter) on the same panel on “Multiracial Movements for Black Lives.” Agreement on “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We need new tools to build a movement that is truly intersectional, that increases room for more people to live together in dignity.
-- When my spirits were ebbing, my hopes for the future were rekindled by the leadership of an amazing group of young people. VOX Teen Communications facilitated a dialog about race that ended with a call to action. These Atlanta-area high school students work together and with adult peers and media professionals to learn investigative reporting and community-building, Check them out at http://voxatl.org/
The conference was a valuable experience for me. It would be great to have an expanded SJM contingent at the next Facing Race Conference.
The Facing Race conference was an affirming experience. The conference occurs every two years. I attended the 2012 conference in Baltimore. Although that workshop format was similar, it was a different experience. First, the workshop selections are so numerous that if they repeated the same sessions, at both conferences, I could not have attended all of them. In fact, there were some changes to the offerings, presumably based on the availability of workshop leaders. For example, in Philadelphia I had the opportunity to meet author Tim Wise during two workshops he moderated/served on. Also, the changes in venues offer different historical and cultural opportunities for exploration.
I attended four workshops and an impromptu working lunch session with people of faith who talked about how they experience and address issues of injustice and inequity within their faith communities; how they experience workplace issues of injustice that conflict with their faith commitments; and how some faith-based organizations in their communities come together to address injustice. It was interesting to hear similar stories from people in North Dakota and North Carolina, Seattle and Brooklyn. Our work is not centered in urban/suburban metropolitan communities.
A summary of specific workshops is as follows:
-- During the “In Pursuit of Educational Equity” program, panelists from Minnesota, Brooklyn and the Schott Foundation talked about building healthy living and learning communities. Organizations such as the Alliance for Quality Education, the Foundation for Public Education and Schott’s Healthy Living & Learning Communities work specifically on equity issues in education.
-- The Center for Social Inclusion serves as a catalyst to help communities promote racially equitable governmental policies, and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity is a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity. The organizations, based in Seattle, conducted a workshop on institutional racism. They gather data to create strategies for equity and assessment of outcomes, and they encourage monitoring of state and local legislative initiatives and the organization of communities around issues of institutional equity. They noted the Boston Racial Justice and Equity Initiative and initiatives of the Florida League of Cities.
-- A workshop on charter schools was very interesting. The panelists were representatives from Journey for Justice in Chicago and the Advancement Project and two community organizations in Brooklyn and Newark, NJ. The controversy is whether charter schools siphon public funds for what essentially are private schools. There is great concern for the future of, and federal commitment to, public education in the new administration. There are many things to watch for.
-- In the workshop on “Building an Inside/Out Strategy,” we discussed building equity in government beyond the divisions between cities and the community “divide.” The program looked at the need to support and encourage people to run for office who have equity as a foundation to public/political policy. The strategy is that having someone “on the inside” working with members of the community offers a more coordinated approach to addressing issues of equity in government and the community.
I came away with many thoughts about how SJM can grow in its social justice work and am comforted that “we are not alone.”