Combating Racism Requires a Community Response

by Rod Cox-Cooper, Member of the Black Male Achievement Coalition &
Jackie Campbell, Member of the Black Male Achievement Coalition

As the Rochester community continues its quest to combat racism, one must consider the question, “What does a world without disparity, inequity and inequality look like?” In a society where the economic structure was built on free or reduced labor, many would argue, one group always stands to benefit as a result of the control and exploitation of another. Thus, does it benefit America to reduce or prevent systemic problems such as racism and the associated challenges? Is there enough public and political will? These are rhetorical yet real questions.

With ever-increasing disparities and a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the need for social, political, educational and economic revitalization has never been greater. On both national and local fronts, much needed attention is directed to this “revitalization” as evidenced by the White House’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper—an effort designed to strengthen support for under-performing black boys. Local efforts like the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism, Facing Race=Embracing Equity, the D&C’s Unite Rochester, and the Black Male Achievement Coalition are all community-level initiatives intended to drive the conversations to raise awareness and positively change outcomes. These programs are bold, positive steps for this community.

However, the problems we have with race and disparity require much more than conversation. Unless the systemic devices and cultural beliefs used to promote racism and disparities are disrupted, attempts to address these evils will further cripple people by creating an increased sense of hopelessness and helplessness. To achieve this needed disruption, a common agenda and alignment of programs and support are essential to the success of any effort used to create systemic change. Equally important is understanding the value of data and evidence to drive decision-making.

The Rochester community has adopted the collective impact framework to address systemic issues such as health and education. Much of this work is being led by The Children’s Agenda. However, broad representation and involvement are fundamental to the success of this effort. The Rochester community must do a better job engaging all the necessary voices, to include parents, neighborhood leaders, clergy and appropriate representation by persons of color. There’s much work to do. We won’t see necessary change in the short-term fix or strategy; this is a long-term effort. The challenges we experience today are the result of intentional, deliberate practices that may have yielded unintended consequences. Regardless of the source, we must overcome them.

Needless to say, in our work we must be specific, deliberate, intentional and informed. We also must be welcoming, inviting and respectful, and value the voices of those who are often closed out the process of engagement and participation. Contrary to popular belief, there’s not a “limited pool of contributors” (that is, persons of diverse backgrounds and experiences); rather, there’s a limited pool of people who have the wherewithal to drive real change. The goal is to identify the right people, not always the best known people.

If we wish to see the kind of change many in this community have been seeking for so long, we must continue to push forward without apology.

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