Two days after Donald Trump won the electoral vote, I found myself in a room with hundreds of government and nonprofit professionals who, like me, were horrified by the frequent racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic slurs and threats spoken by this president-elect – and the violence his divisive rhetoric had already spurred among his supporters across the country. We were all still raw with emotions ranging from fear to anger to near despondence, but strong in our commitment to ensure that the public sector remains committed to the public good. As the esteemed civil rights scholar and leader of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society john a. powell said in a brief introductory welcome, “Together we have to choose all of us. That idea of inclusion and belonging is not negotiable. How we do it is negotiable but our care is not.”
A prelude to the 2016 Facing Race conference, the event was hosted by the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) and the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE), a joint project of CSI and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. It was, as one speaker called it, “part group hug, part wake-up call, part strategy session.”
I was there to learn more about the work to increase racial justice in local and regional government jurisdictions across the country. (LightBox is currently working on a very exciting statewide project in this arena spearheaded by Advancement Project California, which you will hear more about in the coming year.) I was eager to meet people whose job description includes making government more accessible, equitable, and fair for historically marginalized people. The work of these committed professionals gives me hope, while I empathize with how challenging their job must often feel as they work to transform government systems from the inside.
As a communicator who knows smart strategy starts with listening, it was helpful to get to know people like Joy Marsh Stephens, the manager of equity and inclusion for the City of Minneapolis and Kiran Kaur Bains, diversity and inclusion officer for the City of Antonio. Through conversation and hands-on group exercises, I heard about their successes and struggles, and how they use resources like GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit, and other tools from racial equity leaders like the Casey Foundation and Race Forward.
The elected officials gathered at the event are innovating with parity as a priority. A panel with three mayors and a city council member moderated by Clarence Anthony, the executive director of the National League of Cities shared successes and a commitment to ongoing learning and staying the course. “We can’t let one election deter us. This journey continues,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
The panel drove home for me the most important message of the day: In the wake of a Trump presidential victory, local government matters. A lot. “The moral arc of justice is going to take local government leadership to move elected officials to change,” said Anthony.
To learn more, check out:
- The Government Alliance on Race and Equity website holds tools and resources and information about their events and trainings
- The National League of Cities Racial Equity and Leadership program offers resources and materials to support community conversations on race relations, justice, policing and equality.
- The Center for Social Inclusion offers resources on talking about race.
- Race Forward, the organizer of the Facing Race conference, has tools and research on pressing racial justice issues.
- Race Matters Institute offers training, technical assistance and product development to help organizations be more racially equitable.
Anna Ghosh is a LightBox collaborator who acts (and eats!) local any chance she gets.