Thursday, April 30, 2015

Madison Community: How will it move forward?

What kind of community do we want as citizens of Madison?

I think that the kind of community that people in Madison want is one where people are treated fairly. I think that people in Madison want a community where entire communities are not left out of the economic opportunity in our city or face barriers and unequal treatment that cause large negative effects in people's lives.


On March 6, 2015, a white police officer shot Tony Robinson, a young African American.  This event has catalyzed the Madison community.  This tragic incident echoes the tragic disparities between policing outcomes in Dane County.  While African American adults account for 5% of the population in Madison, African Americans account for 49% of the Madison jail population.  The Race to Equity Report found that the African American adult arrest rate was nearly 300 out of 1000 compared to 36 out of 1000 for white adults and that for juveniles the rate was 469 for African Americans compared to 77 for whites per 1000 in 2012 in Dane County.

Are the police a reflection of our community?
The disparities between arrest outcomes are only one example of differences in outcomes between African American and white citizens in Madison.  The same Race to Equity Report also highlights differences in unemployment rates, poverty rates, education outcomes, and health outcomes.

The challenges that Madison and Madison's police department faces are not unlike the challenges that all places and organizations face.  The United States is becoming an ever more diverse place; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, children in the United States will become majority minority by 2018 and over half the population will be people of color by 2043.  The United States must change with this trend and continue to strive for racial equity.

The current way our society is structured means not only harm to those groups affected but also a loss to all of society.  A Kellogg Foundation 2013 report found that by closing the earnings gap through higher productivity between minorities and whites, gross domestic product would increase by $1.9 trillion dollars or about a 12% overall increase.

So what can Madison do about this large and pressing issue?  While this post does not have the space to go into many facets of working on this issue, nor could one blog post address a fraction, I will highlight a few key points that Madison, nonprofit organizations, and citizens can do.  I will frame the suggestions below in terms of nonprofit groups and process.

Inclusion: Not Privileging One Group
Groups working on this issue need to be inclusive.  As Jeanne McNett highlights in "Diversity in the Workplace," being inclusive means valuing difference as a way of thinking and not valuing difference for differences' sake.  This way of thinking means that we must not privilege one way of doing things. A key for Madison majority organizations is being allies with African American-led organizations working on racial disparities.

Organizations, such as the Young Gifted and Black Coalition and other prominent African American groups, have taken a lead in working on this issue.  Other groups should reach out to them, listen to them, and support their desires  These actions reflect being an ally.

Building Trust
A key aspect will be building trust.  Building trust for nonprofit organizations will require engaging with the community.  For some recommendations on best practices see Harwood's "Standards of Excellence in Community Engagement."  Engaging the community requires foremost for the organization to listen.  It also requires the organization to demonstrate its listening to the same community.

Meaningful, Sustained Change
These actions need to be sustained over time.  This issue is not one to be resolved with quick fixes.  In 2014 Race for Results, the report calls for a two-generation strategy.  If the Madison community as a whole is to tackle these disparities, it means a long-term commitment.

Actively working on this issue is not easy or comfortable or quick.  However, I know that the kind of community that I want to live in: a community that is willing and actively faces these ongoing challenges.  A community that devotes time, energy, and resources into improving life for all members of its communities.

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