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Sarita Turner said communities need to help identify the right remedies in a session on housing equity during the Facing Race conference at the Hilton

By DANIEL HOUSTON [email protected]

Staff Writer

Published: 15 November 2014 09:14 PM

Updated: 15 November 2014 10:54 PM

Minutes before giving the closing address Saturday at the Hilton Anatole, Race Forward executive director Rinku Sen reflected fondly on her racial equality advocacy group’s first national conference in the South.

Both the turnout and the atmosphere were among the best in the history of the Facing Race conferences that began in 2004, Sen said. Dozens of workshops throughout the three-day event focused on topics ranging from justice theory to economics and the portrayal of race in media.

“The feeling of the conference has been joyous and kind and community-oriented,” Sen said. “I think people are leaving, as we had hoped, feeling more renewed … than they felt when they got here.”

Race Forward decided to hold its conference in Dallas this year after prompting from two local groups: the Embrey Family Foundation and the Boone Family Foundation.

“They said that Dallas has a really long and challenging racial history, that there is a lot of silence around that history,” Sen said of representatives of the two foundations.

During a Saturday workshop called “Innovations in Housing Equity for Communities of Color,” PolicyLink senior associate Sarita Turner said neighborhoods should be more proactive in seeking more equitable enforcement of local and federal housing policies.

“Even in jurisdictions where they [city governments] want to do it well, they don’t know how, because they are not the folks that can identify what the right remedies are for the communities,” Turner said. “The communities need to weigh in on what are the right remedies. What types of implementation strategies will actually be successful and sustainable?”

The workshop focused on community land trusts and other tools for redeveloping neighborhoods without pricing out current residents.

“There’s still a lot of exclusion in the housing market,” said Jason Reece, director of research for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. “In some of our hot housing markets … we’ve got this influx of investment and redevelopment, and unfortunately … that development is higher-end, and it’s going to end up pushing folks out.”

Previous Facing Race gatherings have been held in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Chicago and Oakland, Calif.

More than 1,600 people turned out for Dallas’ conference, said Rebekah Spicuglia, senior communications manager for Race Forward. That’s one of the highest attendance marks in the conference’s history, Sen said. Most participants came from out of state. Texas claimed the second-largest group — 257 — behind only New York’s total of 314.

“We wanted to come south because we really wanted to give folks who were in the South a chance to be in a national conversation with their friends and allies from across the country,” Sen said.


Ragland: Facing Race conference a step forward for Dallas

James Ragland [email protected]

Published: 14 November 2014 11:44 PM
Updated: 15 November 2014 12:22 AM

This isn’t the Dallas that Selam Misgano imagined.

“It was really amazing to see all these diverse communities,” Misgano said hours after touring several sites — from Teatro Dallas to the South Dallas Cultural Center — that reflect the city’s many ethnicities.

“I learned how diverse the community is in Dallas,” said Misgano, 27, a graduate student at the University of Michigan. “It wasn’t the perception of Dallas that I had in mind.”

Misgano, an Ethiopian whose family moved to the Seattle area when she was 15, is among roughly 1,600 people in town this week for the national Facing Race Conference, an event organized by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

This is not only the largest of the seven Facing Race conferences held since the first one in 2004 drew fewer than 250 to Berkeley. It’s also the first in the South.

I’m glad it’s here. The fact that it’s in Dallas says as much about our city as it does about the dynamic group advocating for racial justice across America.

Dallas is still a city deeply divided along racial and socioeconomic lines — evidenced most glaringly, perhaps, by one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

But our collective attitude is changing and, along with it, our national reputation.

The willingness to acknowledge the systemic problems and structural inequities is downright refreshing, whether it’s coming from the mayor or the two big foundations — the Embrey Family Foundation and the Boone Family Foundation — that lured this think-tank-type confab to town.

Says to me we’ve found the heart and the backbone to do the right thing — which means no longer sweeping huge problems under the rug.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, who addressed the conference Friday morning, called the gathering of academics, activities and creative minds a catalyst for change.

“Hopefully new, innovative ideas come out of it,” Rawlings told me. “Creating new models and new ideas – that’s what we need in race relations; not just sitting around singing ‘Kumbaya,’ but understanding the root causes.”

Rawlings realizes it’s hard for some to understand or embrace the concept of racial justice. And it’s hard for some to even imagine.

Case in point: One snarky newspaper reader asked, “What does the term ‘racial justice’ even mean? Since it is not a crime to be born a certain color — including white — I assume it refers to some sort of special privilege for being born a certain color. Some privilege along the lines of getting for free what others have to work hard to achieve.”

I’m sure the Race Forward definition of “racial justice” won’t make this guy or others that share his mindset feel any better: “Systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.”

All that really means is everyone gets a fair shot, from cradle to grave — at school, at work, wherever.

The real trick, of course, is coming up with practical and politically palatable ways to lift those on the bottom up without cutting down those on the top.

That’s where the innovative solutions are needed. That’s where we need more action and less talk. That’s where a group with the reach and resources of Race Forward can help the 285 or so local nonprofits involved get smarter.

Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Race Forward, said organizers get communities to look at the link between race and poverty, race and education and other key measures.

“We look at that link, because we know there is a link,” she said.

Larry James, president and CEO of CitySquare, a nonprofit fighting poverty in Dallas, said the conference is a “very significant” step forward for the city. It signals we’re taking the issue of racial justice seriously.

In other words, we’re no longer in denial.

We’re in the trenches.

Facing Race bus tour shows Dallas stories of struggle and hope

By MARC RAMIREZ [email protected]

Staff Writer

Published: 13 November 2014 10:50 PM

Updated: 15 November 2014 12:21 AM

They passed the neighborhoods that inspired blues singers Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, the Fair Park grounds where African-Americans at one time could attend the State Fair of Texas only on Negro Day. And they learned that beyond the Dallas most people know lies another full of lesser-known history, both rich and painful.

The five-hour bus tour, “Dallas in Context: Stories of Struggle and Hope,” was the kickoff event for this week’s national Facing Race conference at the Hilton Anatole. The tour was put together by New York-based Race Forward, the group behind the conference.

About 100 people shook off Thursday’s frigid temperatures to take the tour, which showcased sites and efforts significant in the city’s communities of color. The stops included Teatro Dallas, the South Dallas Cultural Center and the Pan-African Connection, a cultural arts and fashion shop.

“Generally when people hear about Dallas, it’s about NorthPark mall or John F. Kennedy,” said tour curator Sara Mokuria, Race Forward’s local coordinator. “We wanted to tell the story of people who are living everyday lives and struggling and fighting for existence and justice.”

During the tour, guide Donald Payton spiritedly noted points of interest while costumed actors illustrated minority perspectives on issues ranging from substandard housing to police brutality. All of it was delivered with an outside-the-mainstream focus, designed to highlight perspectives and history not widely expressed or known.

At the iconic Cattle Drive bronze statues near Dallas City Hall, for example, Payton observed that there were many cowboys of color, something rarely evident in Hollywood Westerns. Near Dealey Plaza, he pointed out the spot where three slaves were hanged, blamed for an 1860 blaze that destroyed much of Dallas’ business district.

At each stop, tour participants heard from local community organizers, social activists and agencies fighting for tenant rights and better labor conditions.

At the Dallas County Records Building, they saw A Dallas Drinking Fountain Project, the interactive monument designed by artist Lauren Woods at the site of a one-time white-only fountain rediscovered a decade ago.

“It’s a monument to organizers,” Woods said. “It’s a small gesture, but it’s honoring that spirit.”

Juan Cardoza-Oquendo of the Workers Defense Project spoke about how the agency’s advocacy for Latino construction workers fit the conference’s theme of racial justice, while Rick Lowe, artist-in-residence at Vickery Meadow’s Trans.lation, noted the project’s focus on the neighborhood’s large immigrant and refugee communities.

Alia Salem, executive director of the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the group’s battles against phobias about Islam. Hate crimes and other vitriol have combined to intimidate Muslims, she said, who often hope that staying quiet will allow trouble to pass by.

“There’s a desire to put our heads down and not fight,” Salem said. “But that’s not our tradition as Americans. That’s not our tradition as civil rights activists.”

Those taking the tour came from across the country. There were three high school educators from Berkeley, Calif. There was a manager for a Boston agency that advocates to give communities equal opportunity for good health.

Brooklyn lawyer Joan Gibbs, who has attended several Facing Race conferences in the past, appreciated the Dallas tour as a window to local racial-equity efforts.

“It’s a great idea,” she said. “I never would have known what these people are doing.”

Rachel Branaman of Dallas, executive director of Alley’s House, an organization serving teen mothers, said she wanted to take the tour “to see Dallas from another perspective.”

“I work with people who can be disenfranchised,” she said. “I want to see what advocacy is happening that help them.”

That was why she was at the conference, which aims to foster community efforts like those featured on the day’s tour

“We have a rich group of people who are activists and artists and doing cutting-edge work,” said Mokuria, of Race Forward. “This is a chance to highlight that.”


Editorial: A vein of optimism in Dallas attitudes on race

Published: 12 November 2014 07:19 PM
Updated: 13 November 2014 11:19 AM

Dallas has been awash in aspirational conversations about racial justice and equality.

There’s been talk in fellowship halls. Conversations over dinner. Panel discussions in the Arts District and at southern Dallas high schools. Debates at the City Council horseshoe and the Dallas Country Club.

This newspaper has hosted our share of them as part of the seven-year-long “Bridging Dallas’ North-South Gap” project.

Could it be that these conversations are creating results? New research has exposed a vein of optimism when it comes to local racial attitudes.

The Embrey Family Foundation will release the official survey Thursday as the Facing Race national conference opens in Dallas.

By no means do survey participants think the discrimination battle is won, but they do believe that race relations will improve over the next five years. Latino residents expressed the most doubt, as they scramble to gain a foothold alongside their white and African-American counterparts.

Respondents agreed almost unanimously about why the city must crush discrimination: All children deserve a better future. Those surveyed see public school teachers as key players in moving Dallas forward on racial attitudes.

Police officers and elected leaders were also high on the list of public servants whom residents want to see lead the way. That’s not surprising, considering that respondents selected the criminal justice system and public education as the areas most affected by racism.

Residents also held themselves accountable, with 74 percent acknowledging that they have a responsibility to work individually against discrimination.

The survey is an excellent fire starter, one that’s sure to energize this week’s national conference and the local partnerships leading up to it.

Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice, the brain trust behind this biennial convention, doesn’t shy away from tough stuff. For instance, its “Shattered Families” report illuminated how deportations of parents have led to thousands of children being separated permanently from their families and placed in foster care.

The 1,600 Facing Race participants traveled here for a single reason: their commitment to racial equity. In the audience will be artists, academics, students, community organizers and staffers from nonprofit and for-profit operations of all sizes.

Among them will be many members of the Dallas Faces Race coalition, made up of local nonprofits that have worked with the Embrey Family Foundation and Boone Family Foundation for months to train and collaborate on behalf of racial justice.

Dallas participants are sure to come out of the workshops glowing with enthusiasm.

So what will happen after that?

This newspaper hopes the foundations and their 280-plus partners stir together conference experiences and survey results to create an advocacy project that will benefit the city with concrete goals and measurable results.

Dallas offers the Facing Race convention its first Southern perspective; perhaps soon the city will also provide a national model for racial justice innovation.



Dallas to shine light on racial justice with Facing Race event

Staff Writer

Published: 12 November 2014 11:10 PM
Updated: 13 November 2014 09:12 AM


A national conference dedicated to racial justice issues is coming to Dallas this week, on the heels of fresh poll results showing Dallas residents are ready to confront discrimination for the sake of their children.

Facing Race runs Thursday through Saturday at the Hilton Anatole, with more than 60 workshops on topics ranging from education and health care to voting rights and immigration.

The sold-out meeting is the largest in the conference’s history, with nearly 1,600 participants, including 250 from Texas. Those who can’t attend can watch live streams of plenary sessions and keynote speeches and follow the event on social media.

Representatives of the Dallas-based Embrey Family Foundation and Boone Family Foundation, which focus on social change and human rights awareness, were impressed with what they saw at the 2012 Facing Race conference in Baltimore. That led to the creation of Dallas Faces Race, a local network of 285 nonprofits aiming to pool their racial equity efforts, and plans to lure the big event to Dallas.

“The conference has developed quite a reputation for impact and thoughtfulness,” said Larry James, president and CEO of CitySquare, a poverty-fighting agency and a partner in the Dallas Faces Race network. “We think Dallas needs this kind of conversation, and we’re looking forward to having it.”

As it turned out, organizers had hoped to hold this year’s event in a southern city to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. “We wanted to honor that legacy and connect ourselves to it,” said Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Race Forward, the group behind the Facing Race conference.

Areas of need

While acknowledging progress in many areas, organizers hope to stress that some issues still demand attention — for example, voting rights and poverty. “There’s a need for longer-term and deeper thinking,” Sen said.

In Dallas, a poll commissioned by the Embrey Family Foundation asked local Anglos, Latinos and African-Americans about their attitudes on discrimination. Results of the poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, will be officially released Thursday.

Draft findings provided to The Dallas Morning News suggest that residents are somewhat hopeful that race relations in the city will improve in the next five years, with the vast majority motivated to move forward on the issue for the sake of their children.

Overall, 40 percent were optimistic that race relations would improve, compared with 17 percent who said they would get worse. But differences exist by race: More whites were optimistic (44 percent) than African-Americans (41 percent). And both of those groups were significantly more hopeful than Latinos, 32 percent of whom think things will improve. Thirty-four percent of Latinos, meanwhile, said they thought discrimination would worsen.

For the children

Respondents cited children as the most important reason to face racial discrimination in Dallas, with 83 percent strongly agreeing with the statement, “For our children’s sake, we need to do as much as we can to end racism.”

Education and the criminal justice system were the areas most cited as affected by racism.

Respondents generally said racial equality could help boost the economy, with 87 percent viewing the city’s diversity as a major asset.

While residents assigned responsibility for dealing with racial issues to various entities, they’re looking to public servants to lead the way, with 82 percent giving responsibility to police officers and 80 percent to public teachers. Seventy-two percent of respondents — and 82 percent of African-Americans — assigned responsibility to churches.

But those surveyed also held themselves accountable. Seventy-four percent agreed that “people like you” had some responsibility to deal with discrimination.

The poll was based on telephone interviews with 600 Dallas residents between Oct. 20 and Oct. 27. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

Seeking inspiration

Organizers of this week’s Facing Race conference — in addition to Baltimore, previously gatherings took place in New York, Chicago and Oakland — hope the event will provide Dallas Faces Race with access to national resources.

“We’re like your one-stop shop on racial justice,” said Sen. “We’re hoping the Dallas community will take inspiration, as well as provide it to colleagues across the country.”

The keynote speakers are activist and singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the internationally acclaimed a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock; her daughter Toshi, a composer; and granddaughter Tashawn, a Skidmore College student.

In addition to the Embrey and Boone foundations, underwriters include the Dallas Women’s Foundation, the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.