Editorial: ‘Facing Race: Changing the Narrative’

A community that’s “facing race” should find affirmation and direction in an event next week sponsored by the St. Paul and Minnesota Community Foundations.

“Facing Race: Changing the Narrative” — Sept. 18 at the Ordway Center — is the foundations’ 11th annual gathering celebrating commitment to anti-racism efforts.

It should leave those who attend — and the broader community — with clear messages about the will on the part of the foundations to provide leadership as we confront disparities. Information is at saintpaulfoundation.org/facing-race.

Included are awards presented to those working to eliminate racism and its effects in Minnesota. The foundations’ president and CEO, Eric Jolly, has called the event “a powerful platform to honor those who use their voices and inspire others to participate in the process.”

In a statement, he described winners as “committed change agents that are effectively executing solutions for the challenges that plague our communities.” 2017 honorees are:

St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, the initiative working to change the odds for a generation of children in St. Paul’s Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods. The award recognizes the Promise Neighborhood’s use of education as a tool to end multi-generational poverty and its efforts to address disparities and opportunity gaps for neighborhood residents.

Hamse Warfa, founder and principal of Minneapolis-based Tayo Consulting Group. His contributions to racial equity include work with the Coalition of Somali-American Leaders, which supports nonprofit leaders and organizations that serve that community.

The honorees were selected by a panel of community judges, and each will receive a $15,000 grant to designate to a nonprofit of their choice.

The foundations also have said that the celebration will include specifics about efforts under a $2 million grant awarded this summer by the Kellogg Foundation as part of its “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation” initiative.

In preparation for the event, keynote speaker Rashad Robinson, a national civil rights leader, provided some useful perspective in a recent conversation with us. He is executive director of Color Of Change, an online racial justice advocacy organization with 1.2 million members.

The organization — named by Fast Company magazine among the most innovative companies in the world in 2015 and hailed elsewhere for “pursuing the fight for racial justice at internet speed” — encourages the use of “narrative change” to dismantle stereotypes about people of color.

His organization’s approach involves “getting ourselves out of the sort of magical thinking that if we just had a report with data, it will solve the problem,” Robinson told us.

Change will require everyday people — both those who are most impacted and those allied with them — to join together, he said. Progress will require “changing the narrative, changing hearts and minds.”

“What I mean when I say narrative change is that every single day we’re hit with all sorts of information” from media, Robinson explains. “That information creates both a cultural and psychological understanding about the world.”

Often, those who lack power are “subject to having their stories told” and are subject to portrayals that are “not always fair or fully formed,” said Robinson, an expert on how popular culture affects American attitudes and values. “So what we are trying to do at Color Of Change is to not only put out positive stories but to paint a full picture of a community, to paint a full, diverse portrayal that shows the ways people of color show up in all walks of life.”

His organization, which has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Oakland and Los Angeles, has its roots in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “What we were founded to do was to translate the energy of people who were outraged in that moment,” he told us. We “have to create structural change so we don’t keep having these things happen the same exact way over and over again.”

With its founding “in the aftermath of crisis,” Color Of Change “understands how you have to channel those moments to try to create real change,” Robinson told us, as he anticipates a visit to St. Paul that will put him “in partnership and service with the community there.”

“So many people want to see progress,” he said. We think so, too.


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