The past couple of years have been marked by a steady increase in conversations about race. This isn't about politics and perception of racist behavior by candidates and supporters, though that has added to the chaotic conversation we've been having across our nation. And it isn't just about the Black Lives Matter movement, either, though, the contributions of that movement to the dialogue have been vital. From the vantage point here at the City Club, this has been building for a long time. In some ways, it's the conversation we're always having as a nation, since before our founding. It's not an overreach to say that this is a conversation about making good on the promise of the Declaration of Independence, you know, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Some readers may be asking: why are we still talking about this? Can't we just get past race already? It's important to be clear about why. There are many reasons, but I'll offer this one: it's in your self-interest. Across our community and across our nation, jaw dropping inequities exist. Black infants die at three times the rate of white infants. Black children live in poverty at nearly four times the rate of white children. This isn't the fault of the black community. It's a fact about the world we live in, the costs of which we all share. When a child grows up in poverty, all sorts of other things are more likely, such as incarceration. An incarcerated individual costs the state of Ohio more than $25,000 per year. That same individual, educated and working, could be a net contributor of tax revenue, rather than a cost.
These costs are driven by inequities. We can fix them, but it's not easy. There's a group of civic leaders from around the city and region has come together to work on this. They come from organizations such as ours, Burton D. Morgan Foundation, JumpStart, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Greater Cleveland Partnership, ideastream, Gund Foundation, Cleveland Metro School District, St. Luke's Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, The Fund for Our Economic Future, MidTown Cleveland and lots of others. The goal we share is straightforward: to raise awareness about the knot of issues related to racial equity. With that in mind, here are five ways you can participate.
1. Participate in a training session
Once a month this year, the Racial Equity Institute will be in Cleveland, providing its life changing training (no kidding, you won't be the same). The rates are reasonable: $75 for the half day session; $250 for the two-day version. We recommend doing the half day version first. (If you can't swing the price tag, we are working on raising money to subsidize it.)
2. Participate in another training session
If you've done the REI training or are looking for a bigger commitment that extends over a few months, local facilitating geniuses Erica Merritt and Adele DiMarco Kious have this thing called PRISM. In their words: "Leaders leave the program with greater self-awareness, an individualized plan for beginning to dismantle racism in their neighborhood or organization and greater capacity to do so."
3. Come to the City Club
Not ready for the commitment level of a full on training session? We've got you covered with a City Club forum you can squeeze into your lunch hour. Eddie Glaude of Princeton University (you might have seen him on television at some point) will be here on 2/23. Rev. Al Sharpton will appear with Rev. Dr. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women on April 4th, the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. And lawyer and author James Forman, Jr. will deliver our annual Law Day address, this one focused on the 14th amendment (the one about equal protection). There will always be more, but those are the ones coming up. If you're a little introverted, that's cool. This is a place where you can keep to yourself. If you want to chat with folks, it's the place for that, too.
4. Watch a movie with other people
On February 10th, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress will host a screening of the documentary “13th” about the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. The documentary, by Ava DuVernay and distributed by Netflix argues that slavery is being perpetuated through the prison system. You may or may not agree, but either way, you’ll understand the issue better.
5. Read some stuff
Believe me, I know what it's like. No time for trainings and sessions and all that, but give you something to read at night and you're good to go. Here are a few book recommendations. Between the World and Me was one of 2015's most widely read books and for good reason; Ta-Nehisi Coates seems to pick up James Baldwin's baton and truly carry the message forward. (You can see Coates speak at the City Club, too!) Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy has become one of the other go-to reads on this set of issues, particularly around the criminal justice system. You'll be in great company, as at least one local non-profit is doing a book club on this one. (Stevenson also spoke at the City Club.) And not a week goes by that someone doesn't suggest to us that Michelle Alexander ought to speak at the City Club. She hasn't (yet), but until she does, her book The New Jim Crow should not be missed. If you're more of a fiction person, I've heard Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad is fantastic. I've read his other stuff, which was all great, and this one is in my to-read stack. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our new collection A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. It has perspectives from across the community in poems, essays, transcripts of forums and comics. You can buy it here or at Mac's Backs on Coventry.
If you've got other books or articles and essays to recommend, please leave them in the comments. For that matter, if you've got other ways to get engaged in this issue, please add them!