A’Jamal Byndon, Board Member of Nebraskans for Peace, Policy Research & Innovation, and long-time Community Organizer.
Nebraskans for Peace has not always enjoyed a significant participation of people of color during the course of its 45-year history. Over the last six months however, we have identified a State Board member and stakeholders who are actively working to bring more diversity to the organization. Our organizational agenda and image has been recalibrated in our 2015 Priority Plan to enable us to better reach out to these key constituencies.
We are endeavoring to increase the diversity of NFP’s membership by co-sponsoring events with the Omaha-based “Nebraska Families Collaborative” and other organizations working to make Nebraska a better place to live. These events are covering a variety of peace-related issues, including sessions on conflict resolution, reducing violence and helping other communities’ members address social challenges.
“Policy Research and Innovation” (PRI), a community group in Omaha, is embarking on a similar journey to instigate conversations about moving the state and community needle toward social and racial justice. This organization, whose mission is to engage with traditionally disempowered populations in our state, is a natural ally.
Investing our social capital, time and talents on improving communication and understanding among our various populations is requisite for building a foundation of good will and community. For instance, this past December, “Nebraska Voices for Children” hosted a conference entitled “Race Matters” that was attended by NFP’s Omaha Coordinator. The discussion at the conference inspired a dozen of the participants to begin planning a follow-up public forum later this year on the topic of ‘Cultural Humility’ (that will be co-sponsored by Nebraskans for Peace and other agencies and organizations). More than ever, our diverse communities need opportunities to dialogue among ourselves not only about what brings us together—but also about what distinguishes us and makes us unique. The ‘Cultural Humility’ forum is a crucial first step for airing our respective racial worldviews, with the goal of creating greater social harmony and cohesion.
Authors Robert M. Ortega and Kathleen Coulborn Faller have written an article, “Training Child Welfare Workers from an Intersectional Cultural Humility Perspective: A Paradigm Shift,” that outlines specifically how to create such a circle of influence and engagement. The key is to learn from those whom you serve. A mentality of arrogance that we know all there is about others’ culture is faulty—and counter-productive—thinking. Cultural humility, alternatively, is dynamic and ever changing. Through it, we are constantly learning about other cultures. It constitutes a paradigm shift for listening and engaging in cultural learning, transforming both ourselves and our communities.
There are many questions that we should be asking ourselves if we truly want to reform and make our state and communities healthy. We must first start by asking: What suggestions can be offered to build bridges so more people can learn about cultural issues from the individuals we serve, which in turn help in building bridges? At NFP, we see four pressing issues for 2015.
1. Helping public institutions involve more racially diverse community members in their current activities. The state of Nebraska has a population of 20 percent people of color. The largest city in Nebraska, Omaha, is approximately 32 percent people of color. Many of our public institutions do not reflect those numbers.
2. Partnering with others to work on reducing the violence in Omaha via conversations with community leaders and members on nonviolence engagement activities (conflict resolution opportunities).
3 Utilizing cultural humility in our networking and community building efforts to try to ensure that we understand fully whom we are seeking to serve. When organizations say they are ‘public,’ who is at the table? We hope to produce a matrix of questions and guideposts that can help nonprofits and social groups determine if they are truly open to the public, and how they can increase the diversity within their service plans.
4. Attending other events in the community to help shape the leadership into becoming more community-engaging—and to build leadership with those at the bottom of the social economic system. The conversation changes when the right individuals are included. As that old Social Work saying goes, ‘Not about us without us.’
In the 2014 Race Matters Conference, there was one handout that offered a series of questions from the Anne E. Casey Foundation. The questions that each one of us should be asking ourselves are from their Equity Analysis:
1. Who are the racial/ethnic groups in the area? For this policy/program/practice, what results are desired, and how will each group be affected?
2. Do current disparities exist by race/ethnicity around this issue or closely related ones? How did they get that way? If disparities exist, how will they be affected by this policy/program/practice?
3. For this policy/program/practice, what strategies are being used, and how will they be perceived by each group?
4. Are the voices of all groups affected by the action at the table?
5. Do the answers to # 1 through # 4 work to close the gaps in racial disparities in culturally appropriate inclusive ways? If not, how should the policy/program/ practice be revised? If so, how can the policy program/practice be documented in order to offer a model for others?
If more institutions and organizations were utilizing a template such as this—much of the disparity that we see would disappear… and a sense of reconciliation would begin to pervade the race relations in our communities, our public institutions and in the public square.