Hey everyone, I’m Jessica Strong, Communications intern for ARC and I’ll be providing some Facing Race bloggage for ColorLines readers this weekend.
The conference kicked off this morning with a rousing and energizing welcome from emcee Chris Rabb and ARC’s executive director Rinku Sen, who both captivated the entire room with playful banter and the exciting prospects of the conference. Rinku announced the launches of “Better Together,” a national report on the alliance of Racial Justice organizations and LGBT communities, the upcoming “Drop the I-Word Campaign,” and the official launch of the new ColorLines.
After the 2008 election, Rinku recalled how the nation’s increasing public discourse on race made Facing Race an important place for participants to gain “skills, confidence and the emotional wherewithal” to be able to handle all issues present in the fight for racial justice.
Local leaders Rev. Patricia Watkins and Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network revved up the crowd by putting a spiritual touch on things with their “Reflections of Chicago” talk. Together, the duo represented the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations and spoke about importance of people of color leading conversations on the issues concerning them, particularly racial justice. “We were sick and tired of just letting other people frame who we are and talk about what we are and what we can do,” Watkins said. “So we decided to mobilize people, policy and ideas in to the marketplace.”
The Opening Plenary, “The Future Is Now: Framing Our Vision for Equity,” was moderated by activist and media revolutionary Malkia Cyril, who opened with a moving hymn on the continuing fight for racial justice while promptly setting the tone for meaningful dialogue on the future of racial justice.The panelists were Ai-jen Poo, John Jackson, Manuel Pastor and LeeAnn Hall who each spoke on the role that structural inequalities may or may not play on the racial and social justice fronts in years to come.
Poo, a founding member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance talked about the challenges that racism and sexism pose in the labor movement. According to Poo,”The system, that for generations has excluded domestic workers and millions of other workers is in fact not working for the majority of the workforce.” She called on the vision of domestic workers that “reflected a new labor movement with the potential to develop a powerful vision for a new framework for labor laws.”
Jackson, President of the Schott Foundation for Public Education addressed the blatant racial and economic disparities in the education system and called for more supportive resources for teachers who he says are “under attack.” “We know that there’s a resource equity issue, but legislators don’t want criticize themselves and it’s hard to legislate parenting in some situations so the only people we will blame is teachers,” he said.
Pastor, a professor at USC called for solidarity among folks fighting economic inequalities and called out those who let it continue. “We need to stand not just with each other but for each other,” Pastor said. “We need to [collectively] think about how to develop a new economy…[and] re-craft the narrative of what just went wrong in this country.”
Hall, Executive Director of the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations talked about the devastating effects of our failing health care system through the story of Marcellus Owens, a 12-year-old boy whose young mother died because of no access to healthcare. Hall on the young boys vision for a reformed and accessible healthcare: “He cares that if someone gets sick or hurt that they get to go to a doctor that knows them, that they get in right away and that [health professionals] know how to talk to you.”
Looking around the room, it seemed that folks leaving the session were focused and ready to deal head on with these issues and more. The Opening Plenary served as an excellent foundation for what’s to come this weekend.