In Blog: Factually Speaking

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No one wants to talk about race. Or so we thought six months ago when we were first discussing making race a focal point of our annual public policy forum.

Luckily, we realized that the challenges and discomfort around race were the very reason for tackling it. We need to talk about it. We need to make the connections to public policy clear. And we need to help policymakers and the public understand that we can fix racial inequity.

Last month, we put these goals into action at our 2016 public policy forum, Race, Poverty and Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan, which brought together more than four hundred residents and state and national experts from advocacy, business, government and media. Topics included the current national climate on race and the role of race in the policy crises with Flint’s water and Detroit Public Schools.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose discovery of elevated lead levels in Flint’s children made policymakers address the Flint water crisis, was honored with the League’s “Champion for Kids Award” at the forum. For our keynote address, we brought in Rinku Sen, a nationally acclaimed advocate and president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.
In her presentation, Rinku laid out three keys to make racial equity a bigger part of policymaking going forward:

  • Be specific and talk plainly about racial issues, establishing clear, universal definitions and eliminating jargon;
  • Focus on racism in policies and the impact of systems, especially hidden motives and implicit bias; and
  • Toughen up on strategy.

Rinku noted that on stronger strategy, one effective tool is using a racial equity impact assessment tool that facilitates a thorough, race-conscious analysis of proposed or existing policies, practices or programs. She also called on policymakers to make the most of the political movement for racial equity that is happening now.

The forum also included five breakout sessions to discuss challenges and possible solutions to racial inequity and poverty in Michigan: Solutions for Cities in Crisis; Government’s Role in Achieving Race Equity; The Next Move: Taking Equitable Action for Change; From Watchdog to Dog-Whistle: Media’s Role in Reporting on Race; and The Business Case for Racial Equity. To see a list of the panelists for each session, you can read the League’s press release on the forum.

We have put a photo album from the policy forum up on our Facebook Page and I encourage you all to check it out. While it’s impossible to replicate the energy and excitement of this event, I hope this column helps convey the actions that were born out of it and inspire you to get involved.

Finally, I want to thank all of our generous forum sponsors. Their support enabled us to make this event free and open to all who wanted to attend. It also showed that we have a unified front between the public and private sectors in tackling race equity. Promoting race equity in public policy is a major undertaking, but we can’t wait any longer to try to fix it. Our forum was an important first step that we will keep building on in the months and years ahead.

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