A Better Way: 50+ Action Items to Fight Against Racism In Your Community
We’ve been fighting the battle against racism for far too long. We need an action plan to transform our communities. Start here.
*NOTE: The following list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather a running list that I will update as I research new matters and face new challenges on this road called life. I have hopefully made each point short enough that people will take the time to read the entire list and fight for the issues that fit the needs of their particular community. The power is yours.**
A lot of people are hurting after the murder of George Floyd and I understand. I am upset. There’s something about seeing a person’s life slowly being taken away from them that breaks something inside of anyone that has a heart. So, what do we do with the outrage? What do we do with the anger and hurt? And more importantly, what do we do with the anger and hurt of our young people? I discovered this video of the George Floyd protest online:
In the above video, a passionate 31-year-old gentleman, beside an angry 45-year-old gentleman, is telling the 16-year old that ten years from now he will still be protesting over the same issues and that he must “come up with a better way” to address the issues that plague their community. That is an error. It is our job and our duty as the older generation and as a society to show young people the way. If we do not know the way, how can we expect teenagers to find the way? This video and the hundreds of social media posts and articles after George Floyd’s death have made me realize that most of us have no plan because we do not understand the system in which we live and operate.
The United States is a country of law and economics. If we are not working to make the laws fairer or implementing programs and practices to improve the socio-economic conditions of communities that have been historically discriminated against and marginalized, then we are not really doing anything. All other gestures are diversions from the real issues and do not lead to community improvement. The danger in these diversions is that our youths are running out of patience. They were patient when Trayvon died and George Zimmerman went free. Nationally, though not in Ferguson, they were patient when Mike Brown was killed. They were patient in 2015 when Walter Scott was killed and Dylann Roof murdered 9 persons at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina but instead of sincerely addressing racism and having a national dialogue on race, we were given the false hope that taking down the confederate flag would solve all of our problems. They were mostly peaceful in the hot summer of 2016 when Philando Castile and others died. I could go on and on.
This may be our last chance to reach our young people because what is presently happening in our streets and communities is youth-led protest. They are struggling to listen to the “leaders” because they do not see the America that we sold them. If we do not do something substantive and substantial post COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd, then I fear that the next time there will be no negotiations and no discussions. Outrage with no direction leads to destruction. We must harness the rage and anger of our young people and channel it towards the sweeping transformation of our communities’ laws and economics. If we want this system that we live within to remain intact then we must make fundamental changes in order to make our society fair and just for everyone. Racism will never disappear on its own. Our only option is to be proactive with laws, policies, and practices to finally eradicate it at its core. When you fail to do the practical you turn people into radicals.
Human beings are emotional creatures and when the underlying emotional needs aren’t met (especially the needs of safety, justice, and opportunity) people lash out. The most effective profession is any profession or professional that is involved in mass political, legal, and economic change. If you change the political, legal, and economic nature of this society and of this world, we save our children by the hundreds of thousands and not one-on-one with direct services that only treat their external symptoms but leave them out in this world alone to be destroyed by systemic racism. We must change the structure of the system that we live in if we truly want to ensure that what happened to George Floyd and countless others does not happen to anyone else.
In terms of effecting true change, marches and street protests are so 1960s. During that time period, persons of African descent marching through the streets calling out injustice was revolutionary. Now it is just part of the noise of the city. According to a co-founder of the Occupy Movement, “[w]e have become obsessed with the spectacle of street protests, and we have started to ignore the reality that we are getting no closer to power.” We keep marching and nothing keeps changing. What are we marching towards? Things seems to be getting worse because collectively we have not gotten better as a society.
Barack Obama said this is our moment to effect true change. For those who desire to improve their communities, below are realistic policy, practice, and program ideas that I believe communities can implement at the local level (city, county, or school district) to create a better way. A better way for our young people and for ourselves. Most of these ideas are not novel concepts as some have been implemented in various places around the country. Read through the list, organize with others who share a common purpose in addressing systemic racism/white supremacy, pick an idea below that you believe is important to your community, go for the easy low-hanging fruit first, succeed, and keep moving forward. You may like every idea, or you may only like one but please get moving on something. You have only the rights you fight for and we do not have much time left to get it right.
FOCUS AREA 1: LOCAL GOVERNMENT POLICY
It is time to tell the truth. We are a republic, not a democracy. A republic is a representative form of government where we elect persons to (hopefully) act on behalf of our best interests to pass laws that collectively improve our communities. We, everyday citizens, do not make the laws or policies; we elect others to do that. Because of the politics necessary to pass what sometimes seems like a simple law, all change seems slow. How do we keep the pressure up? By focusing on policy change at the local level.
All change happens at the local level. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not start out speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He started out as a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama helping organize a bus boycott with E.D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, a fresh out of law school attorney named Fred Gray, and a network of churches in the Montgomery Improvement Association. The impact that they had at the local level reverberated throughout the South and forever impacted the lives of persons of African descent and everyone else here in the USA.
Local government affects us our daily lives more than any other form of government. Most city and county councils meet at least twice a month. Unlike at the state and federal level, there are no extended recesses for months at a time for local lawmakers. If you want to make change happen and happen fast you have to start locally. To make a difference you must be engaged and voting alone is not enough. Voting is just one part of the civic engagement process.
The following are strategies, policies, and practices that organized persons and groups can pursue in order to create a more just, equitable, and anti-racist community.
But before you dive into specific issues you must first…
1. Know who your local representatives are in your district or ward. In a republic, the hired change agents are your city council members or aldermen. These are the people who make the policies in your community (like the board of a corporation). This applies to your county council and school board members as well. Who is your Mayor or City Manager? Does your city have a strong mayor or council-manager (weak mayor) form of government? These are the people who typically execute the policies and laws in your community and pass down those duties to people like the Chief of Police who deputizes other officers to execute those laws and policies. When federal dollars are distributed, your local representatives are typically the ones who determine where and to what neighborhoods those dollars will go. Learn how many votes from city council it takes for an ordinance to become law. It is typically a simple majority. Know that number and use it to your advantage. A simple Google search of “who are my city council members” plus the name of your city/town should give you the information you need. Same applies for school board and county council members. We do not know this because it was never taught to us in school (see the education section below). We suffer because of lack of knowledge. None of the other steps below matter if you skip this step.
2. Have coffee with your city council representatives. Policies follow beliefs, so find out what your representatives believe in. Hear them out, get to know them, and tell them your story. Collective change happens through building relationships; relationships change hearts and minds. Our political institutions are systems compromised of rules created by people. If you are going to change the system and the rules you have to change the hearts and minds of people. You change people by building relationships with those that vote on the issues that matter to you.
3. Attend City Council meetings. Speak on the issues that matter to you. Show up and keep showing up. Introduce laws and ordinances that you would like for your city, county, and school councils/boards to consider. If you have built a relationship with a city council or school board member have that person introduce the local legislation. Instead of marching on Washington, march on City Hall and civically engage with your local representatives.
4. Join or Create a Neighborhood Association. Neighborhood Associations are an organized collection of neighbors in a certain part of communities that have a direct line to city councilpersons. City council members attend neighborhood association meetings because they recognize that this is a group that will likely participate in local elections. If you do not have a neighborhood association, learn how to develop one. If one exists but does not speak to your issues, find some like-minded neighbors and infiltrate your local neighborhood association to focus on the issues that matter to you.
5. Join and Donate to Agencies that Work to Eradicate Racism & White Supremacy. Examples include the ACLU, NAACP, SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Urban League, Black Lives Matter, etcetera. When you do not have political, economic, or legal power, you must have people power. You cannot do this work alone. You must be organized. Learn more about your local chapters of these national organizations, but before you donate a ton of money reach out to the leadership and ask them “what is your plan or agenda to address the issues in African, Latino, Indigenous, and other historically marginalized and underrepresented communities?” If they have no plan, do not give them your money. Rather join and infiltrate them in order to implement a plan to address the historical inequities that these communities continue to face. There are other local organizations in your area that are also doing the work. Seek them out.
Justice & Policing Policies You Can Fight For
I believe that our issues are deeper than just policing. However, for better or for worse, police officers are the first and most accessible government agents that most persons encounter daily. And unfortunately, the most accessible person in government also has a license to use deadly force. Policing concerns are legitimate but at the end of the day, we must also strengthen the economies of all neighborhoods and communities. The economic recommendations will follow the policing recommendations, but they are just as important. If you don’t address the economics, the policing issues will always be there. It is not this or that, it is both.
6. Community Incidents Response Team (CIRT). They say that when an airline pilot commits an error that all pilots are retrained so that the error does not happen again. When an incident happens locally or nationally there needs to be a community response team that takes swift action to prevent things like that from happening in your community. They already have Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) for natural disasters, so why not have one for human disasters that cause a breakdown in community-government relations? Like CERT, the work of CIRT is community education; proactive prevention work through policies, practices, procedures, and training; transparency into what we are doing as a local municipality to address community concerns; and an effective, united community response when incidents do take place. This team keeps its hands to the pulse of the city and makes sure that we are addressing community concerns in a proper and effective manner. When there is a national (or local) incident this team implements mandatory retraining of all officers and/or other involved city-county employees. Community meetings should be held to discuss what is being done and what policies are being implemented to ensure that those incidents never happen or happen again in our community. This is how you build trust in the community and get ahead of the curve.
7. Required Community Policing and Engagement Policies. The motto of the police is “to protect and to serve”. But the motto lacks a subject. To protect and to serve who? We need police officers to be community guardians, not warriors. Community policing is not a chance for the police to show up at a neighborhood meeting and read off crime statistics. Instead, they should be building relationships and it should be required that every officer engage with all members of the community. Walk the streets. Play with us. Give us a line of communication to the department decision-makers. In European culture, if it is not written it does not exist. We need mandatory community policing on paper and once it is on paper the officers need to be adequately trained on what community engagement is and how to do it. Engagement starts from the top and should carry on throughout the entire police force. It should be a mandatory part of the job description of the Chief of Police, his captains and lieutenants, as well as beat cops. Leadership that fails to engage with all communities as required under policy should be removed.
8. Reflective Workforce Mandate. If you want to reduce racial profiling and bias policing, then officers should look like the communities that they serve at all levels of the police force. What is the demographic make-up of your community? Is law enforcement reflective of your community makeup? Request that the department reflect the community at ALL levels. Who are the people getting promoted? Does the community have a voice in the hiring of leadership? There should be policies and metrics implemented to ensure that police departments are making genuine efforts to mirror the community.
9. BBQ Becky Criminal Ordinances. From Cornerstone Caroline to Permit Patty to Central Park Karen, there are a number of European Americans, especially European American females, who try to weaponize the law in order to bring persons of African descent to heel and “put them in their place.” BBQ Becky ordinances would make it a crime for persons to make frivolous calls to the police knowingly or recklessly against non-European Americans because of the color of their skin. Laws like these would hopefully make people think twice and check their biases before they call the police.
10. Anti-Racial Profiling Ordinances/Laws. Color of Skin is not a crime, nor should it be reasonable suspicion to stop someone. And there should be laws in place to ensure that profiling residents based on the color of skin is a banned practice and that there is a disciplinary procedure in place to terminate officers that violate this policy. There are examples all around the country: Here, Here, Here, and Here. Any law or ordinance should also be accompanied by a plan to address racial profiling. To truly be effective, every law needs a plan on how to implement it.
11. Data Collection on Stops. To ensure that people are not being racially profiled, information from all stops by law enforcement must be tracked. This information should include, at a minimum, the date, the time, the location, the race or ethnicity of the person, if a search was conducted, and what, if anything, was discovered. This is crucial because we do not want groups being targeted and traumatized solely because of the color of their skin. This leads to a disproportionate number of people of certain races being stopped, yet we are no closer to removing illegal guns or drugs from the streets. Some may call it a temporary inconvenience, but for those affected it is a traumatic experience that leaves them shaken. The data collection should be reviewed by a…
12. Community Review Board. Why is it that law enforcement can police themselves? Police officers are paid with taxpayer money and many believe that for that reason, police actions should be reviewed by those who pay them. If there is a Human Rights/Relations Department they can conduct independent investigations reducing possible biases. The board should be required to review all evidence regarding any resident complaint by the board and they should have subpoena power. There are countless examples of community review boards but they do not all have the same power or reach. The ones that are likely the most effective are ones that have the power to independently investigate the actions of law enforcement officers and other city employees.
13. Body Cameras. You will never be able to end all racists or foolish acts. Some people just don’t follow the rules. And for those people it is good to have physical evidence of whether the policies and laws of the department and city or county were violated. The best way to capture that evidence is by demanding body cameras for your law enforcement offices, including city and county jails. Body cameras take out some of the guesswork regarding whether excessive force was used, or if the officer racially profiled an individual or group. There should be rules and procedures on keeping the camera on and disciplinary procedures in place if the camera is not on or if the battery dies due to the negligence of the officer. If a complaint is filed, video evidence must be reviewed by an independent body such as a community review board.
14. Community Recruitment & Internship Initiatives. There should be a school-to-public servant pipeline rather than a school-to-prison pipeline. Working with the local school district, police departments can create training programs at the high school level that prepare the next generation of public safety officers and offer them scholarships to continue that training in local community colleges or universities. Community outreach should be required prior to posting employment opportunities for all first responder positions (police/fire), training community members on what it takes to be a police officer or firefighter. “If you post it, they will come” is a fallacy. The thought should be “if I can see it then I can be it”. Cities should constantly engage with schools and create internship programs, etc. exposing youths at a very young age on the possibilities within government. This applies to more than just police officers. Persons should see a reflection of themselves in all city departments including city planners, engineers, city managers, parks and rec managers, transportation, attorneys, architects, firefighters, etc.
15. Community Meditators. Some situations do not need to involve the police. There are people that have issues with their neighbors which have not escalated to a crime but could lead to, at minimum, a disturbance if someone does not mediate the issue. Voluntary mediations can take place to settle neighborhood disputes and build better relationships between residents. There are examples of cities that have community mediators here, here, and here.
16. Housing Requirements for Police Force. Some believe that if you police the community, you should live in the community. Some cities have policies that require police officers and other city employees to live within the limits of the city where they work. This is a way to build trust and create familiar faces that can readily reach out to the community and speak with them without the need for SWAT gear in times of trouble. To be fair, there are some who question the effectiveness of having officers live in the city. If your representatives will not make living in the city a requirement, then the compromise is a housing incentives program for city employees that, for example, gives persons who live in the city a certain amount for a down payment on a home, or improvements to their current home, and points bonus points for a police applicant that lives in the city.
17. De-escalation Training and Blue Courage Intervention Policies. Persons with guns should be trained to de-escalate a situation so that the need to fire a weapon becomes minimized. However, research has shown that most police departments place little to no emphasis on de-escalation training. There is no uniform standard. Some cities report that using mental health counselors in lieu of police officers has been effective. Officers should take every step to ensure that they are not placing themselves or other persons in danger. Everyone should get home safe. There should be mandatory de-escalation training in your community. Police officers should also be trained on how to intervene if fellow officers are using excessive force on civilians. Officers who use recklessly or purposely excessive force should be punished both as an employee and as a citizen. Intervention policies would make officers liable for violations of other officers against civilians if they do not intervene. If law enforcement is a brotherhood, then as a family if one does wrong and you do nothing to about it, everyone gets in trouble. Officers should have the “Blue Courage” to stand up for what is right even if they are scorned by their fellow officers. Training and policies need to be put in place to ensure that what happened from Rodney King in 1991 to George Floyd in 2020 does not happen again.
18. Create and Support Local Human Relations and Equity Departments. Does your city or county have a local civil or human rights/relations office? Who investigates the employment, housing, public accommodation, education, financing/credit, and municipal practice rights of residents? If your community does not have a local human relations, human rights, civil rights, or equity office then you have the right to demand one. Even if there is one at the state level, you need one at the local level that can keep its eyes and ears to the pulse of issues in the city. But beware, most of these offices are understaffed and underfunded to address as large of a task as eliminating and preventing discrimination against the city or county’s residents, workers, and visitors. Budgets reflect priorities, so demand that a certain number of dollars per resident are used to fund the work of the office that is commissioned to protect all rights with the government’s jurisdiction.
19. Citations, Community Service, or Counseling for Minor Infractions. During COVID-19 when there was a danger that prisons could become coronavirus hotbeds, many police departments begin to issue citations for minor infractions rather than making arrests. If they were able to issue citations during the pandemic, then why not do the same on a regular basis? Are we not a nation of second chances? If so then citations, fines, and counseling should become the norm rather than incarceration. Despite being called “the land of the free”, the US incarcerates more persons than any other nation and it is by a wide margin. If we can avoid placing a person into an unforgiving system that will impact their ability to find housing and jobs in the future, we should do so unless incarceration is absolutely necessary. Speaking of minor infractions…
20. Decriminalize Marijuana. Across the country, some states are either decriminalizing but more importantly legalizing the use of marijuana. This brings more revenues and funding into your state and communities to hopefully address issues of education and opportunity. One day, marijuana will be legal federally but that may still be some years away. Even if municipalities cannot legalize the use of marijuana, they can certainly decriminalize or de-emphasize marijuana use making it only a minor infraction. Municipalities around the country have already done it. Research has demonstrated that there are racial disparities in marijuana arrests and that despite similar usage rates, African Americans are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than European Americans. Decriminalization works towards minimizing those disparities.
21. Prosecutor Accountability. Like police departments, many prosecution offices police themselves and state bar associations are not holding public prosecutors to the same professional ethics that private attorneys are held. If a prosecuting office does not have evidence to prosecute, then they should not press forward with a case forcing a person to take a plea or probation by hanging the threat of a conviction over a person’s head. Prosecutors who pursue cases for the purposes of increasing their numbers, that withhold evidence favorable to the defendant, or pursue a case when they knowingly or recklessly do not have the evidence to meet the requisite standard of conviction should have their law license revoked for violating the attorney oath of upholding justice. When there is no evidence or if evidence is lacking, the just thing to do is to drop the case. New York State has taken the lead on this issue and residents can use the brave steps of New York as a model for what municipalities can require of their prosecutors at the city and county level.
22. Equal Funding for Public Defenders. Most public defender offices are understaffed, overworked, and criminally underfunded. Fellow prosecuting offices are three to four times more funded and staffed despite typically operating under the same form of government. If we believe that all persons are truly innocent until proven guilty and that the Sixth Amendment right to adequate counsel is a right that should be afforded to everyone, then public defender offices should receive at least the same amount of funding as prosecuting offices. When we fail to adequately fund public defense, you have people who plead guilty and accept pleas who aren’t guilty and overworked lawyers who can make mistakes on trials resulting in innocent people going to jail.
23. Community Deliberative Dialogues. Forget Town Halls. Most of them are all talk and very little substantive actions come out of them. Some politicians are skipping them altogether. Deliberative dialogues are different. Deliberative dialogues are forums where members of the community sit down and discuss the issues that they face, focusing on solutions. Dialogues like those hosted by the National Issues Forum, allow attendees to vote on the top ideas at the end of the discussion and then formulate next steps for the community to take. Deliberative dialogues are a method to give residents a voice, improve communications, and build stronger relationships which can lead to racial healing. A properly funded human relations office can lead the discussions with other government leaders and departments.
24. Required Police Encounter Transparency. Every time the police make a stop, they should give out their business card that indicates their name, badge number, their supervisor’s contact information, and a contact number if people have any questions, comments, or concerns about their encounter with an officer. The purpose is not to increase the number of complaints but rather to build relationships. If there is a concern or crime in the area, people need to know who to contact. By building relationships and sharing information we can create safer communities for everyone.
25. Cultural Competency Training for All Government Employees. If you work in diverse communities, you should be trained on how to engage with them properly. If you happen to be in the United States and not work in a diverse community, you should be trained to consider why that it is, and work to address it. These trainings would not just discuss implicit biases but explicit biases, stereotypes, prejudices, microaggressions, and just everyday common decency and civility when dealing with people who are different from you. Solely addressing implicit bias is an evasion of the real issue: racism (in addition to other -isms and phobias). Systemic racism should be at the core of any discussion on biases. If you want to effectively address implicit bias, you must address explicit overt and covert racism both past and present. This training should not just be for an hour or day, it must be ongoing and it should require persons to move across the cultural competency continuum in order to remain employed as a government worker or educator.
26. Ban on Hiring of Police Officers who have Violated Professional Standards. Officers should be held to the highest standards. Therefore, if an officer was fired or resigned from a law enforcement department for serious infractions such as excessive use of force, perjury, falsifying/planting evidence, racial profiling, police brutality, unlawful killing, or for crimes committed while off-duty then they should not be allowed to police in any city. Cities should pass policies that prohibit that person from being eligible for employment in their municipality after violating the professional standards of another jurisdiction. This would send a clear message that we don’t want officers who violate our standards in our city.
There is talk out there about “defunding” police departments. Complete defunding of police departments will not happen in my lifetime and will most likely not happen during yours either. We must operate in reality. The reality is that we are a nation of laws, so there will always be someone to enforce those laws. The reality is that the departments that enforce the law can be improved upon to do their jobs in a more just and fair manner. The reality is that funds can be shifted from policing to other areas that address the underlying socio-economic issues of wealth inequality, neighborhood investment, health disparities, quality education, etcetera so that police departments do not have to shoulder the burden of duties they were not trained to deal with. The ideas mentioned above are not novel or far-reaching, we only need the political courage and will to make them a reality.
Economic and Other Equitable Policies You Can Fight For
We live in a market-based capitalist system, so if the lives of African Americans and other non-European Americans matter to you, they should always matter, not just when they are killed or injured by law enforcement. That includes their economic well-being. Here are some socio-economic policies that you can push for at a city and county level to improve community conditions.
27. Racial Equity Impact Assessment Policy. When a law is passed what is the impact on historically marginalized communities? When funds are distributed what measures are put in place to ensure that African, Latino, and other non-European American communities have the ability and the wherewithal to access those funds? Is the process and procedure fair and equitable to all? A Racial Equity Impact Assessment is a policy that requires laws and the distribution of funds to be analyzed to ensure fairness and prevent adverse or disparate impacts on historically marginalized or underrepresented groups.
28. City-Wide Internship Programs for Youths. In addition to a municipal government internship program (see #14 above), there should also be a citywide network of organizations and businesses that have internship opportunities for youths exposing them to the various job options and careers available in their community. We must give our young people something to hope and strive for, a pipeline to real opportunity. The internship program would give high school students real work exposure, mentorship and a project to complete. This gives young people a connection to the greater community and greatly adds to their development as they transition into adulthood.
29. CDBG Funding for Youth Employment and Programs. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is federal funding given to states and local municipalities to support the creation of viable communities by providing funds to improve housing/living environments and expand economic opportunities for persons with low and moderate incomes. To which communities are your CDBG funds going in your area? Part of CDBG funding can go towards youth programs and employment to give youth city jobs that contribute to their personal and collective development also planting the seeds of future local government leadership.
30. Youth Advisory Council. Young people deserve a say in what happens in their communities because ultimately, they will inherit these communities someday. Cities should create youth advisory councils that engage with city council, learn about how city government works, and introduced policies for decision-makers to consider and vote into law. This teaches young people how the system works and gets them engaged in the process at an early age. Youth advisory councils should be funded adequately and funds could also be set aside for a youth summit with city leaders to give other community youths an opportunity to have their voices heard on what is happening in their community. Special care should go into ensuring that youths from across the various socio-economic, academic, and racial demographics of the community have an opportunity to serve. Opportunities like these expand horizons.
31. Citizens Police Academy, Community Ambassador, and Junior Leadership Programs. We have a duty to train the next generation on what it means to be upstanding civilians. We also owe a duty to connect with all persons in our community. Community Ambassador and Citizen Academy programs teach community members how to effectively work with city government to get their needs addressed and ensure that local government has connections to the community in times of need. Junior leadership programs, like youth advisory councils, continue to train persons on how government works and plants the seeds for the reflective workforce of tomorrow.
32. Increase the Local Minimum Wage. We call bus drivers, grocery store workers, restaurant food service, crop pickers, etc. essential workers yet many of them or not paid a living wage. If they can put their lives on the line for us during COVID-19, the least we can do is raise the minimum wage, which has not increased on the federal level since 2009. Research has shown that it is very difficult to raise a family on $7.25 an hour. I am not saying $15 for all because each region of the country is different. $15 in Charleston, South Carolina is not the same as $15 in New York City. Each jurisdiction should analyze what an appropriate wage should be based on the cost of living and other factors that matter when trying to put food on the table and provide for your family. Some states have started to take away local jurisdictions’ ability to raise the minimum wage. If this applies to your jurisdiction then you must take the fight to the state.
33. Ban the Box. If the state law does not prohibit it, local municipalities should ban criminal and credit checks from being considered until the very end of the hiring or housing process, removing questions about criminal background from the initial application. This reduces applicant bias and gives applicants with not-so-perfect records the opportunity to display their qualifications before hiring decisions are made. Persons who may have things on their record should have the ability to appeal or give an explanation. Organizations should be banned from accessing a person’s credit score (versus credit history) for employment consideration or rental properties. For employment, if a person has a poor credit history that should not prohibit them from getting positions where the handling of finances is not the primary duty.
34. Source of Income as a Protected Class under Civil Rights Ordinances. The new racism isn’t “nigger, we don’t sell to your kind.” It's “sorry, we don’t accept Section 8 vouchers.” The difference is overt versus covert racism. Racism has not gone away, it evolved. There have been studies that demonstrate the ability to access good housing impacts not just the adults but more so their children and their quality of education, their level of income, and their health outcomes. Source of Income as a protected class requires government funding (including Section 8 vouchers, VA Benefits, Social Security Disability vouchers, etcetera), to be accepted by landlords as legal tender. Many places around the country already have this as law in their communities. Make sure that the ordinance has teeth requiring that landlords have to enter into agreements with persons that have housing vouchers. The escape clause in some communities is that the landlord cannot be forced into doing business with the government. This makes no sense as businesses are already in bed with the government and government vouchers are just as good as the dollar because it is all legal tender.
35. Ban on Slumlords. Communities can adopt a policy that bans persons who run roach, rat, bedbug-infested units and refuse to address the housing concerns of their tenants that threaten their health and safety. Such persons should not be able to rent in our cities and counties. Any landlord who is deemed a slumlord would first be put on probation and if the housing matters are not addressed in a timely fashion, their rental certificate could be revoked and their property could be repossessed by the government for failing to uphold their duty to respect the housing rights of residential tenants.
36. Required Fair Housing Training for Rental Certificates or Recertification. You cannot rent in our community if you do not know and do not follow our laws. Landlords and property management companies should be required to take fair housing laws training to ensure that the rights of residential tenants are protected. Fair housing training must be conducted by governmental fair housing law enforcement departments because research has shown that outside training is not adequate, as some trainers make light of fair housing rights and enforcement.
37. Technology and Vocational Training Centers based on Regional Needs and Demands. The government should desire for all citizens to have the opportunity to be gainfully employed. The jobs of yesteryear are gone and are not coming back. We need training centers to prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow, tapping into their talents, passions, and skills to provide rewarding careers that give back to the communities in which they live. Automation cannot be avoided, it is inevitable. As automation continues, centers should train under-skilled workers to receive free certification trainings through local community colleges and schools.
38. Upskilling Programs. In addition to desiring gainful employment, the government should also desire for residents to have the opportunity to move up the socio-economic ladder to improve themselves and the entire community. There should also be programs designed to move persons from low-skill jobs into mid-skilled jobs such as welding, carpentry, plumbing, paralegal work, nursing, etcetera. College is not for everyone, but everyone has an opportunity to serve, work, and give back to their community. Local governments in association with the chambers of commerce, local universities, and school districts can partner and combine funding to develop upskilling programs to help persons move up the socio-economic ladder boosting the municipal tax base, thus making it a win-win for everyone.
39. Equitable Workforce Plan. It is simple, governments and schools should be reflective of the communities that they serve. But that’s not all, research indicates that diverse teams are more profitable and successful. All departments and divisions in government agencies should develop plans to hire, recruit, develop, mentor, and train non-European American communities that have been historically marginalized and denied certain opportunities. The department that oversees hiring must be diverse in order to ensure that other departments are following equitable diversity and inclusion (D&I) hiring practices. Some of those D&I hiring practices should include: diverse hiring panels; the recruitment of a diverse candidate pool; and if there is a disproportionate number of non-diverse candidates that are selected for interviews, the re-evaluation of the hiring process to determine if there are capable candidates that should have been considered for the positions. Equitable hiring tools such as targeted recruitment, gender and racially balanced hiring panels, review of all positions to identify barriers to applying, and ban the box, to name a few, must all be considered in an effort to create a more reflective and representative workforce. Communities should demand that an equitable workforce plan be adopted to increase the representation of all communities in government, including the schools. This plan should also include an equitable approach to promotions to leadership positions and professional development opportunities. There also needs to be efforts and measures to ensure that the workplace is a welcoming and inclusive environment for non-European American employees to contribute to the success of the organization and in order to retain diverse talent.
40. Mental Health Support. There have been drastic cuts both at the state and federal level since the 1980s in regards to mental health services. Because state and federal governments have not stepped up, it is up to city and county agencies to do so. Prisons should not be the place where we house persons who need mental health services. We need to create mental health clinics, we need to give support funding to offices and agencies that address mental health concerns, and schools need more mental health counselors in addition to guidance counselors, to address the challenges that young people face today.
41. Refugee & Immigrant Services. Immigrant and refugee communities have challenges as well and because English is typically not their first language, they do not have persons to represent their concerns. There should be staffed local offices or divisions within local government that look into addressing the concerns of non-native born populations. Problems that are not addressed will continue to bubble over and may be of greater concern to the entire community later. Having refugee and immigrant services departments builds bridges to new communities and add to the depth and cultural wealth of the greater community.
42. Food & Business Incubators. If we want historically marginalized communities to build wealth, they have to be taught to work for themselves. Starting a business is hard work and despite business being the motor that keeps our economy moving, students are not taught how to run a business in secondary (high) school (or college for that matter). Local governments can partner with educational institutions and chambers of commerce to develop local food/restaurant and other types of business incubators that help people get their businesses off the ground and give them a temporary space to help them establish a solid foundation for growing a successful business. After completing the business paperwork and establishing a firm footing on business matters, senior incubator occupants can move out and into their own independent spaces while new businesses are being brought into the incubator. It is a cycle where the entire community benefits from the empowerment of its residents, an increase of the tax base, more funding to cities and counties, and the providing of new or additional foods, flavors, needs, and services for the entire community.
43. Tax Incentives for Food and Financial Deserts. In some non-European American communities, there are food deserts, financial deserts, and a dearth of entertainment and shopping opportunities. As many municipalities provide tax incentives for businesses to move to their cities and counties, they should provide additional incentives to build grocery stores and banks in communities where they are lacking to increase the health and wealth of residents. Incentives should also be given to local members of the community to start their own grocery stores and financial institutions in food and banking deserts.
44. Community Centers in Accessible Locations for Poor and non-European American Communities. Youths need outlets and if you do not give them a positive one, they may find negative ones on their own. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” We need community centers in neighborhoods where they are needed most and where poverty rates are high. We need more than just sports. We need skill-building, adult education, vocation centers, technology training, STEM clubs, music, the arts, chess clubs, the list goes on. Tap into youths’ talents, passions, skills, and interests and there is no telling what they can become. Put opportunities within their reach.
FOCUS AREA #2: LOCAL EDUCATION OF OUR YOUTHS
The purpose of education is to solve problems. If there are no problems in the world then education is pointless. The question is whose problems are we preparing our children to solve; their problems or someone else’s problems? We must show our children the world as it is based on our mistakes of the past so that they can create a better and brighter future for themselves and for us. Young people have always been the engine for change, it is adults who sustain the change. All our hopes depend on the youth — it is our duty to guide them toward a brighter future.
45. Know Your School Board Members and their Plans for our Youth. School board members set the policy and vision for our children’s education and adopt the curriculum that our children study. They run the farms that cultivate the minds of our children. What is their vision for young people? What programs do they have in place to ensure that the students will be ready for the challenges of the world? Knowing the answers to these questions and more is the first step toward improving schools.
46. Join or Create a Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). If you find that your PTO is ineffective, take on a leadership role and advocate for your positions and beliefs. If that does not work, create a spin-off with other concerned parents and community members to address the needs of your children. If you are organized and strategic, they cannot ignore you forever.
47. Demand Practical Education for our Youths. Again, education is about problem-solving. Are we teaching our children the problem-solving skills necessary to address the challenges and problems we created? Our young people face racism on a daily basis, but they have no required studies on race and cultural competency in grades K-12. Global warming is on the rise and yet students are not required to take science classes to deal with the other crisis of their generation. We have a plastics and micro-plastics problem, but we are not preparing young minds to develop alternatives. This is a capitalist market-based economy, but we do not require courses on how to start businesses, invest in the stock market, or the importance of compound interest. Everyone needs to eat but many schools have cut home economics courses that would teach young people how to cook. Time is of the essence but there are no required classes on time management, goal setting, and discipline. Everyone needs a home and has to do taxes, but we spend our time doing parallelograms and the Pythagorean theorem. There are no classes on local government, yet it impacts our youth more on a daily basis than the federal government. So please tell me: what is school for? If you are wondering why youths are lashing out, it is because we sold them a fantasy and did not prepare them for reality. They may not see it, but they can sense the con, and we need to do right by them. It is time to tell them the truth about the world in which they live.
48. Proper History Courses. Speaking of truth, young people need to understand the true history of this country. The taking of lands from Indigenous cultures, the enslavement of Africans, our failure to address the end of slavery during the period of reconstruction, Japanese Americans being placed in internment camps, etcetera. The list of forgotten histories goes on and on. Children need courses on racism and culture throughout their education. We are not teaching these items to shame our country, but rather to realize the mistakes that we have made and do everything in our power to make sure that they never happen again. We should rather have the ugly truth than to accept a beautiful lie. Only by knowing the truth can you make things right and prevent similar shameful moments from happening again. Organizations like Zinn Education Project have age-appropriate history content for all grade levels.
49. Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program for Nutritious Meals for Youths. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that many children do not have access to nutritious meals unless they are in school. To make up for school closures, some states have issued EBT cards to students that are reloaded monthly ensuring that students have access to nutritious meals. During summer months, students who need it should be given EBT debit cards to ensure that they do not go hungry.
50. Year-Round Schooling. To prevent the summer slide, year-round schooling should take place. Do not be confused, they still have the same amount of days out of school each year however, they are spaced out throughout the course of the calendar year which research has shown improves learning. On the ten-month school schedule, children forget things that they learned from the previous school year and spend the entire school year playing catch-up. A three-week break in-between school quarters gives students the opportunity to stay engaged but still go on vacation if they are so fortunate.
51. Teacher Diversity & School-to-Teaching Pipeline. We need teaching to be viewed as an honorable profession. While the student population continues to diversify, teachers are overwhelming European American. This is by historical design. Research indicates that children are more successful when their teachers look like them. The workforce equity plan above (#39) also applies to teachers. We should also encourage young persons to desire teaching as a profession. Programs in our schools that inspire students to “dream to teach” and give them college credit in high school for education courses can go a long way to slowly ensuring that those who teach us, look like us.
52. Youth Programs App and Database. There are so many programs out there to tap into the talents, passions, and skills of our young people, yet there are so many families that do not know what opportunities are available to them. There are computer camps, gymnastics, martial arts, chess clubs, science clubs, and yes even sports. Cities, schools, and community organizations should collaborate and create an app for parents and youth to discover what programming and activities are available for youths. Families would input their address, the child’s interests, the number of miles willing to travel from home or school, and the desired dates of activity. With the aforementioned information, every program that is available within a certain mile radius would be displayed. An app like this would be a great tool to help keep children engaged year-round.
53. Laptops for all Students. We live in the technology age. Internet access is now considered a basic human right. Students that do not have access to computers and the internet will be left behind. Schools should provide laptops for all children. We want all of our children to excel. Homes that lack wi-fi connections should be given wi-fi hotspots to keep students connected. Community-wide wi-fi is also an option, but that is a decision for city council members.
54. Attend School Board Meetings. Once you have met with the school board members and learned the curriculum being taught in your neighborhood schools, it is time to speak out on the issues that matter to you. Introduce subject matters, curriculums, and programs that you would like your school district to adopt for the betterment of the student population. If you have built a relationship with your school board member(s), have them introduce the program or curriculum. Show up to school board meetings and keep showing up. Take your kids with you. This serves the added benefit of introducing young people to the benefits and frustrations of civic and political engagement.
FOCUS AREA #3: THE BALLOT BOX
I did not list this first because in my community the only options ever given to us are pray and vote. There is so much more that you can do than just vote and pray (see the entire list above). Voting comes around every two to four years; its what we do in-between our trips to the voting booth that counts. But concurrently, with the ideas above, you can also engage in the following:
55. Organize a campaign for a young person or non-European American to run for office. There are so many positions out there at the local level that people can run for: school board member, school superintendent, county auditor, sheriff, county treasurer, city council member, mayor, county council, city/county prosecutor (solicitor), the list goes on. No one wins off luck alone, you must have a team and you must strategize. There is a bright young person out there full of ideas, they just need to be groomed. Get with others that have the funds, media-savvy, and political clout to get bright young persons with ideas into political positions to create and implement anti-racist, equitable policies to improve your cities, counties, and classrooms.
56. Run for office yourself (but run with ideas). Some ideas are listed above but there are many other ideas and items that are particular to your community that need to be addressed. What are they? If you are not sure, ask around. The people closest to the problems are typically closest to the solutions. But do not run alone. That is like sending a sheep to be amongst wolves. Create an election bloc of like-minded persons to run for school board, county/city council under the same platform of socio-economic justice principles. It happened in Baltimore. Power is when you can deliver resources, services, and funding to your communities and not compromise. When you run the team, you don’t have to compromise.
57. Vote. Yes, voting is important and local elections are the most important of all. Yet, few people participate in local elections. Another reason why nothing has changed in our communities. So please vote but be hesitant to give your vote to persons that do not have plans to alleviate the socio-economic conditions of marginalized communities. What we need now is representatives with ideas and plans on how to make communities better for all persons, and we as residents must be willing to show up and support representatives who are fighting for better, more equitable communities.
Greta Thunberg said “[t]he one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act hope is everywhere. Instead of looking for hope look for action. Then and only then hope will come.” We have to get moving. Our children want to believe in the American dream. They are dying to believe that there is a better life for them, but reality keeps demonstrating that the dream we are selling them is actually a nightmare. We must tell our kids the truth, have a plan to improve their lives, and they will follow us. We sold them a dream, now is the time to wake up and transform that dream into reality. This may be our last chance to get it right. Let’s do this for them, let’s do this for us. Welcome to a better way.