Director, Race Relations 2020, Columbia, South Carolina
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: Generally, the re-entry problem for people who come to these dialogues, go through a certain amount of transformation, and then go back into the community. Are probably some of those meant to deal with that particular problem or how do you talk about that?
A: Actually, this is the only one that I know of that attempts to do that. This aspect of it will not be as operational as I would have liked it to of been until our next set of meetings. That is not only trying to deal with the re-entry problem, but also trying to incorporate a community-organizing capacity into this because the other side of that re-entry question is: How do you move from individual transformation to social change?
What we attempt to do is to draw the participants in as almost delegates, one of the things I like most about Eau Claire is that there is a social infrastructure that is not available in most cities. Eau Claire about 40,000 people that live in that section of the city, about a quadrant of a middle sized city. There are thirty-nine neighborhood associations, so the idea is to draw people as delegates from neighborhood associations, churches, work places, or some organization from within the community.
The idea is that that neighborhood association is giving the person permission (by inviting that person) to participate in this on their behalf and to bring their learning back to that neighborhood association. Because the funding has been very limited our capacity to use that rubric has been less than I would have liked it to be. However, I just know that I will be told that I've gotten a small grant which will ask each of those neighborhood associations to designate an officer to take part in a set of probably three or four groups, which will start some time before June or early September. There will be a mechanism for getting this back not only to the neighborhood associations but to the council of those neighborhood associations on which I currently sit as president elect which helps this.
Q: That's really interesting. You've tapped into the social structure, this is something you must've considered before you started the dialogue. You said, how am I going to do this transference from an individual level to a larger scale?
A: Right, and it's a strategy for dealing both with what I think Heidi and Guy call the scale-up problem and the re-entry problem. This person isn't just there because I've picked them out or because they're self-chosen; hopefully, this person will be there because they are sponsored by their association. Having a little bit more support for this is also to be able to say to them "if you want somebody to go with you for your report back to the group, someone to help facilitate that, then we will arrange that as well depending on their comfort level."
Another reason Eau Claire is an ideal place to start this project is that not only is it a racially diverse neighborhood, it's a racially diverse neighborhood that is chosen in a town meeting to include in its mission for itself to maintain diversity. It is not just racial diversity either, but also I think this is more economic diversity. I mean there are some pretty large ritzy houses in the area, and then there are people who are paying less than $300 a month for rent. The person who engages in this project with the hope of improving race relations in the neighborhood engages with it not only hopefully with some sort of connection to a neighborhood association, but also with a mandate they can call upon in terms of a mission for the community as a whole.
Q: Well, that's a great strategy, from the outside; I don't know that there are that many communities that could have that great structure that you could tap into.
A: No, but getting something off the ground is often more challenging than duplicating it. Columbia, Eau Claire, and then maybe Richland County, I think are more ideal places to start from. What you've highlighted from what I've said in different parts in the conversation is that to draw another community into it that doesn't have all that infrastructure is more possible.