Workshop Outlines Local Approaches to `Undoing Racism'
Liedtke, Cyndy, Nation's Cities Weekly
In the spirit of NLC President Bob Knight's Futures Project to tackle racism, a workshop at Congress of Cities in Los Angeles focused on four projects that combat racism at the local level.
"Undoing Racism: Programs that Work and Why" gave participants a look at the efforts of a national media project, a fire department, a police department and a city government to reduce tensions and get the community talking about the issue.
Television Race Initiative in San Francisco works with public television stations, national nonprofits, local and national media, community groups, interfaith networks and educational institutions to create community dialogues around the issue of race relations.
The six public television stations participating in the project pair diverse programming with community outreach and meetings. The stations involved with the initiative are also working to diversify their staffs, according to Yvette Martinez, project manager of Television Race Initiative.
"As media gets blamed for being part of the problem on race relations we are attempting to be a part of the solution and find ways in which diverse programs on PBS can be catalysts for conversation, for dialogue, for community efforts and for different ways in engaging community and the station," she said.
Topics addressed in these programs include the history of slavery, affirmative action, Japanese American internment camps and interracial families. Next year digital divide, Vietnam war widows and controversy surrounding Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.
The stations are attempting to build trust with the community, according to Martinez. The stations bring citizens in before, during and after the airing of programs to get community reaction.
Martinez offered the example of the public television station in Norfolk, Va., which hosted a community meeting on hate crimes. Over 300 came to this meeting, which happened to be held the day after the hate crime shooting at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. Local police have partnered with the station and are using PBS programming in diversity training.
"We really feel these programs can break the ice with the community," and encourage discussion on race relations, Martinez said.
In Los Angeles, the fire department has been working to diversify internally while providing a venue to discuss issues within the community.
A 1994 probe found the department had a poor record in its treatment of minority employees, according to fire chief William Bamattre. Programs were put in place to reassess the department's treatment on minorities within the department and with the community to improve service.
"The tack that we took was to address these internal issues, to kind of clean up our own house first before we went out into the community and become more responsive to the people we serve," he said. …