Latinos and African Americans represent the two largest minority groups in the State of Michigan and in the nation.  Working collaboratively, these two population segments could wield significantly more political power in the state, but a number of barriers exist to coalitional politics.  Most importantly, Latinos and African Americans are often pitted against each other in competition for scarce resources, perpetuating needless divisions in order to maintain the existing power structure.  The current political climate across the nation and in Michigan highlights the need for increased understanding and coalition-building between these two groups, especially in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections.
The Julian Samora Research Institute and the Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University hosted the Black-Brown Dialogues Summit: Working toward Common Ground on November 13, 2017.  The event brought together community leaders, non-profit leaders, scholars, and students to engage in a constructive dialogue on the unique histories and social contexts of African American and Latino communities and the barriers that exist that prevent effective collaboration on common challenges facing these two communities.  Participants identified common issues these communities can address together, as well as the steps to take together in pursuit of a better Michigan for all.
The summit began with remarks from Hiram Fitzgerald, Associate Provost of University Outreach and Engagement at MSU. Dr. Rubén Martinez, Director of JSRI, then provided historical context for Black/Brown dialogues, noting that African Americans and Latinos have distinctive but not always divergent histories; both groups live within the orbit of the same system of domination, but with different points of entry. Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of Racial Equity and Community Engagement at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Refugio “Cuco” Rodriguez, Program Officer, delivered the first of three invited speeches during the day. To overcome historical divisions between African Americans and Latinos they proposed a healing process that begins with truth-telling and a moment of shared public lament that fosters forgiveness and accountability. Armando Ojeda, President and CEO of Cadena, Inc., presented the second address.  He stressed the importance of African American and Latino communities not just coming together, but connecting and collaborating to produce disruptive innovations. During lunch, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia delivered the keynote address. Drawing on his experiences as a Chicago City Council member under Mayor Harold Washington and his own mayoral campaign in 2015, Garcia identified focus issues for future Black/Brown coalitions, as well as barriers that must be overcome in order to build successful coalitions.
The summit was designed as a deliberative process to facilitate constructive dialogue among participants throughout the event.  This was accomplished by facilitating two general working sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with “reporters” from each small group discussion presenting their results to the plenary group. The morning session was organized into small working groups, each with the same task: identify and agree upon the top five issues facing African Americans and Latinos in Michigan.  As the reports were made a list was being developed on large sheets of paper and displayed for all to view.  Participants then prioritized issues by voting for the ones they believed were most important. The ten issues with the most votes were presented to the full group in rank order based on the number of dots received. During the afternoon session, tables were designated with one of the ten priority issues and participants chose tables based on which issue they wished to discuss.  Each group then worked to unpack the dimensions of their issue, and identified steps that could be taken to address the issue.  A speaker from each group then presented a report to all attendees.     
The following are the top ten topical issues that were identified by summit participants presented in rank order: 1) Education; 2) Healthcare/Mental Healthcare; 3) Cross-cultural Communication/Collaboration; 4) Community Economic Development and Empowerment; 5) Civic Engagement/Political Clout; 6) Voter Suppression; 7) Criminal Justice Reform; 8) Anti-Blackness; 9) Trauma/Historical Crimes against Humanity, and 10) Immigration.
This initial summit represents a first step in ongoing dialogues to improve relations and increase collaboration between African Americans and Latinos in Michigan. Moving forward, the task of those engaged in Black/Brown dialogues is to develop plans to implement the recommendations put forth during the summit.