On September 6, 2019, the Julian Samora Research Institute hosted the third and final summit in its Black/Brown Dialogues summit series. The series fostered dialogue and collaboration among Michigan’s Latina/o and African American communities, as well as other communities of color, and envisioned a more just, equitable, and inclusive society.
Each summit had its own distinct themes. The first event set in motion a communicative platform for dialogues among communities of color in Michigan. It provided an overview of common barriers these communities face relative to social integration and the necessary steps for achieving a common ground. The second summit focused on generating a unifying vision to guide the collaborative efforts moving forward, bringing together members of Michigan’s Latina/o, African American, Arab American, Native American, and Asian American communities. The final summit focused on establishing a systematic platform to promote sustainable intergroup collaboration across organizations and societal sectors.
Dr. Rubén Martinez, Director of JSRI, opened the event with the basic premise that Michigan is our state, too. Whereas historically institutions and government have not worked for all populations, increased collaboration between Black and Brown communities, inclusive not only of Latina/os and African Americans but of all people of color, will give communities of color a stronger voice in reshaping our cities, state, and nation.
The summit also featured addresses from Dr. Roberto Dansie, CEO of Cultural Wisdom, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Chair of Southpaw Michigan, and Sylvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum. Dansie spoke of the value of incorporating Native wisdom into efforts to build Black/Brown solidarity. El-Sayed highlighted the importance of intersectional empathy in moving toward a more perfect understanding of “We, the people.” Puente offered practical advice for Black/Brown advocacy organizations based on the experiences of the Latino Policy Forum’s Multicultural Leadership Academy. Members of a panel discussed trust building across intercultural, intergenerational, and class lines. Members of the Detroit Black and Brown Theatre performed a one-act play and then dialogued with the audience.
Participants at the summit took part in a table activity to discuss indicators of how life is getting better and/or worse for Black and Brown communities in Michigan. Several themes emerged, including a crisis of acceptance of diversity, of which the current federal administration is representative; at the same time, the election of Donald Trump served as a wake-up call for communities of color and their allies to organize collectively. Participants also noted voting rights and gerrymandering, gentrification, and declining educational opportunities and attainment as negative indicators, whereas increased representation of people of color in elected office and more intentional collaboration across communities of color were offered as positive indicators. Participants were also asked to draft a narrative of how to make Michigan more inclusive, and themes included an embrace of our common histories, increased cultural awareness, recognition that collaboration is not a zero sum game, and statewide policies and laws that intentionally address diversity, equity, and inclusion.
At the end of the day, Dr. Martinez introduced the members of the Black/Brown Dialogues founding committee, who are charged with building a sustainable organization that will carry on the vision generated through the summit series of a more just, equitable, and inclusive Michigan. Members of the founding committee include Mark Fancher of the ACLU of Michigan, MSU doctoral student Joy Hannibal, Tedda Hughes of REACH Art Studio, Marvin McKinney of University Outreach and Engagement at MSU, Angela Reyes of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Gabriela Santiago-Romero of the Michigan Center for Civic Education, Don Weatherspoon (retired), and Asa Zuccaro of the Latinx Technology & Community Center. JSRI is committed to assisting in an advisory capacity in the formation of the advocacy organization.