Between November 2017 and September 2019, the Julian Samora Research Institute and African and African American Studies convened a series of three Black/Brown Dialogues summits to address divisions among ethno-racial minority groups that have historically hindered community development and societal progress. With the different groups tending to pursue civil rights separate from each other, they have not generated the scale of influence that could bring about broad progressive social change in society. Despite living within a racialized society in which the dominant group employs similar mechanisms of domination across groups, Latina/os and African Americans—the two largest ethno-racial minority groups in the country—have seldom developed lasting relationships and alliances that enhance their capabilities to promote a non-racialized society through structural and organizational changes at the community level.
In order to address these challenges, the summit series had as its ultimate goal the establishment of a sustainable, innovative advocacy organization or network that moves beyond traditional models of collaborative engagement (e.g., coalitions, alliances, etc.). Traditionally, such organizational frameworks tend to be based on additive or coalition models. Specifically, these models of engagement tend to be single-issue based and short-lived, ending once a specific goal is reached. That is, they tend to be comprised of different organizations in which their representatives engage in limited and secondary forms of advocacy and/or action.
The summits proposed to seek an alternative approach—one based on a unifying vision for a better social order grounded in the premise that this society belongs to all groups—which shapes and informs public policies through collective action and systematic policy input and influence by current subordinate groups. Accordingly, with the goal of shifting public opinion, influencing policy discussions, and shaping the practices of public organizations, it proposes the pursuit of a better Michigan from the bottom up.
At the third and final summit in the series, the members of the Black/Brown Dialogues Founding Committee were introduced and tasked with transforming the vision laid out in the summit series into a sustainable advocacy organization that will work toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive Michigan. The members of the committee at present are Mark Fancher of the ACLU of Michigan, MSU doctoral student Joy Hannibal, Tedda Hughes of REACH Art Studio of Lansing, Marvin McKinney of University Outreach and Engagement at MSU, Don Weatherspoon (retired), Carlton Evans of McDuffie Evans, Asa Zuccaro of the Latinx Technology & Community Center of Flint, and Angela Reyes of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. Members of the JSRI team remain involved with the committee in an advisory capacity as the group works toward the establishment of an independent organization.
Members of the Founding Committee have chosen as the name of the organization the North Star Alliance for Justice (NSAJ). For centuries, the North Star served as a guiding light for seafarers, and prior to the abolition of slavery in the United States, the North Star guided escaped slaves trying to make their way north toward freedom. Similarly, NSAJ will strive to serve as a guiding light for Michigan’s communities of color in the struggles for justice, equity, and inclusion. The members of the Founding Committee have drafted the following mission statement: “The North Star Alliance for Justice is a collaborative of organizations and individuals committed to the pursuit of freedom, independence, prosperity and equal rights for communities of black and brown people with histories of enslavement, territorial theft, genocide, racial and ethnic victimization, and government repression. We advocate targeted measures to make whole the black and brown communities in the state of Michigan.”