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New posts to the Organizer's Clipboard will focus on thoughts and tips relevant to social justice, movement building, and community organizing. Sometimes there will be posts about current events and others will be tips and tools for the work. Each time will be informational and (hopefully) entertaining.

The topics will serve as jump-off points for conversation, so comments are encouraged. But note, that we will be monitoring responses and retain the right to delete or not even post responses that do not move the conversation forward, are negative or attack based, or seek to move an agenda or market a good or service that is not in line with Alliance Institute's mission and goals.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Alliance Institute.


The Roots of Alliance Institute

Marcus Garvey, the leader of the largest movement of Blacks in modern history, is often quoted as saying "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." Similarly, in this work of social justice, we often find that too few truly understand their organizing lineage and from whence they (and their work) come. As someone who regularly trains and mentors community organizers, I find it invaluable to provide historical context to the work they are doing in these modern times. This type of information not only helps to “place” the work in time and place, but to remind folks that the work is ongoing and that our job is to help carry the bucket forward.

To that end, I’d like to take some time to share the roots of Alliance Institute, so that there might be a better understanding of why we do what we do, in the way that we do. And because this organizing tree has many branches  (as you will soon see), perhaps there will also be a greater understanding of social justice organizing across many other organizations and movements.

James Farmer, Jr. is a little known, but remarkable contributor to modern community organizing. He is most well known as the teenage prodigy in the movie "The Great Debaters" starring Denzel Washington. Although mentioned at the very end of the movie, Farmer should be known as the founder CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). CORE, although less well known than the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the Southern Christian Leadership Council, was central to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Most notably, CORE organized the interracial Freedom Rides, which helped to expose the deep hatred of Southern Whites towards the idea of Blacks having rights “that a White Man was bound to respect" (thanks to Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roger Taney – 1967). In addition, CORE was key in organizing the March on Washington and Freedom Summer.

Dr. George Wiley, Phd. while teaching at University of California Berkeley in 1960, started the Syracuse chapter of CORE where he furthered the organizing training he received working with James Farmer. Six years later, Dr. Wiley co-founded the Poverty Rights Action Center which sought to coordinate efforts of poor people’s organizations. In line with this they participated in the Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Organizing Committee to coordinate poverty rights demonstrations across 16 cities on June 30, 1966.

With thousands of low-income families participating in the June 30 demonstrations, thus began the process of establishing a new organization to further the movement. In August 1967 delegates from 67 organizations came together and formed the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). NRWO utilized direct action organizing as a key strategy, moving thousands of welfare recipients to fight for change. In addition to lifting the plight of the low-income to the national level, NWRO focused locally for additional funding to families with school aged children for clothing, and retail credit for NWRO members. At its height the organization had 20,000 dues paying members, 540 individual chapters, and an impact on some 75,000 families.

It should also be noted that following Dr. Wiley’s resignation, NWRO put forth that Welfare is a Woman’s, a issuemajor step in recognizing the significant impact of poverty on women.

While at NWRO, Dr. Wiley sent two organizers into Arkansas to test a new model of multi-issue organizing among low-moderate income families. Those two men were Gary Delgado & Wade Rathke. In 1970 they founded the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). ACORN went on to become the bation’s largest community based organization for low- and moderate-families. At the time of its demise in 2010, the organization boasted over 100 offices, with nearly 500,000 dues paying members across the country. The organization, while focused heavily on local issues, bought together its membership for national campaigns that impacted first time homeownership, living wages, lead poisoning prevention, education, voter registration, Hurricane Katrina relief, and a host of other issues.

In 1980, Gary Delgado, who had left ACORN due to differences related to the racial dynamics of ACORN staff vs its membership, founded the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO). CTWO has focused its efforts in line with Delgado’s concerns on training organizers of color. While its organizing efforts are not to be viewed in the same light as other organizations in this discussion, CTWO has been the primary source of non-white organizing professionals and organizations working on behalf of low- and moderate-income communities, primarily of color.

The impact of these two organizations today is inestimable, with their folks now leading, influencing, and/or advising most every progressive organization at the local, state, and national levels, including myself and Alliance Institute.

I do hope that this document serves to assist folks in better understanding this thing called social justice with a long view and a deep history. It is important to remember that there are other trees in this thing, such as the NAACP – SCLC- SNCC tree, as guided by Ella Baker. At the very least learn your roots so that you might stand stronger in the work.

A special thanks to the websites of the various organizations and Wikipedia for informing this historical journey.


Raven-Symone’, Watermeloandrea, Wylecia, and Sweet Sweet Karma!

Last Thursday, October 8, 2015 to be exact, Cliff Huxtable’s favorite grandbaby, took yet another step away from our endearing hearts. In her latest formation, as the spunky Raven-Symone’, our deares Olivia outraged the interwebs by uttering the following during a discussion regarding racial assumptions based on names, "I'm not about to hire you if your name is Watermeloandrea.” The webs were aghast!

But Jesus, Allah, Buddha, etc. is good. For early on the following Monday morning, I received the grandest, most blessed piece of information one can possibly receive after 3 ½ days of folks being mad at Olivia. On that morning, the clouds parted and I received news (albeit about a month late, but the Monday morning revelation was necessary for,  if nothing else, the drama) that the League of Women Voters had announced that their new Executive Director would be Dr. Wylecia Wiggs-Harris! DR. WYLECIA!!!

Now, I’m not sure if the League of Women Voters figured it was a good time to re-announce Dr. Wylecia’s new position. You know, since name-discrimination was all up in the news-feeds and all. Nevertheless, I shared the bejeezus out of that post.

A quick quote from the League’s President, “I am thrilled that Wylecia will be bringing her talents and leadership acumen to the League of Women Voters,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. “Her considerable skills in guiding organizations and setting a strategic vision and roadmap for the future will be incredible assets to the League. Wylecia comes to the League at this exciting and important time as we celebrate 95 years and look toward our 2020 centennial. I am confident that with Wylecia at the helm, we will reach new heights.”

I thank God that neither Dr. Harris, nor her parents, shied away from naming her Wylecia, because with all the xenophobia aggravating these United States at this time, Dr. Harris is the best woman for the job; wearing her name not as an albatross, but as an exclamation point. Cuz, that’s SO Wylecia!


How An Act of Prudence Upped the Ante for Justice in 2015

A couple of weeks ago, while watching a Saints game outside a local New Orleans’ barroom, I met Prudence Brown, one of the Dyett 12.  The Dyett 12 are a group of Chicagoans who have taken to a hunger strike to save their neighborhood high school, named for Walter Henri Dyett. Dyett was an African American violinist and music instructor in Chicago, whose students included Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Bo Diddley and many others.

What struck me most about Prudence’s story is that she is participating in the place of a community elder, whose health probably would not have lasted as long. Because, as Chicago Tribune columnist, Eric Zorn notes in his piece When to Pay Attention to Hunger Strikers, “A hunger strike is a suicide threat in slow motion.” And while I am greatly appreciative for Mr. Zorn helping us to understand what a hunger strike is, it is his final sentence that truly helps to clarify confusion on this and so many other actions taken by the Black community this year. “Would today's protesters rather die than live in a world without the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, the academy they want CPS to establish?”

In that single sentence, Mr. Zorn echoes the thoughts of those who said the rioters in Baltimore and Ferguson, in response to police violence against Black communities, were not fighting for Freddie Gray or Michael Brown because the families called for peace. The problem with this line of thinking is that while Dyett H.S., Freddie Gray, or Michael Brown may be the catalysts, the issue is a much larger, more systemic one; that in a country that promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights, a country that proudly boasts that all men are created equal, Black lives don’t matter.

Education, at its core, serves to preserve and advance our cultural mores and values. It is for this reason that a school like Dyett becomes such a compelling focal point for the hunger strike. It’s located in Bronzeville, an historically Black community that was once hailed as a national center of urban African-American commerce and art, and named for a Black music instructor who helped to produce some of America’s most notable musical icons. The Dyett 12 are not hunger striking for a school, but for the right of their community to self-determine the mores and values that will give their children the greatest opportunities to achieve the aforementioned life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness; as expressed in both the name of the school and the history of the community.

Folks often say, in an offhand manner, that they will die for their kids. The Dyett 12 are in fact (according to the hip hop lexicon) showing and proving that they are willing to die for the future of Bronzeville youth. In these times of #blacklivesmatter, protests against police violence against Black communities, food deserts, and the plethora of environmental injustices plaguing Black and low-income communities, we should each look deep within ourselves, inspired by Prudence and the Dyett 12, and ask just what am I doing to promote justice in these United States.


in advance of katrina-palooza

Monday, August 24, 2015 marks the beginning of a week of activities in commemoration of the devastation that struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in the form of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, the magnificent jewel of the coast, was and, is the epicenter of attention by the media (and by default the American public) and will be the focus of much of the commemoration. There will be more events and panels than I care to know about. In fact, almost to the person, folks who I’ve been in conversation with regarding the upcoming events would much rather be elsewhere. Hell, I tried to get out of the country, but to no avail.

New Orleans is changed because of Katrina, and not all in a good way. And those not in a good ways are really kinda bad. And in an “I told you so” kind of way. You see, following the hurricane, I was often asked in interviews if New Orleans would be rebuilt. And my answer was always, “it’s not a matter of if New Orleans will be rebuilt, New Orleans will be rebuilt. The question is, who will get to enjoy the new New Orleans?” The question was not just the musings of an African American Community Organizer, or a Pro-Black Conspiracy Theorist.

On September 8, 2005, the Wall Street Journal ran a story Old-Line Families Escape Worst of Flood And Plot the Future by Christopher Cooper (found here as WSJ doesn’t search further back than 2011) which stated:

The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. [James] Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

Then on September 9 of the same year, we find The Washington Post in an article titled Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina by Charles Babington quoting a September 8 Wall Street Journal piece:

The latest elected official to step into the swamp was Rep. Richard H. Baker, a 10-term Republican from Baton Rouge. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that he was overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

And then one (1) month following the disaster, September 29, 2005 we have from the Houston Chronicle article titled "HUD chief doubts New Orleans will be as black" by LORI RODRIGUEZ and ZEKE MINAYA, quoting HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson:

"Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time," he said. "New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again."

The article also notes:

  • Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans will slowly draw back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 to 40 percent of the post-Katrina population would be black.


  • Prior to Katrina, the population was 67 percent black and 28 percent white.

So yeah, no conspiracy and in plain English, in the mainstream media, we have persons of power at the Local, State, and Federal levels making statements regarding who would and who would not get to enjoy the new New Orleans; the New Orleans of today.

I keep the above remarks foremost in my thoughts, statements, and work regarding the recovery efforts from hurricane Katrina, because for me, they highlight the overarching goal of those who wish to deny the dignity and even the existence of low- and moderate-income families, particularly those of color.

And should anyone doubt the commitment to carry out the intent of the above quotes, please read this blog post by Bill Quigley, a longtime friend of the social justice movement in New Orleans, a law professor and Director of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans: "New Orleans Katrina Pain Index at Ten: Who Was Left Behind."

Here are a few gems:

  • New Orleans is now 59 percent African American, down from 66.7 percent in 2000; 31 percent white, up from 26 percent in 2000; and 5.5 percent Hispanic, up from 3 percent in 2000.
  • There are now 3221 fewer low income public housing apartments in New Orleans than when Katrina hit. In 2005 there were 5,146 low income public housing apartments in New Orleans, plus thousands of other public housing apartments scheduled for renewal or maintenance, nearly 100% African American.
  • Over 7,500 public school teachers and paraprofessionals, mostly African American, were fired after Katrina when Louisiana took over the New Orleans public school system. The US Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal in May 2015.

So please keep in mind as we enter into and traverse Katrina-Palooza over the next few weeks, that while there will be many many stories highlighting the recovery and how much better things are, that there are an awful lot of us that find in the commemoration, a lot more to mourn than to celebrate.