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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.


This Thing Called Justice

Over the past few months, especially the past few days, the word justice has littered my social network pages in response to the various killings of unarmed civilians*. As a career community organizer, whose field of work is often described as social justice, I have given this word justice quite a bit of mental time. Given the recent surge in the word’s popularity, I think it prudent to share some of the insight I’ve gained in deep consideration of the word justice and its implications.

Webster, Wikipedia, et. al. notwithstanding, justice is a dynamic force maintaining equilibrium. I draw this definition from my own experience and more ancient sources related to the idea of justice than the previously mentioned popular Google results. Looking at the Judaic Kaballah or the Ancient Egyptian Tree of Life, the idea of justice is contained within the same sphere of activity, that which follows the law. The law then, is quite simply (well not so simply) the assurance of all things their time in space; or space in time. All laws, as we know them, whether those governing international relations or jay walking, are established with this basic understanding. Justice is the force necessary to maintain the equilibrium necessary for the space time thing I just mentioned.

With this in mind, it becomes readily apparent that justice is not a momentary thing, to be called into action whenever the citizenry gets riled up. No, it is an ongoing process, a vigilance, steadily at work maintaining the law, assuring that all get their time in the sun; as it were. Justice, in this sense, is not achieved via arrests, marches, rallies, or riots. Rather, justice is achieved by radical change – that changing of the root cause which impacts all of us and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Justice, my friends, is not a quick fix or a short term endeavor, it is an ongoing function. As someone who works in the field of Social Justice, I have come to grips that the fight for justice began long before I came along and will continue long after. Until we as a society decide that the current systems are no longer acceptable, including the benefits we reap as a result of their inherent inequities, we will continue to march, rally and riot for arrests and policy shifts, but injustices will continue.

*I chose purposefully to not racialize this piece as I did not want to unintentionally move the conversation away from the topic at hand.


Code Word: Community

Much ado has been made in our post-racial America about the use of code words to mask the true racial undercurrent. You know, urban and inner-city when what is meant is Black. We see it all the time and the only novelty these days is that we are now post-racial and supposedly beyond such things.

However, through it all, one word continues to fly under the radar as coded; community. Other than Dr. Andre’ Perry’s piece “Community engagement is a euphemism for “how to deal with black folk” in the Hechinger Report ( there has been a dearth of discussion on this point. Can it be that the colloquial use of the word community is so benign that we are blind to its nefarious usage?

A few years ago, I became acutely aware of the hidden meaning of the word when I had to explain to a room of academicians and health care professionals that “the community” was not some “other.” That the word they were using represented people just like themselves, their families, and their friends. Nevertheless, the use of the word community continued to be used to designate those who were typically low-income, low-level education, and persons of color.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes that “the community “ has nothing to offer; that it is only concerned with aggressively pointing out that it is being harmed, about to be harmed, or being left out of the decision making regarding its future. All of which are valid points for aggressive action; albeit uncomfortable for those whose actions create such situations. Such an approach negates people’s historical experiences, which are of tremendous value to decisions being made regarding their future. It also allows for the dehumanization of whole swaths of people, who become viewed from the outset, as problematic and to be dealt with.

If people are only viewed as problems then it follows that they need to be solved. Such a position then justifies the use of “the community” to try out the latest solution (aka experimentation) be it social, academic, or scientific/health. In the extreme, such a position justifies removal, be it social (internally displaced persons following Katrina/war on drugs); academic (rampant public school closings across major American cities); or scientific/health (forced sterilization in N. Carolina).

Lightly paraphrasing President Lyndon B. Johnson stated in 1965 “[America] should be a collection of communities where every member has a right to belong. It should be a place where every man feels safe on his streets and in the house of his friends. It should be a place where each individual’s dignity and self-respect is strengthened by the respect and affection of his neighbors. It should be a place where each of us can find the satisfaction and warmth which comes from being a member of the community of man. This is what man sought at the dawn of civilization. It is what we seek today.” Apparently the message got lost in the mail.


Does New Orleans Have a Future in STEM?

Panel at Silicon Bayou Town Hall in New Orleans on July 2, 2014.In late June, I participated in NPN’s Equity Breakfast discussion about equity, inclusion and economic growth in the City of New Orleans. Interestingly enough, just about a week later I moderated a town hall panel discussion on Inclusion in the Silicon Bayou as part of the Essence Festival’s #YesWeCode Hackathon. The focus of the hackathon was to look ways to bring more people of color into the tech industry via coding and web development.

Ironically, the town hall discussion spent very little time actually discussing coding and much time on where we are, as a community, in New Orleans and the obstacles related to accessing the tech world. There was also much conversation about solutions, which made for a very inspiring evening.

Most importantly for me, the town hall discussion meshed very well with the issue of equity, inclusion and economic growth. And for that reason, I am now a hardcore evangelist for STEM in New Orleans. STEM, for those who are unfamiliar, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Whether in computers or other related disciplines, New Orleans can benefit tremendously by adopting a STEM mindset for our youth. I should also mention that STEM goes beyond computer chips, Bunsen burners, and analogs to include the trades on which much of New Orleans black history rests.

STEM is a domino that provides skills for “good paying” jobs which leads to a decrease in crime and an increase in homeownership, small business ownership and entrepreneurism. These all contribute to a higher quality of life, which attracts more business, and so on. STEM sets our young people on a direct path for those high wage jobs as a part of the Silicon Bayou movement. When considering New Orleans role as a part of “Hollywood South,” movies are simply plays without the basic elements of STEM. The coming Health Corridor is set to generate some 40,000 jobs, most of which depend on an understanding of STEM components. Many folks lament the number of programs that are developed to attract new people to the city. STEM offers a pathway for New Orleanians to participate in city’s growth and future outside of the hospitality and retail industries. When we tell our youth that they can be anything they want to be, STEM offers a buffet of opportunities for what that anything can be.

Over the coming months, be on the lookout as we set our sights on uplifting existing STEM programs, creating coding training opportunities and continuing the discussion until it becomes part of regular conversation at the local barber shops and beauty salons. STEM is by no means the end all to be all, but it is a tremendous opportunity for New Orleans residents to take control of the future direction of our city for our young people.

As part of his opening remarks for the town hall, Van Jones of CNN’s Rapid Fire talk show shared a story of a young man with a bird in his hand asking an old, wise man, “Is the bird dead or alive?” After some consideration, the wise man responded, “What I do know regarding the bird’s life or death situation is, either way, it’s in your hands.” New Orleans, the future of our city and its youth is in our hands.


Why Jasmine Rice? (A Lesson in Culturally Competent Organizing)

A few weeks ago Alliance Institute partnered with Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training (VIET) to put on a health fair. A primary focus of the fair was the introduction of four of our other partners that are bringing health services to New Orleans East; a community with the highest density of Vietnamese families in the State of Louisiana.

Our quandary? How to make sure that participants in the fair, visited all of the partners embedded amongst the many vendors. The solution: establish a raffle whereby participants had to get a hole-punch from each partner to enter.

Rather than try to guess at what might entice members of the Vietnamese community to get all the requisite hole-punches, we went right to VIET, with the question of what the prize(s) should be (note: this is a mark of good organizing. Never assume that you know what is best for the community, ask and find out).

The answer? According to VIET’s Executive Director, Cyndi Nguyen, Jasmine Rice. An answer that elicited the title of this piece, “Why Jasmine Rice?” You see, our organization is made up of a mix of Black and White folks, who would never in a million years have guessed that jasmine rice was worthy of a raffle prize. Cyndi, however, informed us that her family alone (nuclear family, mind you) goes through fifty 25lb bags of Jasmine Rice each year. That’s 1,250lbs of rice for one household, my friend. Or as we might say in the vernacular-“that’s a lotta rice!”

On the day of the fair, we had 20 bags of Jasmine Rice on hand, to raffle off throughout the day. I won’t go into the stress felt by staff working the raffle due to the intense interest in winning; or the stories of folks trying to get a bag just because they got all of their hole-punches. Suffice to say that over 70% of the people who signed in, qualified for the raffle. Seventy per cent!

Were this an election, we’d declare a mandate. And as the United States of America wrestles with the ongoing change in demographics away from White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, towards darker peoples of more recently immigrated status, the Vietnamese community of New Orleans East illustrated for us, that afternoon, that if you want to be successful at organizing in non-white, middle-class communities, don’t assume you know – you betta ask somebody.