The Need to Connect

A few days ago, I was reading an interesting article entitled Separated at Birth in which the author seeks out adults who were born on the same day in the same hospital as he was in 1949. He describes a variety of common themes that he has with his fellow baby boom generation members, but one particular quote from one of his birth mates struck a chord. He suggested that the reason the author, Daniel Asa Rose, was on this quest was that,

You’re interested in what connects Homo sapiens. You grasp the plain, astronomical truth that we’re on a microscopic pebble hurtling through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour–and in a very real sense, connecting with one another is the only thing that matters.

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Since November’s election, I have received daily inquiries about how to respond. My usual quick response is to advise people to act locally and give hugs. While this may seem simple, what I am really suggesting is that the more we connect with each other, the harder it will be for those who seek to divide and conquer us to succeed.

Ever since he started his campaign, and throughout his first few months in office, the President has utilized classic demagoguery to disconnect us from each other. He and his allies actively encourage hatred, arrest and deportation of those who do not look like him. That is why so many of us have such an unsettled feeling. Since a healthy society requires that people connect with each other, living under the leadership of an administration that seeks to destroy that state of connection raises our anxiety level to unprecedented societal heights.

While I support those who seek to change the leadership in Washington, this task truly starts by digging deep community building roots at the local level. For me, it includes;

  • making eye contact as I walk down the street, thereby acknowledging the humanity of every stranger I encounter;
  • living in a neighborhood with sidewalks where neighbors and strangers regularly encounter each other on a daily basis;
  • mentoring youth who face daily struggles with poverty and discrimination;
  • supporting those released from incarceration to succeed upon entering our community;
  • leading my religious community in a manner that helps our community connect with disenfranchised communities in order to combat racism and xenophobia;
  • providing support to friends and family both near and far to maintain connections and offer help when needed;
  • leading a local lake district to work together to protect the environment;
  • engaging in genuine dialogue to build consensus to solve problems rather than sow divisiveness; and
  • providing unique legal and consulting services to disenfranchised clients who likely would not find the help they need elsewhere.

These paths of connection are simply the ones that I choose. Everyone can choose their own path to connect with friends, family, neighbors and strangers, but connect we must. Through a web of connection, we can build hope. Failure to do so will allow demagoguery to prevail.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Responding to Hate

As a civil rights attorney, I have spent over 3 decades using the tools of my trade to respond to hate that has been unleashed upon my clients. However, until recently, society has generally supported victims of hate and vilified the hate mongers. Sadly, the campaign and subsequent election of our president-elect has resulted in something I had hoped I would never see in my lifetime-the legitimization of hate.

Even a casual news observer cannot help but notice the daily occurrences of swastika graffiti, beatings and even killings of Muslims, and shaming of schoolchildren of color. On the Saturday night before this past Halloween, I went to see friends who perform in a local band at a nearby neighborhood club. Many were dressed up in a wide variety of costumes. Before the show, a complete stranger sitting next to me wearing a long Pinocchio nose, apparently thought it was completely ok to tell me a vile anti-semitic joke. Whether he knew I was Jewish does not matter. What was most disturbing was that he felt completely free to spew his hate in public to a total stranger.

Though I consider myself a strong advocate, I was so stunned when that stranger shared his anti-semitism with me that I failed to respond. I have been thinking about this incident ever since to try to understand my failure to respond. Beyond just being in shock, I also did not want to cause a scene at an otherwise festive public affair. But after I posted this incident on Facebook and a number of friends said they would have responded strongly, I realized 2 important things:

  • Never judge how someone responds to a crisis because you never know how you will respond if confronted with the very same crisis; and
  • It is often easier to respond on behalf of someone else than to actually defend yourself.

Sadly, once the election was over, the president-elect moved quickly to make sure the world understood that he would continue to legitimize hate when he appointed a purveyor of hateful prejudice, Steve Bannon, as his Chief Strategist, a position in the White House that has never previously existed. For those who are unaware, Bannon was the editor of Breitbart.com before joining the president-elect’s campaign. In that capacity, he regularly denigrated Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, people of color and women, and he did so in vile and hateful language. Until recently, such a man would not be accepted in civil society, but since the president-elect has normalized hate and prejudice, he has now welcomed it, through Bannon’s appointment, to the highest level of his White House.

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Fortunately, yesterday, I was given a chance to respond belatedly to the anti-semitism I experienced, when a local TV news reporter called me in my role as President of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, to ask if I would be willing to publicly respond to my Congressman Mark Pocan’s call that the president-elect withdraw Bannon’s appointment. I gladly agreed to do so and you can watch my interview at this link.

During this interview, I was able to convey the following in response to Bannon’s appointment and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s acceptance of it:

“Our president-elect has chosen to legitimize hate within his own administration. We had a big Bat Mitzvah this past weekend (and) people are worried. They’re very worried. He has an opportunity – Speaker Ryan – to say directly to the President of the United States – hate does not belong in the White House. I understand that he was just renominated as Speaker of the House, but that’s not leadership to duck a question like that.”

This TV news story not only provide me with the opportunity to delegitimize hate, but as the story has been shared widely, local leaders have approached me to work with them to strategize on an organized local response. I look forward to doing so in the days and weeks to come. Unfortunately, given the results of our recent election, this will just be the first of many battles which good people simply cannot shy away from. The timing and manner of each of our responses to hate will vary, but respond we must.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Building Community: Now more than ever

Like many people around the world, the election of an American President who has actively engaged in and encouraged racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, frightens me. It reminds me of why I never bank on electoral politics to provide the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s problems. Of course, I vote, but in the end of the day, I only have one vote, and in this particular instance, even when the candidate I favored won a majority of the popular vote, our political system nevertheless gave the Presidency to her opponent.

I have spent my entire professional career working for progressive systems change. This election does not alter that. In fact, it will only cause me to work harder on behalf of the disenfranchised people I represent. A former colleague once called me a “good loser.” At first I did not understand that she was giving me a compliment. Then, she explained, that I never give up even after losing a hard fought battle. I simply examine the new situation for the best way forward and get back to working on making our world a better place. That is what we all must do right now.

Starting last night, many people have asked me what they can do in response to America electing perhaps the scariest President in its history. My sister-in-law just called me in tears. The vast majority of our nation was targeted by our President-elect, including women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, and people with disabilities, as somehow less worthy. But we know better. We also know that, now more than ever, we need each other, and together we can still accomplish great things.

So, here are a few suggestions (with underlined links to prior posts for more detail):

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So, today, give hugs to friends and family. Tomorrow, start looking for local projects that you can dive into to make your local community a better place. Together we can build community and create a better world for everyone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

We are all Muslims

While many have weighed in on the racist xenophobia spewed by Donald Trump’s call for registering American Muslims and keeping Muslim visitors and refugees out of our country we know as the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must also face the very scary question of what each and every American would do if this very dangerous fascist actually became the President of the United States.

At times like these, each of us must decide whether we will allow racism and xenophobia to divide friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, or whether we will choose to fight back and unite against fascism.

Recently, Israel honored a non-Jewish American soldier for his bravery in saving other Jewish prisoners during World War 2. As reported by the Jerusalem Post:

An American non-commissioned officer who defied the Nazis while in captivity by refusing to identify Jewish POWs was posthumously honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

The title, granted after extensive research and corroboration, is intended to honor those who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the US 422nd Infantry Regiment was the senior officer in the American section of the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp.

When Nazi guards demanded all Jewish prisoners report the following morning, in a move reminiscent of the movie Spartacus, Edmonds instructed all soldier inmates in the camp to show up alongside their Jewish comrades.

When camp commandant Major Siegmann saw the entire American contingent standing and identifying as Jews he exclaimed, “they cannot all be Jews,” and Edmonds replied, “we are all Jews.”

Siegmann then drew his pistol on Edmonds, who coolly responded that “according to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

Outfaced by Edmonds, the commandant turned and walked away.

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Edmonds was not Jewish. But to combat the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, he declared himself and all of his fellow soldiers Jewish.

I am not Muslim, but if Trump is elected as the next President of the United States and he starts registering American Muslims, I will do as Sgt. Edmonds did. I will stand with my Muslim friends, neighbors and fellow Americans, and declare myself to be Muslim.

Our country will not become safer through hate and xenophobia. It will become safer by expanding the compassion footprint  as the wise Muslim author Dahlia Mogahed co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, speaks about. When I heard her speak in Madison some time ago, she explained that just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion. However, this does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary. Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Donald Trump: a 21st Century Charles Lindbergh?

As the nation suffers through Donald Trump’s bombastic racist xenophobic campaign for President, and wonders whether his campaign will have enough staying power to carry him into the White House, I was reminded of Philip Roth’s fictional account of Charles Lindbergh’s defeat of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential campaign, entitled The Plot Against America.

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While Lindbergh is best remembered for his valiant trans-Atlantic flight, during the 1930s, he revealed himself to be a known anti-semitic Nazi sympathizer. Nazi military leader Herman Göring presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, in 1938, the same award the Nazis presented to another famous American anti-Semite, Henry Ford earlier that year.

Lindbergh actively opposed entry into World War 2, which was not that uncommon prior to Pearl Harbor. What was more disturbing about Lindbergh’s opposition to the war was his clear sympathy for the so-called racial purity theories espoused by the Nazis. He spoke at America First rallies and in 1939, published an article entitled Aviation, Geography, and Race in Reader’s Digest in which he stated,

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

In his diaries, Lindbergh wrote,

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

While Lindbergh did not run for President, he had an avid following which makes Roth’s book both realistic and frightening. I highly recommend it, and for those who have not read it, I will not reveal the ending.

I doubt that Roth had Trump in mind when he wrote The Plot Against America, but the lessons in that book which reveal how racist xenophobia can quickly catch fire in our nation and potentially elect a candidate who spews vile hate to the most powerful job in the world are well worth heeding. Recently, some have compared Trump to the infamous red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, and like McCarthyism, the media has some responsibility in fueling Trump’s rise.

Hopefully, Trump will not rise as far as McCarthy, but will fall as hard as he did when he was finally discredited. Whether you prefer the McCarthy comparison or the Lindbergh comparison, Trump’s vile racism does not belong in the White House. Our nation has a long way to go in defeating racism, but we turned a corner in electing Barack Obama twice, and we must not allow the pendulum to swing so far back we end up with a xenophobic racist in the White House.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Using All the Puzzle Pieces to End Racism

My community is reeling in the aftermath of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black teen. While Madison anxiously awaits for the release of the state Department of Justice’s investigation into this killing, and whether or not the police officer will be prosecuted by the Dane County District Attorney, protests continue and acrimony remains high.

It is important to understand the larger context of this shooting to fully understand the furor of the protests. Despite its image as a progressive community, Madison’s racial disparities in school, incarceration and poverty are well documented. In fact, it is not unreasonable to describe Madison and the entire state of Wisconsin as having the worst racial disparities in the nation. I have previously written about the need for Madison to move from worst to first in this critical area.

It is not surprising then, that a group such as Young, Gifted & Black has surged to the forefront of the protests since Tony Robinson’s violent death at the hands of a police officer. This group has organized protests and shouted out demands for change at mayoral debates. Earlier this week, they blocked traffic for 7 hours in a major 6 lane artery in front of my son’s high school, causing disruption throughout the day.

Some, including Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, have chastised the tactics of some of the more vocal protestors, suggesting that “you deserve anything that you have coming to you when you engage in that sort of rhetoric.” Such statements only add fuel to the fire and suggest that the Police Chief could use some help editing his blog and before he speaks publicly.

Other voices are more moderate, calling for change and understanding. Rev. Alex Gee has led this group dubbing his movement, “Justified Anger.” Rev. Gee and I have discussed the need for a systems change approach to end racism in Madison.

Sadly, the power structure in Madison and the State of Wisconsin simply has not changed with regard to its failure to own genuine accountability for these horrific racial disparities which are ruining so many lives and poisoning our society at large. Indeed, Madison voters appear to accept the status quo in recently re-electing the mayor who has presided over these persistent racial disparities for so many years.

Systems change does not come easily and it takes many actors working the system in many ways. Rather than fighting about whether someone’s methods are effective or not, recognizing that no one method will solve the gigantic and historic problem of racism, will help all those working on the problem understand that they should support each puzzle piece in fitting together to solve the problem even if it is not a puzzle piece they choose to own for themselves.

Recently, I was reminded that one of the puzzle pieces involves bringing the community together in  joyous ways. Last weekend, the Madison East High Jazz Orchestra played a wonderful free concert at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. From a young, gifted and black singer who channelled Stevie Wonder and James Brown IMG_2565to the son of Madison School Superintendent who loved dancing to the music, IMG_2564this concert helped students feel pride in their accomplishment and the community recognize that there are many ways to come together to solve the problems or racism including music and dance.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Ubuntu: I Am because You Are

My wife and I recently attended a wonderful concert performed by the South African musical legends Hugh Masakela and Vusi Mahlasela.  During the concert, these musicians, who played key roles in South Africa’s struggle to break free from apartheid, and are now touring to celebrate 20 years of freedom, introduced the concept of Ubuntu.  While the literal translation of this Nguni Bantu term is “human kindness,” Masakela and Mahlasela presented it as a Southern African existential philosophy: I am because you are.

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I have been thinking of this strong belief in connectedness as my community struggles with the recent police shooting of Tony Robinson, an unarmed African-American teen, just a few blocks from my home, which has led to peaceful protests and calls for change in police practices.  Much has been written about this tragic event, which is still under investigation.  One of the best statements comes from the YWCA, which concludes by stating:

we need to remember that justice for Tony isn’t only about Tony. It is about justice for all.

There are many ways in which our community can move forward.  As I have written previously,  Ending Racism Requires Systems ChangeThe racial disparities in Madison are among the worst in the nation, but that should only motivate us to work harder to change that equation.  I have previously proposed the concept of Moving from Worst to First: Creating the Madison Model and  perhaps transforming Justice for Tony into the change we want to be is the best way to create Justice for All.

However, until each one of us recognizes the core value of UbuntuI am because you are, through which everyone understands that we will never overcome hatred and racism and achieve justice for all until we all recognize that each of us exists for each other, the hopes and dreams of all those who want to transform Justice for Tony into Justice for All will remain elusive. Everyone is responsible for building the community we want to be: police, civic leaders, our neighbors and the strangers amongst us.  Everyone is because we are.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Problem Solving=Effective Systems Change

Wherever one looks, problems confront us.  We face serious problems as individuals, in our local communities, our nation & worldwide.  While lawyers are often accused of creating problems, the best lawyers know that that real success for their clients means solving their problems.  This is true in my work as an attorney and systems change consultant.  Clients come to me with problems.  My job is to solve their problems.

Of course, saying this is easier said than done, and part of my job is to help clients set realistic expectations as some problems are beyond my ability to solve.  Frequently, clients approach me with so much anger and frustration that they are unable to focus on actual problem solving.  That means that my initial work is to help them keep their eyes on the prize by helping them strip their anger away to see how solving their problem will provide a much better long term solution than simply providing fuel to their anger.

Current events in Ferguson, with ripple effects nationwide, reveal genuine anger.  Anger at police; anger at rioters; anger at institutionalized racism and all that comes with it: poverty, inadequate education and health care, excessive incarceration and the list goes on.  But, where our leaders have failed the people of Ferguson and all the rest of us who struggle to overcome these longstanding problems, is that while they cite statistics justifying anger, or try to calm legitimate anger through calming words, our leaders are failing to engage in systemic problem solving.

Problem solving certainly requires clear identification of the problem.  But that is merely a first step as problem identification alone will never solve the problem.  In fact, identifying a problem without solving it is more likely to fuel anger than solve the problem.

Once the problem is identified, the next steps which must be taken to solve the problem include:

  1. Finding workable solutions, ideally a solution that has demonstrated efficacy, as Kalamazoo has done for our public schools.
  2. Set realistic goals for solving the problem, track progress, and hold those responsible for reaching those goals accountable for the success or failure.
  3. Provide inspiration to those struggling to solve the problem, as it can be a long, hard, frustrating endeavor that without inspiration, will only fuel frustration and despair.
  4. Sustain hope for those seeking solutions, as without it, many will fail to engage in the struggle to solve big problems.

Struggling to overcome problems, large and small, is part of the human condition.  The question is whether we stay mired in complaining about our problems or engage in genuine problem solving.  I have devoted my career and much of my private life to problem solving.  If more of us do the same, we will succeed in solving more problems, sooner rather than later.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you solve problems through effective, progressive systems change contact him through his his Systems Change Consulting web site.

Soul has no Color

Last night, my wife & I had the privilege of watching the incomparable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 72 years strong, perform an incredible concert.  Her opening act was comedian Jonathan Slocumb, whose job was to pump up the crowd for Aretha.  In honoring the Queen of Soul, Slocumb reminded the Wisconsin State Fair crowd, which came from all walks of life, as depicted here, that Soul has no Color.” 

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The comedian’s profound statement, which he based on one’s soul being internal, and therefore not based on skin color, reminded me of my 9th grade Social Studies teacher, who happened to be an African-American teacher in a high school filled with mostly Jewish students.  When it came time for her to teach the section on race, she started by saying that she hated teaching that topic and though she would follow the curriculum by teaching us about the then current definitions of Caucasoid, Negroid, & Mongoloid so-called “races,” she wanted us to understand that she believed there was only one race: the human race.  For many years after that profound and unforgettable lesson, whenever I had to fill out forms to identify my race, I checked the “other” box and filled in the blank, “human.”

Needless to say, race and racism are complex issues, often encumbered by ever shifting definitions of race.  Prior to Loving v. Virginia, when the Supreme Court struck down anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, as unconstitutional, many states defined race (particularly African-Americans) by percentage and these definitions varied from state to state.  Indeed, the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court established the concept of “separate but equal,” was based on Louisiana’s definition of a “black” man which included Homer Plessy who was classified as an “octoroon” since his ancestry was 1/8 black, and therefore he was forbidden to sit in the “whites-only” section of the train.

More recently, one must wonder why there was so little outrage when the data was recently released revealing that the life span gap between whites and blacks, while narrowing nationwide, increased significantly in Wisconsin.  As the City of Milwaukee’s Medical Director aptly put it,

What you have here in Wisconsin is an environment which is not healthy for children of color, and this is the main driver of differences in life expectancy.

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Thus, while there are certainly racial disparities all over the place, many of which are abhorrent, and must be addressed through systems change, I yearn for the day when we can look beyond the color as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it so well, 

I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Because, soul has no color.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Moving from Worst to First: Creating the Madison Model

This past fall, the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families released its Race to Equity report on the state of racial disparities in Dane County, Wisconsin.  The data was alarming, including:

  • A Black unemployment rate of 25%–5 times higher than the 5% unemployment rate for non-Hispanic Whites: worse than the Wisconsin ratio of 23:7%; and far worse than the national ratio of 18:8%;
  • An even more shocking poverty disparity with 75% of Dane County Black children living in poverty compared to 5% of Non-Hispanic White children: once again far worse than the Wisconsin disparity of 49:12%; and the national disparity of 39:14%.

Academically, the disproportional disparities persist in Dane County:

  • 70% of Black students did not take the ACT in 2011, compared to 36% of non-Hispanic Whites, contrasted with the state wide non-participation rate of 50:41%;
  • 50% of Black students in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) did not graduate in 4 years in 2011, compared to 16% of Non-Hispanic Whites, contrasted with a 36:9% ratio statewide.

Arrest rates are also alarming:

  • Juvenile arrest rates in 2010 were a shocking 46.9% of Black juveniles arrested in Dane County, while only 7.7% of White juveniles were arrested, compared to a 32.9:9.8% statewide ratio, and a 7.1:3.3% national ratio;
  • Adult arrest rates in 2012 show a similarly shocking 29.5% of Blacks arrested in Dane County, while only 3.6% of whites were arrested, compared to a 23:5.3% statewide ratio, and a 8.2:3.3% national ratio.

Much has been written about these shocking numbers and their human toll, with great leadership being demonstrated in the African-American community, particularly by Rev. Alex Gee, whom I wrote about previously.

However, 6 months after this compelling report which basically describes Madison and Dane County as perhaps the worst place for African-Americans to live in the nation, none of the institutions responsible for this ongoing tragedy: our schools systems; our system of justice; or our economic policy makers; have made specific commitments to stem the tide of this tragedy.

When I last met with Rev. Gee a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that his leadership had presented a unique opportunity to move Madison and Dane County from the Worst to the First in the nation on addressing racial disparities.  While many may be skeptical and remain satisfied with tinkering around the edges to seek and hopefully obtain minor, incremental improvements, I believe that with:

  • clearly identified, measurable goals,
  • community-wide support to achieve those goals,
  • policy changes and programs designed to achieve those goals; and
  • clear accountability for community leaders to take credit for achieving those goals and blame for failure to do so,

we can create The Madison Model for ending racial disparities, and more importantly, achieving racial justice as an example for the nation.

Skeptics will argue that my suggestions are naive and such dramatic improvement simply cannot be achieved.  Indeed, without clear measurable goals, community-wide support to achieve those goals, policy changes and programs designed to achieve those goals, and clear accountability for community leaders to achieve those goals, Madison and Dane County will likely stay mired in its misery of racial injustice.  Fortunately, Rev. Gee’s coalition has galvanized many and will be convening organizing meetings on March 29th & April 5th to move this process forward.  I look forward to participating in both sessions to continue our work in moving Madison from Worst to First.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.