It’s a conversation few people want to have. It makes us uncomfortable. Tense. Pits people against each other. It’s a conversation about racism. How to confront it and how to prevent it. “Undoing racism.” Is that even possible? One nonprofit executive has been committed to finding out, speaking loudly and clearly on the subject, since 2010. And, she is doing it to fight for the rights of African-American children in the child welfare system and to fight inherent prejudices in our community.
Cindy Booth is the executive director of Child Advocates, a non-profit organization in Indianapolis, that serves abused and neglected children, providing court-appointed special advocates to represent them in court and in the foster care system.
Studies have shown that Marion County has much higher numbers of African-American children in the child welfare system – in past years rising as high as 70% – and those numbers were unsettling to Booth.
“I thought, as advocates for children, we needed to see if we were doing anything to perpetuate the dismal disproportionality,” she said. “I wondered what we were doing that brings such high numbers of African-American children into the foster care system, compared to other races? What training and policies do we need to look at?”
Booth had heard stories of child welfare workers arriving with a car seat when they were going to the home of an African-American family, instinctively preparing to remove the child from the house. That didn’t happen as often for a white family. “We have studies that show that African-American parents are no more likely to harm their children than parents of other races,” says Booth.
And she heard stories of unequal treatment of African-American children in the juvenile justice system, some getting harsher sentencing than white children facing the same charges. Booth says, “As the voice of the child, we hope to create an atmosphere and culture that promotes and supports having a race equity lens.”
WHAT MATTERS MOST: THE MISSION TO FIGHT INEQUALITIES
Booth was on a mission to look at biases, within the child welfare system, that might make the system treat a black child differently than a white child. That led Booth to reach out to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an anti-racism training institution from New Orleans.
And now, since 2010, Child Advocates has invited the People’s Institute to host more than 40 “Undoing Racism” workshops for child welfare workers, community organizations and the Central Indiana community, involving people of all races. The People’s Institute focuses on the history of race, what racism is and how it can be undone as a nation, not just in the child welfare system.
I attended my first “Undoing Racism” workshop this summer, as a consultant for Child Advocates, and I found it mind-blowing, teaching us race history that we may have never learned.
RACE IS A MYTH, A STORY CONSTRUCTED LONG AGO
Rick Derksen, a white trainer at the People’s Institute, stated, “Race is a myth, a story that we constructed,” and it was constructed, in part, he said, to separate people by skin color as a way to validate slavery, with blacks placed on the bottom of a race hierarchy. It is a story that we’ve lived into for centuries and it takes time to change it. (A PBS series, “Race – the Power of an Illusion,” explores this subject further.)
Barbara Major, an African-American trainer, discussed why it is crucial to talk about race today. “Racism is so insidious and a part of every aspect of our lives,” she said. “If we don’t figure out what it is and how it functions, we’ll stay a very confused nation with the potential of imploding as a society.” So the People’s Institute creates safe places for people of all races to have this conversation, to better understand race history and each other’s experiences.
UNDOING RACISM SPEAKERS SERIES IN INDIANAPOLIS
The workshops have been so successful that Cindy Booth is now bringing the People’s Institute trainers to Indy for a four-part “Undoing Racism” Speakers Series this fall. It’s free and open to the public. Joyce James, one featured speaker, will discuss the oppressive impact of 400 years of racial inequities on African-Americans.
“Racism is embedded into the very fabric of our systems and institutions,” she says. “There is a history to it. Learning the history helps shift our thinking from, ‘What’s wrong with African-Americans?’ to ‘What’s happened to them?” James believes that, when we learn the true history of racism, people of all races can work collaboratively to undo it.
Another featured speaker, Berwick “Mahdi” Davenport, says “Black people think racism is designed to hurt them but it’s really designed to keep power among the ruling class.” He will launch the Speakers Series with a discussion about how African-Americans can identify their own power and embrace their uniqueness.
And, Cindy Booth says the “Undoing Racism” Speakers Series and workshops are for everyone, professionally and personally. “It’s a conversation for blacks, whites and everybody,” says Booth. “We can’t continue in hatred. We can’t continue in distrust. It will destroy our country. Attend this series and the workshops to look at history in a different way.”
The first “Undoing Racism” Speakers Series takes place on Thursday, Sept.15, at Martin University, and will continue at new locations, with new speakers, once a month through December. I urge you to gather your friends and family and attend this free “Undoing Racism” Speakers Series. Color is only skin deep. We are much more alike than we are different and when we aren’t afraid to talk about our problems, no matter how controversial, we break down the barriers between us. That is what matters most. Uniting against racism.
To register for any of the Speakers Series, contact Nikita Garner, with Child Advocates, at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 317-493-2227. Go to Child Advocates for full details. If you want to see change, be a part of the solution. Do you agree?