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The Anti-Racism Community Building Institute of South Florida

Broward County, Florida: Seeking to Close Racial Gaps

Narrowing the disparities gap" might well serve as the motto of the emerging Anti- Racism Community Building Institute of South Florida, which will enroll its first class this fall after a summer planning process. This institute is one of four that are being nurtured by the Institute for Democratic Renewal and Project Change (IDR/PC).

The South Florida institute is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County, and intends to reach out as soon as possible to serve Palm Beach County to the north and Dade County and Miami to the south, a region of about five million people.

Like the other anti-racism training institutes under the IDR/PC umbrella, the South Florida institute weaves together three components - undoing racism training, community organizing, and specific topical subjects. The Broward institute is focusing on narrowing disparities in four areas: community development, the economic system, education and the schools and the criminal justice system. About 25 participants will engage in each training.

Trainees will come from various disciplines, such as teachers, community advocates, law enforcement personnel, economic development officials, public officials, and grass roots people. Their subject area curriculum will include data that point out disparities, including achievement gaps between groups of students, arrest rates between different ethnic groups, the starkly different fortunes of small business developers and disparities in housing opportunities among different groups.

According to Don Bowen, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Broward County, the lead community partner and main local sponsor of the institute: "Circumstance seems to dictate that each institute quickly develops a signature focus. Ours will likely initially be the gross disparities in the 33311 zip code of the county, a huge unincorporated area that abuts six cities and towns and has become our Soweto. In less than three years, 33311 must, by legislative mandate, be incorporated into adjacent cities so that its inhabitants - poorer African Americans, Haitians and other recent immigrants will become real citizens, receiving the same level of public services that are received by those in wealthier, higher income incorporated areas of the county that are white."

"This zip code has been overlooked, this area has been neglected," continued Bowen. "We (the Urban League) have concentrated what we do in this one zip code, looking at the extremes that are greatest. The (anti-racism institute) won't be limited to 33311 but 33311 will be fertile for any action plans coming out of the training institute."

In choosing issues to address, the South Florida institute will take an incremental approach. "We want to choose issues that are winnable and that will produce incremental change," Bowen said. Sometimes community advocates want to go for a "home run" when tackling difficult issues. Such an approach can be discouraging, however. That is why the South Florida institute will look to "hit singles first."

The ultimate goal of the South Florida institute is to empower local people to make sure the political and economic systems "work for them and that their needs are being heard and their communities and interests are being represented," Bowen said. The conviction of the South Florida institute leadership is that it is more effective in the long run to have many community advocates trained in the nuts-and-bolt struggle against institutional racism than having a few community advocates like the Urban League.

This information was provided by: The Institute for Democratic Renewal.

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