Voices for Racial Justice expands community organizing focus

Voices for Racial Justice staff receive the 2015 Justice for Peace Award nomination from Archie Davis of Duluth, who made the surprise announcement at the Racial Justice Rally on February 18. Pictured from left to right are Vina Kay, Archie Davis, Julia Freeman, Mónica Hurtado, Gabriella Deal-Márquez and Suzanne Joyce
Voices for Racial Justice staff receive the 2015 Justice for Peace Award nomination from Archie Davis of Duluth, who made the surprise announcement at the Racial Justice Rally on February 18. Pictured from left to right are Vina Kay, Archie Davis, Julia Freeman, Mónica Hurtado, Gabriella Deal-Márquez and Suzanne Joyce.

On February 18, Voices for Racial Justice (VRJ) held a rally at Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill, 105 University Avenue, St. Paul. The event was a collaboration of community leaders and organizations to give a voice and bring attention to racial equity in the state of Minnesota. The 2013-14 Legislative Report Card and the 2015 Racial Equity Agenda were also released that day.

Vina Kay is the executive director of VRJ, located in Minneapolis on Franklin Avenue. She has been at VRJ for three-and-a-half years. She came on originally as director of research and policy when the 21-year-old organization was still called the Organizing Apprenticeship Project. The organization’s initial work was community organizing around racial justice issues.

VRJ has since expanded beyond community organizing “into leadership training and training in institutions, all focused on racial justice,” explains Kay. “The second part [of our programs] is what we call “strategic convening. That is our work to build multi-racial and multi-cultural spaces where people of color come together, not only to talk about problems that we are facing in Minnesota as communities of color, but also what are solutions.”

“Our premise,” she continues, “is ‘If we have all these huge disparities in Minnesota, the best way to solve problems and come up with solutions is to work with communities of color to develop them. [Communities of color] rarely have a voice. They are rarely at the decision-making table and rarely seen in government. We intend to break that system down as a way of changing that.”

VRJ training programs aim at improving inequitable systems. One such program, the Community Organizer Program, “is grassroots training,” says Kay. “We are working across race and culture. Sometimes we need to meet in our own communities, but sometimes we all need to meet together to move things.” This training includes racial justice analysis, relationship building opportunities, and practical skill building.

They also offer Racial Justice Leadership Development:We train individuals and organizations to strengthen their racial justice leadership. Through these sessions, individuals and organizations deepen their capacity and conceptual clarity about moving racial justice inside their organization. Participants learn how to develop a racial justice lens as an integral part of their organizational culture and develop a strategic plan to move racial justice into the center of the organization.”

VRJ is currently working on taking their Education Equity program to the next level in an attempt to close gaps and create an education system that works for everyone. “We must place equity at the center of its definition… Together, we developed the Education Equity Rubric that names eight equity goals and allows parents, students, administrators and teachers to identify the systemic barriers preventing students of color and American Indian students from reaching their potential,” says Kay.

Voices for Racial Justice is home to ARCHé (Alliance for Racial and Cultural Health équity), a project that seeks to grow the voice and power of communities of color and American Indians throughout Minnesota. Through Voices’ health equity initiative, they seek to change the systems and policies that, through structural racism, are negatively impacting the well-being of communities of color.

“We seek to dismantle barriers to health equity that include inequitable data collection, access to health insurance, employment, housing, and transportation,” explains Kay.

The Greater Visions project connects leaders for racial equity in communities and tribal nations across Minnesota. “We offer opportunities to develop capacity, for racial justice training, and to co-create community narratives and regional racial equity agendas.”

VRJ wants to be sure they are doing what the communities want and need them to do. “We want to work more closely with communities of color to have them tell us what they want and [tell us] how can we support that,” explains Kay.” How can we support that work, and how can we bring communities together?”

 Brandi Phillips welcomes reader responses to bphillips@spokesman-recorder.com.