“We live in a kind of nation in which where you life is a proxy for opportunity. You tell me your address, and I can not only tell you your likely access to jobs and transportation and parks and fresh fruits and vegetables. I can actually tell you your life expectancy,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works. “If you live in a poor community that is black and Latino and concentrated poverty, you are likely to have a life expectancy that is 10-15 years shorter than someone who lives a mile or two away in a more affluent community. That is shameful in a nation with the level of knowledge that we have.”
Blackwell's poignant keynote speech was one of the major highlights of the 2013 YWCA Racial Justice Summit at the Concourse Hotel Oct. 2. The annual summit brings together community stakeholders to work on eliminating barriers that foster racism in the Madison community. The summit focuses on institutional racism and involves nationally known keynote speakers and researchers, as well as local experts and advocates.
Another highlight of the event — after a welcome and introductions — was the YWCA and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) releasing their report titled Race to Equity: A Baseline Report on the State of Racial Disparities in Dane County. The report showed that some very alarming racial disparities exist right here in Madison.
The day continued with break-out sessions that tackled tough topics including “Promoting Employment, Financial Security and Economic Inclusion,” “Supporting Parents and Strengthening Families,” “Making Connections for Neighborhoods and Communities,” “Advancing Equity in Educational Opportunity and Achievement,” and “Reducing the Disproportionate Involvement of Children of Color in Dane County’s Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems.”
The afternoon featured more breakout sessions and a keynote speech by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., founder and program director for the White Privilege Conference.
Over lunch, La Movida Radio's Diego Campoverde-Cisneros was honored with the Alix Olsen Award for the Promotion of a Tolerant and Just Community. Campoverde-Cisneros, who moved to the United States from his native Ecuador, is currently production manager and radio host at the La Movida 1480 AM. His personal experiences and challenges he has faced as an openly gay Latino man has led him to focus his energy and passion on supporting Latino LGBTQ youth and raising awareness on LGBTQ issues in the Latino community.
“My passion revolves around social justice, equality, diversity, and inclusiveness,” Campoverde-Cisneros said. “My mission is not over. It really has just begun, but I need your support, encouragement, and your love.”
In 2010, Campoverde-Cisneros founded Alianza Latina, a support group for Latino LGBTQ youth in Dane County.
“I would like to thank my father who will turn 84 years old in December — I deeply love him,” Campoverde-Cisneros said. “I would like to thank Luis and Lupita Montoto and Midwest Family Broadcasting for deeply believing in me. But I want to dedicate this award for my beautiful and exceptional mother, Yolanda. This award is for her. I think about her every single day.”
Campoverde-Cisneros gave way to Blackwell, whose lunchtime keynote speech was titled “America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model.”
“Your [racial disparity] news is surprising for this place. I was getting ready for this conversation and I was in a meeting at an important national policy think-tank having a conversation about poverty with one of the nation's leading thinkers. I had a memo from staff that had a number of [Madison] data points and there came a moment where I mentioned that the unemployment rate for black men in Madison,” Blackwell said. “This person who I was talking to was incredulous. It got to the point where she just flat out said it wasn't so. She said, 'You must be talking about Milwaukee' or 'You must have the wrong state.' I was intimidated.
“I remembered that I immediately thought, 'Staff set me up for this,'” Blackwell continued with a smile. “But it's easy to be intimidated by the doubt. Who would ever believe that this [was happening in] Madison, Wisconsin?”
Blackwell said that we all have to get out of our assumptions about places that obtain a certain level — that they can't have these kinds of disparity problems. “We have to go to these places and understand the people and understand the issues,” she said. “I feel for you and I have high expectations for [Madison] for a number of reasons. I'm impressed because you are looking at data — you really are trying to understand what is going on. I'm impressed that you have so much to work with — so much in terms of wealth and education and employment and strategy. You have very clear directions about what you need to do to change it. I think you will do well.”
Blackwell is a national leader for social justice and equity, and through here work as CEO of PolicyLink she seeks to strengthen America by creating stronger low-income communities and communities of color.
“When as we look at who we are going to be as a nation as we look at the numbers, it is clear that the people who are now being disproportionately left behind will be the majority in the nation some day,” Blackwell said.
“Already, nearly 50 percent of all children in this country are of color — the exact number is 46.5 percent. By the end of this decade, the majority of all children in this country will be Latino, black, Asian-American, or some other group of color.”
She added that by 2043, the majority of all people in this nation will be of color. “Once that we recognize that our future depends on those who are too often left behind, the agenda for what we need to do takes on a new urgency,” Blackwell said. “The work is clearly in front of us. Getting equity right is a national imperative. We don't have that middle class that we are so proud of and it is the middle class that has made us proud. You take any poor country and what makes it poor is not the absence of rich people — every one of those countries have rich people. What makes it poor is the absence of a middle class.”
In order to have that middle class, she continued, we need to make sure that the people who will make up the future of America will have the education and the skills and the culture of participation to do that. “We know that the currency of the future is in technology, knowledge, and creativity,” she said. “This entrepreneurial spirit that has made this country so extraordinary and has come out of this entrepreneurial drive … Asians, Latinos, black people are 3 times as likely to start businesses. We need to capture that spirit and invest in it.”
Blackwell added that one of the things that she has learned over time is that when we solve problems for those of us who are the most vulnerable, we solve them for everybody.
“Too many Americans have been nostalgic for a nation that never was. We were never an all-white nation where everybody was doing fine,” she said. “Nostalgic for a time that never was while being in denial about a future that is inevitable. We have changed, we are changing. It's a gift. Everything that we need has been given to us. All we need to do is invest in it so that we can achieve the world that we want.”