The overall purposes of the RELE Sessions℠ are to help build and sustain individual and organizational capacities to: 1) better understand and discuss how race is impacting policies, practices, and services that contribute to racial disparities across multiple systems; 2) help develop policies, programs, and practices that will help safely reduce racial/ethnic disparities and improve outcomes for all children and families; 3) provide guidance that will help agencies and systems respond to the needs of poor and culturally diverse families and communities in ways that are more culturally competent and sensitive; and 4) advocate for better access to effective legal representation whenever involvement with child welfare, juvenile, civil and criminal justice systems is required.
What is missing from reform efforts? We believe that what has been glaringly absent from recent system reform efforts aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of all children, families and communities has been the ability and sometimes willingness, to think aloud about how race still matters. Through our RELE Sessions℠ we have been fortunate to convene multiple stakeholders and jurisdictions across the country who have been willing. They have continued to examine how, through policy and practice, unconscious negative assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes about race and poverty might be continuing to influence how their respective systems respond or fail to respond to the needs of poor children, families and communities of color. Both during and after the RELE Sessions℠ participants continue to work together: using data, tools and constructs to examine how and why race may still matter; developing action strategies aimed at improving outcomes for children, families and communities; and challenging deeply held assumptions, beliefs and unconscious stereotypes about why certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely to be poor, more likely to live in poor neighborhoods and less likely to experience well-being.
Why conversations about race can be difficult? There are many reasons why it can be difficult for individuals, organizations and systems to have meaningful conversations about how race and poverty and to examine how these issues negatively influence the response to the needs and aspirations of children, families and communities of color. Some of those reasons have to do with the following: 1) Initial conversations are often reactive, occurring during or immediately after an unfortunate event or episode. Past feelings and unhealed wounds become exposed making it difficult to seek understanding and find common ground. 2) Our lived experiences are different and in many respects remain very different in part because of a legacy of continual racial segregation in housing and education that allow too many of us to hold on to a set of historic assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes. 3) Many believe that we are in a race neutral, post-civil rights era where race is no longer a determining factor relative to how individuals and groups gain access to opportunity and achieve success. Therefore the assumption is that race should no longer be central to any systemic reform effort.