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Sustaining and Refining the Effort

Moving from where we are today to a just and equitable society requires long-term and sustained effort. It takes times to bring people on board, agree on a plan and put it into action. Some trial and error is always involved.

Our original plans, even if they are implemented very well, may not get us to our goals so we revisit, refine and keep going. New leaders join the effort and the work transitions across political and other champions. Even when we achieve some of our goals - for example, expanded opportunities and access to good paying and highly skilled jobs, higher education and powerful leadership positions for previously excluded groups - past experience suggests constant effort is required to hold on to those gains.

Many racial equity or social justice efforts begin in response to a crisis or when energy is very high around the issue in question. Under those parameters, there are often early successes, a good sense of what people want to accomplish in the short term and genuine vision for the long-term. But, at some point along the way, work often stalls. It is useful to expect that momentum will lessen or even stop as people tire, take all the risks they can or leave the work for other reasons. In addition, if your work is successful at challenging current power relationships, you can expect organizational, system or individual resistance -- passive or active, conscious or without awareness.

The history of racial justice also shows constant patterns of retrenchment - some steps forward followed by some steps back - so that can also be expected for your work. For all those reasons, it is useful to include processes and strategies that allow you to rethink and regroup, as well as strategies to move forward past these moments and challenges - even if that requires some changes in strategy, leadership, resources and timing.

At those moments, it helps to have built a demand for your work among many groups, so you will have allies to stay the course and support to address areas of resistance. It also helps to have put in place public accountability processes - report cards, for example - so there are public incentives and consequences for progress or lack of progress. It also helps to model reflective practice - for the group to be held accountable for implementing actions fully and according to the best practices of that kind of work (high quality training, transparent decision making, honest and trusting alliances, etc.) - and to up the quality if it flags. It is also important to ground accountability in processes that are led by people of color, even when the work itself is led by people of color. The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond has shared its ideas about accountability widely, and points out that people of color and whites involved in social justice need to build relationships with constituencies who will keep them aware of the urgency and consequences of their work. All of these steps will help you keep good work going until it makes a difference.

This section provides information about:

  • Communication and Media: a) how to frame your message and use it as a strategy to move the work forward; b) several different communication methods from email newsletters, to community radio, to e-conferences; c) tips and tool for working with the media; and d) demographic and national attitude surveys to inform your messages.
  • Sustaining Coalition / Collaboration: a) forming and sustaining a coalition and collaboration; b) resources for working in multi-racial groupings, and building coalitions among different groups of color; and c) using accountability processes as a tool to help sustain a coalition.
  • Sustaining the Effort: a) forming a learning community and creating a reflective practice process; b) tools and resources to continue to build an organization's capacity to do this work; c) moving forward past resistance and retrenchment; d) tracking your progress and using data to sustain the work (see also Evaluation Tools for Racial Equity for a much larger set of resources on this topic); and d) resources and funding.
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