IS on the Road: Kerner Commission at 50

Last month, I had the opportunity to join my colleagues, Pickett Slater Harrington and Habib Bako, for a landmark conference with a policy agenda roadmap, Race & Inequality in America: The Kerner Commission. As members of Independent Sector’s racial equity working group, we hoped to bring back insights that we could use in our organization’s work.

This conference explored race, segregation, and inequality 50 years after the release of the historic Kerner Commission Report and was held February 27 – March 1 on both coasts with a satellite location at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California. The event was organized by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, the Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities Initiative, and the Economic Policy Institute. It was funded by the Ford Foundation and Spencer Foundation. The organizing conference committee provided the below as historical and current grounding:

In the mid-1960s, a series of violent police encounters with Black Americans sparked uprisings in more than 100 American cities. Shaken by the civil unrest across the nation in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the immediate causes of the rebellions, as well as the underlying conditions of racial segregation and discrimination that gave rise to them. Headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, with Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York as vice chairman, the Commission issued its landmark report, which became commonly known as the “Kerner Report,” on February 29, 1968.

The killings of unarmed Black teenagers that sparked #BlackLivesMatter, and the ensuing movement that grew out of it, have re-awakened American consciousness to the pervasiveness of segregation, inequality, and police brutality and violence. The rise of white nationalist movements in Charlottesville and beyond, protests on college campuses, state capitols, and elsewhere over monuments and buildings that honor figures responsible for slavery and segregation, race remains at the forefront of the currents of American life. The themes, findings, and recommendations of the Kerner Report have never seemed more relevant since its release.

As a follow up to the Kerner Commission’s key recommendations from 1968, the Economic Policy Institute has published a report as a follow-up on the original report’s findings, but 50 years later. The new report evaluates the data as it stands in 2018 on key areas such as educational attainment, unemployment, wages & income, family wealth, health, and incarceration. If you are interested in the original text and recommendations from the Kerner Commission, read the executive summary of their 1968 report.

So how does historical grounding in the Kerner Commission relate to the charitable sector or your organization’s work? The historical context, data demonstrating incremental progress, evidence of resegregation, and the recommendations generated at this convening should inform and guide our strategic priorities within the charitable sector. In all of the key areas noted within the original Kerner report, the charitable sector presently plays an increasingly vital role in delivering services, bridging the racial gap, and advocating for long-term policy fixes that will ultimately lead toward a more just and equitable country. Racial equity should be an essential objective of any organization advancing the common good. As agents within the charitable sector we should commit to both engaging in these difficult yet necessary conversations and consistently move work forward with an optimistic outlook in stride with the original text of the commission’s report, “This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible.”

In the spirit of true inclusiveness and access, the Baltimore satellite conference was made free and open to the public, and all conference materials (including video recordings of panels) will remain accessible through the main #Kerner50 page.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Administration, Civil Rights, IS Staff, Public Policy, Race, Equity, and Inclusion