Ideological divides about how to address policing, poverty, and racial injustice can seem unbridgeable.
But ACT NOW, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing persistent social inequalities, has shown people can come together. Currently in 15 U.S. cities, ACT NOW convenes citizens, local leaders, law enforcement, faith organizations, and others who want to unite to improve their communities. Its People’s Commissions collaborate to eliminate the root causes of racial injustice by promoting equal rights. And ACT NOW’s 5-step process offers communities a methodology to uncover the barriers that keep people from having the community they want—and a plan to address those challenges.
ACT NOW’s growth in these communities has occurred organically — largely by word-of-mouth between individuals and innovators who reject polarization. The OK Justice Circle is one of ACT NOW’s grassroots partners. In a packed room in Oklahoma City, the OK Justice Circle and ACT NOW supporters from the Stand Together community recently convened residents who want to work together to solve the state’s toughest problem.
The conversation at the Breaking Bread breakfast event, facilitated by Stand Together Director of Strategic Partnerships Branden Polk, centered on bridging divides across racial, socioeconomic, and political lines. Each table was composed of attendees from different backgrounds, with different lived experiences. The goal of these small group discussions was to help people see dignity and value in each other by finding common ground and understanding each person’s experiences.
People want change, explained one local news station that covered the event. For those seeking to be change makers, Polk suggested they remember Frederick Douglass’s final words: Agitate, agitate, agitate. Polk asked that participants agitate to change the extreme narratives that are determined to keep people separate; agitate to transform the structures that drive racial injustice in their communities; and agitate by becoming social entrepreneurs who build trust in the people who need it most. Polk also asked audience members to sign the Heal America Pledge, which commits individuals to agitate while adhering to the principles of courage, justice, love, and redemption.
“Some people in the country think we are beyond racial discrimination. Others think that the country’s founding principles are more hypocritical than aspirational and therefore the country must be torn down,” said Polk. “These extremes don’t represent where most people are on the issue of race. In fact, data tells us that 77 percent of Americans are eager to collaborate with one another to solve problems, including those manifestations of racial injustice.”
Participants at the event, which was the fourth in the OK Justice Circle’s Breaking Bread series, had an opportunity to ask each other tough questions, see one another’s humanity, and establish relationships that will help their community solve problems surrounding racism, poverty, justice, and policing.
Calling the breakfast series “a model” for other communities, Polk concluded, “When you come together and you start breaking bread together … it lets people know that we’re not so different after all. We have similar values. We share principles, and we want to find a way to work together to make our communities better.”
Watch the report below from the Oklahoma City breakfast event: