Human Rights * Economic Development * Justice * Voting Rights *Education
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"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." - Daniel H. Burnham
“…As evidenced by their presence here today, (the broader American public) have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Increasingly, citizens and communities around the world are joining together to voice their demand for visionary and representative leadership, efficient government decision making and improved services. These citizen efforts are a push to: move beyond political constraints; strengthen communities; improve livelihoods; and add value to people’s lives in tangible and meaningful ways. These gatherings help people to articulate pains that often go unspoken and access wisdom from friends, neighbors and mentors. In coming together, we inspire, re-energize and redirect each other to meet the challenges that are brought before us. Our interactions enable us to not only name the pain but to see and express the nuances. Empowered in this manner, we are able to look within ourselves to summon the will and spirit required to press forward for another day, week, or month. And in this way, we are able to innovate and divine major solutions to the leadership challenges of our day.
The 2010 US Census reports significant demographic shifts in the United States population. The increased presence of Latino, African, Caribbean, Asian, Middle-Eastern and European Immigrant groups in urban centers such as Chicago. The Census also speaks to the migration of long-time residents of these urban and metropolitan centers to suburban areas or neighboring states. An interesting trend is the reverse migration or repatriation of the culturally rich and diverse African-American community from northern cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit to southern cities and rural communities in Georgia, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. While income equality continues to evade us, the United States will have population equality sooner than the 2040 projections. The Brookings Institution identifies the ageing Baby-Boomer group, birth and death rate trends, immigration and a diverse & robust American youth population as the source of these changes. This shift will continue to impact the way that citizens relate to each other and their government. If properly engaged and cultivated, this change is an opportunity for innovation and shared prosperity.
The 2012 General Elections highlighted the impact of these demographic changes on leadership processes. The coalition of voters that brought Barack Obama & Joseph Biden to power in 2008, successfully secured a second term for the Obama Biden team. This victory was especially significant because it was achieved despite a divided Congress, the actions of entrenched interest groups, a still rebounding economy and against a narrative that sought to define 2008’s historic election as “but a moment.”
The mainstream media has focused on the emergence, value and efficacy of the Latino community as an influential voting bloc and new power-brokers. This dynamic is presently on display in the push for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. In reality, the power shift is broader, deeper and encompasses interest groups and coalitions comprised of the African Diaspora (African-American, African Immigrant, Afro-Latino, Caribbean-American & Native American voters) in partnership with Latino, Asian-American, Middle-Eastern, European immigrant, Women, Millennial, Progressive and Independent voters. For citizen groups and leadership institutions, this new reality presents challenges and opportunities in terms of translating the potential of this coalition into policy victories at the state and local level. Communities are developing innovative outreach and civic engagement strategies to make a positive impact in the areas of education, economic development, health, public safety, immigration reform, environment and culture.
Recent mass citizen actions such as Brazil’s Free Pass Movement, Egypt’s Ongoing Democratic Uprisings, anti-austerity actions by citizens in Spain, Greece, England and Italy have shown the power that citizens possess. When leaders and citizens choose to peacefully and methodically challenge election results through their constitution and judiciary as was done in Ghana and Kenya, this speaks volumes and demonstrates the power of citizens and civil society organizations.
At the local and national level, civil society organizations such as Climate Parliament, Powershift, Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce, Urban Innovation Center, Bronzeville Visitors Information Center, the BlackStar Project, the Chicago Area Health and Medical Careers Program, the United African Organization, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, CivicLab, Asian American Business Expo, Village Leadership Academy are adding to the efforts of the Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, NAACP, National Action Network, Operation PUSH, NCNW and NOW to make a difference in the lives of everyday citizens.
Whether the action is: framing economic development, public health and safety issues in terms of universal human rights; having members of bona fide state civic organizations serve as deputy registrars to advance voter empowerment; educating and mobilizing voters to mount legislative challenges to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn critical parts of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs. Holder; organizing phonebanks, sms and social media outreach efforts to help communities change “stand your ground” laws in the jurisdictions where the law exists; or educating citizens about how the Illinois Power Agency Act can be used to advance green energy (solar, wind and hydro) and create manufacturing jobs; citizen groups are showing agency by actively determining how they will be governed, before, during and after elections.
Actions by civil society and diaspora groups continue to impact leadership processes, at the local and global level. The United States has the second largest African diaspora population after Brazil, followed by Colombia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to the Migration Policy Institute and the World Bank, diaspora populations in urban centers such as Chicago, New York, Newark, Columbus, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Los Angeles can be engaged and mobilized for innovation and development. I believe that the most direct path to empowerment is through informed, strategic and value adding engagement with educational, political and economic institutions that lead to shared prosperity and advancement.
It is important that all Americans and civic organizations are provided training, investment and assistance to strengthen our democracy. Workshops and trainings designed for diverse communities, will help to:
1. Advance the political socialization process;
2. Strengthen the participatory decision-making processes;
3. Build the capacity of citizens to partake more efficiently and effectively in local government decision-making;
4. Improve the transparent management of public resources; and
5. Advance human rights.
These stakeholder groups are key to moving core principles of freedom, justice, equality, balance, reciprocity and shared prosperity back to the "center" of our national discourse and policies. Watch this live panel discussion at www.rtleads.com or follow the conversation on Real Facebook or on Twitter by using the hashtag #innovation #democracy Please join us.
Introductory Remarks: B.F.A. Ofori-Atta, Founder and Managing Director, Real Time Leadership Solutions, Inc.
Opening Remarks: Lance Gough, Executive Director, Chicago Board of Elections
Panel Discussion & Breakout Sessions:
- Democracy & Governance: Local & Global
- Strategic Thinking & STEM Education
- Grassroots Curriculum Development
- Media Training & Youth Leadership
- Understanding the Justice System: the Role of Appellate Courts & Judges
- Human Rights, Public Health & Safety
- Economic Development & Community Investment
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Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
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50th Anniversary Coordinator
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