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The World Conference on Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality in 2012
This was the fourth conference initiated by the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice. Earlier meetings were in Minneapolis in 1996, Australia in 1998, and South Africa in 2001. The conference harnessed the wisdom and research of the world's top thinkers on economic inequality to produce practical results that can be applied at the local level.

On the 20th anniversary of the Roy Wilkins Center, leaders of communities of color, academics, nonprofit leaders, and public policymakers from across the globe worked in collaboration for three days to examine successful, localized solutions to racial and ethnic economic inequality. The 4th World Conference on Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality is sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners.

Conference topics were:

  • What is the trade-off between continual growth and persistent inequality?
  • Does the concentration of poverty in a specific place trump factors of race and ethnicity?
  • Will a race-neutral remedy produce an outcome as great as a race-conscious remedy?
  • Does a targeted business enterprise program increase the number of dollars going to people of color?
  • What does anti-discrimination legislation across the world have in common?
  • Can personal identity be maintained without the context of culture and tradition?
  • What do we know about children of color who are successful in school against all odds?
  • Can income equality be achieved?

World Conferences on Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality (1996 and 1998)

Experts from 10 countries and various professional disciplines came together to examine models from around the world that address racial and ethnic economic inequality. Participants discussed the basic causes of inequality and discrimination and examined models—existing and theoretical—to eliminate ethnically based inequality. The discussion was enriched by the broad spectrum of professional and international experience.

One day of the first World Conference brought international policymakers and researchers together with community leaders working to eliminate inequality and racism through a series of workshops that examined community action models. Speakers included former U.S. Appeals Court Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr.; actor Edward James Olmos; LeBaron Taylor of Sony Music; Jomo K.S. of the University of Malaya; Colin Bourke of the University of South Australia; Rose Brewer of the University of Minnesota; and Carol Stack of the University of California–Berkeley.

Building on the insight gained at the first World Conference, the Wilkins Center presented a second conference in conjunction with the Faculty of Aboriginal and Islander Studies at the University of South Australia. Held in Adelaide, Australia, the conference gathered participants from the United States, the South Pacific, and Asia. Each day of the conference addressed a particular theme, including giving meaning to inequality, the meaning of race, reconciliation, and strategies to overcome inequality. Speakers included John Herron, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs (Australia); Evelyn Scott, chair of the Aboriginal Reconciliation Commission (Australia); and Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In conjunction with the second World Conference in Australia, the Wilkins Center coordinated a study trip for 60 people to visit the International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. In New Zealand, participants attended sessions about the socioeconomic demographics of the Maori population; the history and current state of Maori–white relations and the Maori-centered education movement; and efforts to change political and land rights. Participants also visited students at a Maori school. In Australia, members of the local Aboriginal community were actively involved in the second World Conference and facilitated visits to an Aboriginal autonomous community and an Aboriginal school. Participants from the Wilkins Forum, American Indian nations, universities, and the U.S. government gained invaluable knowledge about the experience of indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand.

Communities of Color Institute for Organizational Leadership and Development

One of the most important outcomes of the Wilkins Center's 1996 report on Minnesota eighth-grade test scores was a series of community meetings the center conducted with communities of color to discuss the achievement of their children. Working with the Communities of Color Institute and a group of community leaders, the center conducted one forum in each community of color—African American, American Indian, Asian, and Latino/Chicano. Each night the discussion focused on the achievement of that particular community's children. Each meeting was held in a central community meeting place, facilitated by a member of the community, and publicized in community media. Because of this planning, participants felt a sense of ownership and comfort about the forums. They felt free to discuss the research, ask questions, and consider, as a community, solutions for improving achievement. Each forum attracted more than 100 participants. In addition to community participants, representatives of the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools and the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning attended each forum. Due to the reported success of these events, this model will serve as a model for future center outreach efforts.

Faculty of Aboriginal and Islander Studies, University of South Australia International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education, University of Auckland
Since 1996, the Wilkins Center has built important working relationships with its colleagues at the Universities of South Australia and Auckland. The second World Conference was presented by the Wilkins Center and Faculty of Aboriginal and Islander Studies, with important contributions by the International Research Institute. Both organizations also were instrumental in the Wilkins Center study trip to Australia and New Zealand. Scholars from all three organizations have also visited their overseas counterparts and participated in important information exchange and research.

Minneapolis Urban League
Out of the 10-year strategic plan grew a further alliance with the Minneapolis Urban League. The League asked the Wilkins Center to conduct a survey of grocery prices in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Humphrey students collected grocery prices in a variety of neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding suburbs. They then determined that inner-city residents pay higher prices and have less choice when buying groceries than do suburban residents. This project helped Humphrey students strengthen their data collecting skills and analysis through the process of both collecting the primary data and reaching a final conclusion.

Minnesota Department of Children Families and Learning, Association of Metropolitan School Districts
In 1995, the Association of the Metropolitan School Districts approached the Wilkins Center to conduct the initial study of eighth-grade test scores. With the association's assistance, the Department of Children, Families and Learning joined in the project and provided support and data essential to a comprehensive analysis of student achievement. In the current center study of test scores, analyzing 1997 and 1998 results, the relationship with the Department of Children, Families and Learning has been key to designing the study and obtaining all test score and demographic data needed to complete the analysis.

Community Dialogues
The initial effort to reach out to local communities of color was developed through the Community Dialogues program. This program helps improve communication and understanding between individual communities of color to help them work together on pressing social and economic issues. Individual communities first meet as a group to discuss concerns and issues they would like to address at the next meeting with another community. Through this initial meeting, each group focuses on its interests, and participants learn to work together. In a subsequent two-hour forum, the two communities meet to discuss common issues as well as misunderstandings that hinder a better relationship between the two groups. Sessions are facilitated by community leaders and remain off-the-record to promote a safe, comfortable setting in which participants can honestly address issues separating communities and to plot a course for future relationships.