In 2002, the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) began in the living room of Civil Rights Attorney Maya Wiley, with a $75,000 seed grant from the Open Society Institute as a project of the Tides Center. The brain-child of Maya and Jocelyn Sargent, a political scientist, they started CSI in the wake of September 11th to bring policy strategy capacity to support inclusive public policy solutions to a devastated city. Our nation stood at a crossroads, trying to rebuild New York City and to pursue those who had perpetrated this crime while (we hoped) maintaining the civil liberties and principles of equal opportunity upon which our country was founded. The federal government made $20 billion available to support rebuilding from the attacks, but the bulk of this money targeted two wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan. What of the other communities devastated by the reactionary policing of immigrants and Muslims that swept wage earners into deportation centers and back to their home countries, leaving entire communities with destroyed families and without their economic lifelines? This led Maya and Jocelyn to ask:
“How do you support leaders, from the grassroots to the decision-makers, to build a more perfect union?”
This was the seed and the Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen’s book “Development as Freedom” provided the goal. Maya named CSI to articulate the goal rather than to emphasize the problem. As Sen defines it, social inclusion is multi-dimensional, including political, social and economic spheres, which have a powerful structural component. It makes clear that we need strategies that break out of silos. This helps explode the “it is class not race” myth. Maya and Jocelyn identified a need to promote a better understanding of the role that race plays in American society in perpetuating poverty and political and social isolation of not only communities of color, but even of White people who are poor.
For the first year, Jocelyn and Maya worked, unpaid, to build collaborative, applied research projects with communities of color to help them create truly transformative policy solutions. Jocelyn then joined the Board of Directors and Maya led the staff. CSI issued its first formal report in 2003 on educational opportunity in Mississippi, and by the beginning of 2004 was able to hire staff – a Researcher and an Advocacy Coordinator. It was a major step toward real impact. In 2005 CSI commanded a $500,000 budget and a staff of five focused on supporting better schools and economic development opportunities in Mississippi and South Carolina. CSI was training foundations and communities alike on structural race analysis that could show why and how race matters and how to catalyze new strategies for lasting transformation.
“Inclusion is characterized by a society’s widely shared social experience and active participation, by a broad equality of opportunities and life chances for individuals and by the achievement of a basic level of well-being for all citizens.”
When Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast region, the nation had another 9/11 moment on its hands. CSI created a monthly “Race to Rebuild” report card on equity in post-Katrina rebuilding. CSI analyzed the advocacy capacity of communities, issuing a “Race to Rebuild” leadership report on five southern states and spent two years supporting an informal multi-racial, multi-state leadership network on equitable rebuilding.
In 2008, CSI assumed the stewardship of the Alston Bannerman sabbatical program, a 23-year-old program which, over its history, has supported nearly two hundred community organizers of color across the nation by giving them an opportunity to take time off for reflection and renewal.
Additionally, beginning in 2005, CSI began working on how to talk effectively about race. Over the last two, we’ve been rolling out empirical data and trainings on communicating more effectively with new and long- standing partners. Our Communications Testing has provided a bold and highly effective response to the race wedge that the far right is pushing to undermine inclusion.
From increasing Black rural farmers’ power on land use planning in Richland County, SC, to partnering with the Mississippi NAACP to fight for broadband access in the Mississippi Delta, to supporting health care reform messaging in Texas, to supporting communities of color as planners, owners, and decision-makers in renewable energy projects, CSI has devoted years to supporting solutions that work for everyone.
In 2014, Glenn Harris became the President of CSI. Under Glenn’s leadership, CSI tripled its institutional change work, helping hundreds of organizations, coalitions, agencies, and departments advance racial equity both internally and externally. CSI, along with the Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society, incorporated the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE)–a national network of local and regional government working to advance racial equity. Through GARE, CSI is multiplying its institutional change work with hundreds of jurisdictions across the country.
Additionally, CSI hosted its first First Food cohort, supporting advocates and practitioners working to ensure that mothers of color are able to successfully breastfeed in the first six months after birth. CSI also joined the Energy Democracy Alliance, a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. CSI has provided research and communications support as a member of the Alliance.
In 2017, CSI announced that CSI would unite with Race Forward as one organization, under the name Race Forward. The body of work that CSI has created will live on under the new Race Forward.
(left: Maya Wiley; right: Jocelyn Sargent)