A dozen of the nation’s leading civil rights leaders told participants at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 2013 America Healing Conference that mobilizing civic participation, collaborating on issues and changing the established narratives are the keys to addressing racism and moving the nation toward more equitable opportunities.

Moderated by acclaimed broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, the panelists cited the critical role of narratives in shaping the most important public and social policy issues of the day. Much of the conversation addressed the modern environment for seeking change, citing the emergence of new priorities and methods.

Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, noted that policy and mindset change are critical. She articulated how people of color are cast in particular roles. Sen said, “And if we want to change the role that we’re given, the
way that we are cast, we have to tell a set of stories again and again and again and again, and …in many different ways.”

Sen reflected on the successful efforts to remove the word “illegal” for undocumented immigrants from the media lexicon. Both the Associated Press and USA Today have done so and others are moving toward it. Ultimately, she said, it helped push for a new immigration policy.

Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, reminded the audience of the need to be inclusive in approaches to changing the narratives.

“When we talked about a new majority, if our new majority doesn’t have a vision for white folks who’ve been locked in poverty
generationally, then we’re never going to quite get there.”

President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza Janet Murguía celebrated recent gains in this work with conference participants. “And now – I tell people; I correct them, we created this moment. And we did so by overcoming incredible barriers.”

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