Coalition to Overcome Racism nabs $150,000 grant to aid racial healing in Santa Cruz
It’s always harder to fight something when most people won’t admit there’s anything to fight against. Just ask the members of the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), who often find themselves up against the notion that racism simply doesn’t exist in Santa Cruz.
“Let’s be honest,” said Tony Madrigal, city councilmember and SCCCCOR member, at the group’s June 29 press conference. “Racism still exists and manifests itself differently throughout America. We see systemic racism everywhere—whether someone is trying to find housing, applying for a job, or receiving services.”
SCCCCOR focuses on exposing and addressing systemic racism found throughout county institutions, especially within the sectors of education, employment, housing, law enforcement, healthcare and immigration.
“In communities like Santa Cruz, sometimes the racism is hard to find—but it exists,” coalition member Tomas Alejo said at the June 29 event. “It’s intertwined in our schools, our law enforcement…because of that, Santa Cruz is a great place to start this dialogue.”
The group was founded three years ago, following some concern about possible instances of racial profiling. “That started a discussion, because Santa Cruz doesn’t believe they have racism,” said Simba Kenyatta, SCCCCOR co-chair, at the press conference. Since then, the coalition has expanded to include the Resource Center for Nonviolence, the NAACP, Barrios Unidos, the Watsonville Brown Berets, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, and Media Watch, among others.
For the past three years, they have embarked on journey to “undo racism” by hosting workshops and community listening sessions, calling attention to the ways in which racism is institutionally and systemically embedded in Santa Cruz County. “We need to understand that racism expresses itself through disproportionality,” says co-Action founder Lauren Parker Kucera. “Who lives in areas with greater pollution, or has access to fewer resources? Who is incarcerated? We need to look at where this imbalance comes from.”
SCCCCOR held the June 29 press conference to share that, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, they will be continuing their work for another three years.
The coalition was one of 119 winners chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants from across the country. The grants are part of “America Healing,” the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s recently launched $75 million campaign to promote racial healing in American communities.
SCCCCOR will use the money to fund three positions—one administrative and two organizing jobs—and to host more anti-racism workshops. They hope to engage public institutions that have been missing from the conversation thus far. Madrigal remembers the first round of SCCCCOR listening sessions, and the noticeable absence of Santa Cruz law enforcement. “We had a lot of folks come, but a lot of the institutions we wanted to start a dialogue with weren’t there,” he says. “It wasn’t just who is here, but who is not here? And why aren’t they here, and what will it take to get them to come to the table?”
Recent instances of tragic gang violence have brought issues like gang culture to the attention of city agencies and the general public. And while increased attention is a good thing, says Kenyatta, the sudden emergence of gang awareness is emblematic of the way things work in Santa Cruz. “The city doesn’t put resources toward it until it starts affecting white, middle-class people,” he says. “That’s when they say, ‘We’ve got a problem.’ And until then, it’s not a problem. We’re trying to get it out there that this is a problem—an ongoing problem.”
Kucera works with white people on confronting and understanding racism, and becoming white allies. “Unfortunately this stuff comes about to broader awareness at times of crisis, of violence,” she says, echoing Kenyatta. “But it’s on the radar screen of children of color everyday.”
Madrigal, who says he is only the second Latino ever elected to the Santa Cruz City Council, hopes that the hard work of SCCCCOR will be a catalyst for young people of all ethnicities to someday enter local government, law enforcement, education, etc. He also recognizes the need to bring racism to the attention of those currently in power. “Right now people are in power have privilege,” he says. “To quote [Harvard professor] Dr. Linda Kaboolian: ‘The privilege of having privilege is not having to recognize that you have privilege.’ There’s a lot of that in Santa Cruz, and we need to heighten everybody’s awareness of this.”
For more information about SCCCCOR, visit their website at overcomeracism.org.