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One America - Project Change

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One America

Program: Project Change, Albuquerque, N.M.; El Paso, Texas; Valdosta, Ga.; and Knoxville, Tenn
Contact(s): Shirley Strong, Director: (415) 561-4880 [San Francisco, Calif.]
Purpose: To reduce racial prejudice and institutional racism and improve race relations

Background Program Operations Outcomes

Background

In 1991, Project Change was created by the Levi Strauss Foundation (LSF) to address racial prejudice and institutional racism in Levi Strauss and Company plant communities. The program initiated in three pilot sites--Albuquerque, El Paso and Valdosta; in 1993, it was expanded into Knoxville. Each site is located in communities where Levi Strauss and Co. has facilities, and each site has a multiracial task force comprised of 12-15 volunteers from a cross section of business, law enforcement, religious, government, neighborhood association and nonprofit and community institutions. Beginning with a one-year planning stage and then moving into a three-year action phase, the task force stimulates locally driven strategies that: change institutional policies, ease tensions between majority and minority groups, promote diversity in the leadership of key community institutions and prevent overt acts of racial and cultural prejudice.

Program Operations

Project Change has five basic objectives: to assemble a diverse coalition of local citizens committed to improving race relations in their community and building trust across racial and ethnic lines; to assess local conditions--such as community history, employment statistics, education and lending practices--to identify the reality of institutional racism; to educate the public about institutional racism by engaging local residents and community leaders in the fights against problems that center on race; to advocate positive changes in institutional policy and practice with targeted programs that encourage partnership and the exchange of ideas among diverse groups; and to evaluate and share the lessons learned in local Project Change communities to inspire collaboration in the fight against racism elsewhere.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Project Change has been successful in addressing institutional racism in the banking industry, educational equity in public schools, and overt acts of racial and cultural prejudice. Seminars were conducted at several financial institutions to educate bank personnel on how to avoid discriminating against customers of color, and a banking coalition was established in Valdosta to identify discriminatory lending practices among local financial institutions. In Valdosta, a new multicultural curriculum for elementary and middle schools was created and implemented in partnership with the local state university. Valdosta residents had also organized to prevent a proposed Ku Klux Klan march. Finally, in Knoxville, a "hate crimes protocol" was established to enable law enforcement and the community to respond quickly to violent acts directed at people of color.


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