The Montgomery County Dialogue on Race (DOR) was the recipient of the 2019 Fitz Turner Award for Outstanding Contributions in Intergroup Relations by the Virginia Education Association (VEA). The award was presented at the Eleventh Annual Awards Dinner in Richmond in March. It recognized DOR for its efforts to bring about racial change in the community.
VEA President Jim Livingston offered these words about DOR, “Dialogue on Race is doing incredibly important work for the students, educators, and families of Montgomery County. We’re delighted to present this award and hope it serves as both a celebration of what the organization has accomplished and an encouragement for what they’ll continue to do.”
The Fitz Turner Award for Outstanding Contributions in Intergroup Relations is named for the former president of the predominantly black Virginia Teachers Association, which merged with VEA in 1967. It honors an individual or organization that’s contributed to the enhancement of human and civil rights in Virginia.
DOR started nearly ten years ago. In 2010, Penny Franklin, longtime African American School Board member, pulled together a small interracial group of social justice oriented individuals to develop a way to have a productive discussion about racial issues in Montgomery County. From 2010 until early 2012, a small steering committee—Penny Franklin, Andy Morikawa, Dave Britt, Ben Dixon, Jim Dubinsky, Ray Plaza, Wornie Reed, and Latanya Walker—worked to find a model that would accomplish the goal of bringing people together to talk about race and begin to address problems of inequality around education, pay, and employment opportunities.
Finally, the Steering Committee had a plan. It started with a series of four focus group type meetings that I conducted between October 2011 and April 2012 with 22-25 African Americans. The participants developed a list of racial issues faced by blacks in Montgomery County. I synthesized the data and brought it back to the rest of the Steering Committee. We organized this list of issues into six groups: (1) law enforcement, (2) education, (3) jobs and employment, (4) income gap, (5) white privilege and Jim Crow orientations, and (6) the limited presence of African Americans on boards and commissions. These topics formed the basis for the broader community’s dialogue. Later, we combined (3) jobs and employment and (4) income gap into one group.
Then, between November 2012 and January 2013, the Steering Committee planned the first Dialogue on Race community summit. It was designed to provide an environment that would enable those attending to discuss deeply held concerns, point out issues and problems, and work toward developing solutions. Several of the over 100 people in attendance who have been longtime county residents said, in effect, if they hadn’t seen the turnout themselves, they wouldn’t have believed such an event was possible. People were ready for these critical discussions.
The countywide discussion, aimed at improving race relations, was the result of years of hard work, “grassroots energy,” and long-term commitment of three groups: the Human Relations Council (HRC) of Montgomery County, the Community Group, and the DOR Steering Committee. Most notable was the formation of the issue groups designed to translate the positive energy of the day into action-oriented results.
While more work is needed, there have been several successes in the work of DOR, especially in education. Working in close collaboration with the Public School System we have seen a decrease in the gap in achievement scores between blacks and whites. We have also seen a reduction in the gap between blacks and whites in out of school suspensions.