Episcopal City Mission Blog

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Drawing Democracy Project Release New State Senate and Represenative Maps

Last year Episcopal City Mission gave a grant to support that The Drawing Democracy Project, a state-wide multiracial coalition dedicated to promoting a transparent and accountable redistricting process. After 6 months of hard work by thirteen grantees DDP has released its state senate and state representative maps along with the supporting data sets. The maps show 19 state senate districts that reflect the interests of historically marginalized communities with 5 total majority-minority districts, based on total population. The maps also show 50 newly created state representative districts.

“We believe the state legislature should be as diverse as our state. The fair and easy way to increase the number of legislators of color is to create more districts with a majority of constituents being people of color,” said Malia Lazu, Project Director of the Drawing Democracy Project.

“Through an extensive data analysis and in partnership with the UMass Boston Institute for Asian American Studies, Drawing Democracy created 50 state representative districts that reflect the interests of historically marginalized communities,” Lazu added. “Minorities in the Commonwealth now make up 20 percent of its diversity. There are currently 10 minority-majority state representative seats and 2 minority-majority state senate seats, making up only 5 percent of the elected officials in the State House.”

The Drawing Democracy Project’s maps also include 18 majority-minority districts, based on total population numbers. They also created 19 state senate districts with 5 total majority-minority districts. The organizations worked together to draw lines and maps through an inclusive, community-led, grassroots, non-partisan and non-incumbent process.

“We echo what other organizations from across Massachusetts said to the Joint Committee on Redistricting today,” said Malia Lazu. “We urge lawmakers to draw maps that keep communities whole and give fair and equal voice to African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans. We applaud the collaborative effort we have fostered and witnessed across the Commonwealth and we look forward to continuing this dialogue with legislators and community organizations in the forthcoming weeks.”

“We have attended many of the public hearings held by the House and Senate Chairs of the Committee on Redistricting and have been pleased with the legislature’s transparent and accountable process,” said Malia Lazu. “We ask legislative leaders for an advance copy of the final redistricting maps, so that we have time to analyze them and offer feedback. As some may recall, the lack of time ten years ago caused serious problems in the community’s ability to respond to proposals.”

This year, Massachusetts is in a unique position with the loss of a congressional seat due to changes in our population. The redistricting process and how it is carried out not only determines a community’s next elected official, but will also shape decisions at the state and neighborhood level for a decade.

About Drawing Democracy Project

The Drawing Democracy Project is a coalition dedicated to promoting a transparent and accountable redistricting process and to empowering communities by creating fair voting districts. The project provides financial and technical support to community-based organizations involved in organizing around redistricting.

Grants were awarded to groups representing people who have historically been underrepresented in the redistricting process, such as low-income individuals, people of color and immigrants. Project grantees located throughout the Commonwealth have been attending public hearings, conducting trainings and meeting with Technical Assistance providers to better understand census and redistricting data. For a list of organizations funded by the project, please visit http://www.accessstrategies.org/programs/drawing-democracy-project.

The project is generously funded by Access Strategies Fund, Barr Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Burgess Urban Fund of the Episcopal City Mission, Haymarket People’s Fund, Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation, The Hyams Foundation, New England Blacks in Philanthropy, Roxbury Trust Fund, and Solidago Foundation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Church makes an impact when it takes up community mission, presiding bishop tells ECM gathering

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined 560 Episcopalians in the Diocese of Massachusetts on June 7 to celebrate the work of Episcopal City Mission, encouraging them in her keynote address to both pray and “work like hell” for a world where no one goes hungry, illness is answered with healing and all are free to live in peace. “We live in hope for a world redeemed into that reality and we work at transformation because we are a very long way indeed from seeing it come to fruition,” she said.

Episcopal City Mission (ECM) promotes social and economic justice, with particular emphasis on the urban poor. Its annual dinner event at Boston University showcases the programs and organizations funded through its grant programs and its public policy initiatives, including, this year, an affordable housing project in partnership with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan, and a letter-writing campaign against the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s controversial Secure Communities program aimed at deporting criminals who are in this country illegally. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick had just a few days earlier announced he would not endorse it.

The annual meeting drew about 560 ECM supporters.“We know that we were not the only ones organizing opposition to that program, but we are delighted that so many Episcopalians and so many parishes participated in that campaign,” Dr. Ruy Costa, ECM’s executive director, told the crowd. He said that 800 letters from more than 60 parishes helped successfully voice opponents’ concern that flaws in the program would result in overreach and the deportation of persons who are not criminals. Costa also announced a partnership with St. Mary’s Church in Dorchester to expand the reach of its food pantry program and called for volunteers with expertise in food distribution.

Jefferts Schori said these kinds of efforts reflect “the most basic ways that the Christian community has served and empowered God’s people,” describing how Jesus spent much of his public ministry feeding, healing and teaching the crowds that followed him, and how he challenged both political and religious authorities about the injustices that made the rich richer and the poor poorer.
"The last presidential election was not the first time somebody figured out that Jesus was a community organizer,” she said. She devoted much of her 30-minute address to examples from across the Episcopal Church where community organizing is having an impact through creative responses to local hunger, health care, housing and education needs: the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Savannah, Ga., redeveloping a city block as affordable housing; the St. James’s Family Center in Cathlamet, Wash., taking over management of the county’s domestic violence shelter as a result of its work with parents and children; the Diocese of Arizona offering health care through small community clinics across the border in Mexico; numerous other congregations getting involved in food production and distribution, including one in Smyrna, Tenn., that was revitalized by the arrival of Burmese refugee farmers who transformed church acreage into truck gardens whose vegetables are subscribed before they are even planted. “A church can have a major impact on a city by dreaming big and finding appropriate partners,” she said.

She also cited the Epiphany School in Dorchester and Esperanza Academy in Lawrence in the Diocese of Massachusetts as “revolutionary” tuition-free middle schools serving city youth from economically disadvantaged families, as well as Ecclesia Ministries’ common cathedral ministry of worship with the homeless on Boston Common.“I wonder what would happen if their worship site moved to the steps of the State House? Advocacy for the homeless might become more impassioned,” she said. She voiced particular concern about the vulnerability of the world’s poor to the effects of climate change, describing “blind consumption and thoughtless waste” as “communicable diseases that we human beings are spreading across the globe.”

Resistance to change and lack of hope are the biggest obstacles to transformation, she said.
“We need bold and prophetic voices. We need networks that inspire and organize people,” she said. “There is abundant work to be done and it must always be inspired by that vision of shalom: food and drink for feasting, dignified work and sabbath leisure, none lording it over another, all God’s children living in peace. Pray that it may be so. work like hell to make it so.”

Bishop Barbara C. Harris, retired bishop suffragan of Massachusetts, presented Jefferts Schori with ECM’s Barbara C. Harris Award for Social Justice. Also honored were Allan Rodgers of the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester for his advocacy on behalf of low-income families, and Bill Haynsworth of All Saints Parish in Brookline for his work to promote affordable housing and his service as ECM board chairman.

- Tracy Sukraw, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Final Report from Census 2010

During 2010 Episcopal City Mission supported the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund, a program that awarded grants to organizations across the state working to raise participation rates in minority, immigrant, and other "hard to count" communities for the 2010 Census.

ECM was proud to participate in this process and to help ensure that the growing community of immigrants in our state were properly counted in the new census. Recently, members of the Mass Census Equity Fund collaborative met with Census Officials to share their ideas, concerns and suggestions for the 2020 Census.

Community Leaders to Census Officials:

We Can Do Even Better Next Time

Boston, MA -- With data from the 2010 Census still just hitting the news, activists from “hard to count” communities in Massachusetts are already advising Census officials on how to do better next time. Representatives of 23 community organizations met with Census officials last Wednesday and offered an array of recommendations for 2020, including appeals to better accommodate the ethnic and linguistic complexity of Massachusetts.

Among their concerns is the confusing and outdated nature of the racial and ethnic categories on Census forms. Many want the word “Negro” removed from the Census, as it evokes images of segregation and inferiority. Others want easier access to translation assistance and practical help for people with disabilities.

“People were really confused,” said Felipe Zamborlini of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Portuguese speakers, in particular, did not know how to check the ethnic designations on the forms, said Helena Marques of the Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford. “We are Latin but we are not Latino.” Some members of her community also needed questionnaires in Portuguese, which were not readily available, she said.

Clifton Braithwaite, a representative of the Boston NAACP, said even the use of the word “Black” is confusing. “A lot of newcomers come in and don’t want to be recognized as ‘Black Americans.’” The form should say “Black,” then give people options to select their nation of origin or ethnicity, he said.

Braithwaite is an example of someone who might have had trouble filling out a Census form. He was born in Lynn, MA, but his father is from Venezuela and his mother was born in Barbados and grew up in Trinidad. He is dark-skinned but it took some time before he self- identified as a “Black American.”

The U.S. Census Bureau engaged in an unprecedented partnership with community organizations last year to get a better head count among low-income people, immigrants and people of color. Distrust of government, language barriers, and frequent changes in address have long presented road blocks to full participation in the Census.

In Massachusetts, the bureau’s efforts to boost participation were augmented by 30 organizations that received $500,000 in grants and resources from the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund, a partnership of 12 charitable foundations led by Access Strategies Fund. Civic leaders care about the numbers because they influence the redistricting of state and federal legislative districts. Census numbers also play a role in determining how much federal money flows to cities and towns for vital public services.

Participating organizations sponsored door-knocking events, radio talk shows, and creative activities such as a “March to the Mailbox” to get people to complete the forms.

The results of their work were apparent in the “mail-back participation rates” reported by the Census Bureau recently and compared against 2000. The state saw an increase in participation of 1 percentage point overall, but in some hard-to-count census tracts where the organizations worked the increases were higher – about 3 to 5 percentage points.

Representatives of the groups asked Census officials if they could have a continuing role in shaping activities in the months ahead.

Among their concerns:

· Activists in urban areas would like prisoners counted in cities where they live, not in prisons where they are housed temporarily.

· Activists in rural areas want questionnaires mailed to post office boxes, where many people receive their mail.

· There is widespread concern about the challenges faced by people with language barriers and disabilities. The Census Bureau set up numerous “Questionnaire Assistance Centers” in 2010 to provide one-on-one assistance. Yet, some of these centers were not accessible to people with disabilities and some were staffed by people who did not speak the languages of those they were there to help.

· Community leaders expressed interest in shaping decisions about the racial and ethnic designations on the forms and getting rid of the word “Negro.” Their goals are to avoid confusion next time and to capture more detailed data on their communities.

The discussion between the two groups on Wednesday was more than a polite exchange of ideas. The U.S. Census begins planning the decennial headcount many years before it is actually conducted. Moreover, the bureau collects information from U.S. households on an ongoing basis through the American Community Survey, which is sent to a sampling of households and asks for more detailed data.

Decision making for the Census goes through a lengthy and complex process within the federal government, involving both the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget. Any changes in questions or wording are considered several years in advance and must be submitted to Congress before they become official. Nonprofit groups want to know key planning deadlines well in advance to ensure input from communities before the next census is taken.

For more information or quotes from community leaders, go to http://www.accessstrategies.org/wp-content/uploads/Census-meeting-Contact-List.docx. Photos are also available. For information about the project overall, contact Kelly Bates, Executive Director of Access Strategies Fund, 617-494-0715 x201. The community groups and regional Census officials were brought together with the support of the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund. For a list of the funded community groups, an evaluation of the project and a list of funders who participated, go to www.accessstrategies.org/programs/massachusetts-census-equity-fund.

Save the Date: Annual Meeting June 7, 2011

Keynote speaker The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop the Episcopal Church

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