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MCLP Graduation Speaker Aims To Change Biased Systems

Community activist and author Charlene Carruthers says she believes in asking questions that challenge people and might even make some feel uncomfortable.

“What are we trying to build? And are we ready to win the type of world we are fighting for?” the Chicago community organizer asks.

Those are among the questions she intends to pose to this year’s crop of graduates from the Multicultural Leadership Program, a project that helps train community members from diverse backgrounds for leadership roles.

“To win the world we are fighting for, we have to give things up,” Carruthers said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “We have to get used to things happening in ways they don’t normally happen.”

For instance, Carruthers said, “Most people when they experience conflict or harm or violence will call the police because that is one of the places or institutions people feel are set up to keep us safe.”

Carruthers said communities—minority communities in particular—need to rethink that idea.

“We need to imagine a world where we keep each other safe, where we build communities based in thriving and not in fear,” she said.

Carruthers said members of minority groups are often encouraged to change their individual behavior. While that is significant, she said it is more important to change "systems."

“People who are billionaires and millionaires are never asked about changing themselves because they are too busy changing the world,” she said.

Community Response Teams

One of the changes Carruthers advocates is the investment of local dollars in community response teams to combat violence in neighborhoods.

“What would it mean for us to talk to each other, talk through our own conflicts instead of looking for others to do it?” she asked.

To change systems, step one is for citizens to organize, Carruthers said.

“There has not been a movement in this country that has been successful in overturning oppression that didn’t involve people directly impacted by that oppression, whether we look at Montgomery bus boycott or we look at the Poor People’s Campaign prisoner rights campaigns,” she said.

“These were not wealthy people doing these mass actions across the country. It is about making the choice of being involved, in whatever way you can be involved.”

Carruthers said banding together with others who share your aims is key.

“Not everyone can be a full-time organizer, but most people can show up to a meeting. … Organizing is about working with people with shared interests and shared values and are developing a shared plan for taking action collectively,” she said.

Carruthers said the kind of change that interests her isn’t about altering a single block or even a single neighborhood, but entire communities and cities. She said her aims include any group that suffers oppression.

“If we only work with what is comfortable, then the solutions we come up with won’t address the majority of people who are impacted by any given system of oppression, be it racism, white supremacy, capitalism or patriarchy.” she said.

“The liberation of black people absolutely will affect the liberation of all people,” Carruthers said. “Nobody is free until everybody is free.”

Carruthers is also the founder of Black Youth Project 100, a national organization that works with activists between ages of 18 -25 on leadership development and training in organizing, electoral politics.

Her most recent book is "Unapologetic."

The Multicultural Leadership Program graduation is April 28 from 6-9 p.m. at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. The graduation is the culmination of eight months of intensive leadership training.

This year's graduating class includes: Lucas Hellmer, Barbara Bouboutsis, Terrence Smith, Troy Clark, Emory Davis, Beth Marsh, Raegan Rinchiuso, Stephanie Turrentine, Angel Terrell, Barbara Little, Sandra Osorio, Madhura Shenoy, Cecilia Ruffin, Karyl Carlson, Maria Basalay, Crystal Bricker, Hari Reba, Julie Emig, Alexis Wolstein, Shrima Gopalakrishna,  Patricia Valente, Chad Fisher, Kym Ammons-Scott, Anitha Jayaram, and Abbey Bok.

Linda Bollivar, Justin Vickers and Terri Helregel served as facilitators.

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