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Angela Glover Blackwell and lawyer. Ms. Blackwell is an activist for strong communities and good public policy. She is a lawyer, the founder and president of PolicyLink, a national nonprofit, research, communications, capacity-building and advocacy organization in Oakland, California, and New York City. Ms. Blackwell is co-author of Searching for the Uncommon Common Ground. With an undergraduate degree from Howard University, her law degree is from the University of California at Berkeley.  She serves on a wide variety of national Boards.

Excerpts3:28 secs

 A magic moment awaits America if it chooses to invest in the people and places now being left behind, says community builder and lawyer Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and president of PolicyLink. America’s struggle to be strong and competitive, she reports, will depend on bringing everyone along. She celebrates the community building, alternative conversations and growing commitment to more equitable public policy she finds bubbling up all across the country.

In communities nationwide, people are engaging in community building Ms. Blackwell finds. They’re getting over the notion that answers are simple when life is complex, they’re breaking out of “problem silos” to deal with health, education, transportation, enrichment, physical exercise, and outlets for all the cultural things going on, uniting people-strategies and place-strategies. They’re seeing the importance of bringing everyone to the table, embracing the critical requirement of giving everyone a stake in the future -- especially young people -- partnering to allow people to come together to find solutions that allow everyone to tap into his or her own strengths.

To make the magic happen, America -- a nation of immigrants -- must once again embrace the immigrants who are newly arrived.  Nurture a new generation of leaders who include people of color. And invest. Education is critical, she believes. It’s time to invest in education instead of prisons, she says, convinced that what made America great in the first place was public education.

Jobs are also essential. Ms. Blackwell says leaders are lying and hiding the truth when they send jobs off-shore. We have to be able to keep people employed for the economy to work -- people need jobs to earn money with which to buy things or America will go down, she predicts. And forget the myth of “bootstraps.” It’s never been true. She presents compelling evidence that success in America has always had the same foundation: public policy.

PolicyLink does its work within “four corners”: the region, the economy, technology and democracy. And, she says, they talk a lot about democracy -- it requires participation to flourish, Ms. Blackwell says. Yes, voting is critical. And so are civic engagement, economic inclusion and confidence in government. Do Something. Enter any door you please, Ms. Blackwell says, just enter it informed and -- to be able to make a difference -- understand the interconnections you have to make once you’re in your arena.

True greatness, Ms. Blackwell concludes, is created by having a vision for the future. America’s should be one of people who have different cultural foundations living together, embracing, celebrating, acknowledging and treating our differences as assets with which to build something new. How? We all would do well to learn from the everyday people in communities across the land who are creating a vision that could pull the country forward, could give America a chance to offer authentic leadership in the world.

[This Program was recorded October 28, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Angela Glover Blackwell describes for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the excitement, public policy work. Our aspirations are constant and most other things change constantly, she says, so politics is unavoidable.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:08 secs

Conversation 2

Currently, money trumps participation, says Ms. Blackwell, with examples of how key participation is. California is America’s future, she believes, eager for the country to pay attention to how the state is dealing with profound changes in the nation’s demographics. She describes the legacy of California’s Proposition 13, certain its “super-majority” is undermining democracy.  She outlines PolicyLink’s “four corners” -- the region, economy, technology and economy -- declaring them inseparable, insisting that every voice is important in a democracy.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:45 secs

Conversation 3

Democracy has to be created every day and America has never perfected it, Ms. Blackwell observes. She details the impact of the country’s changing demographics, particularly people of color who are demanding they be included.  To become great again, the United States -- a nation of immigrants -- must embrace its current immigrants and include their concerns in urban, health, workforce and all other public policies. She says Americans are running away from these challenges. She explains why it is imperative to confront race and the black-white experience in addressing the full range of challenges facing America. She offers a powerful vision for a future in which America might lead.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:41 secs

Conversation 4

Ms. Blackwell compares America’s Civil Rights movement for inclusion with the simultaneous movement for exclusion -- suburbanization.  America has a magical moment available, she says, IF it invests in its people and places that are being left behind. She outlines stark alternatives to doing so. America’s leaders are lying and hiding the truth when they support sending jobs off-shore, Ms. Blackwell says, and expands.  She celebrates the many alternative conversations now going on in America, eager for Americans to force their leaders to be more responsive. Pick what interests you, she says, but Do Something. Get informed and understand the interconnections required to integrate people-strategies with place-strategies.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:51 secs

Conversation 5

People are engaging in community building all across America, Ms. Blackwell reports.  She gives examples of how community building embraces the complexity of people’s lives, allows people’s richness and assets to be part of solutions instead of defining people by the problems of being poor. She exposes America’s “bootstrap” myth, demonstrating how public policy consistently allowed earlier generations to succeed. Equity of education is essential, she says, convinced that what made America great was its public education system.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:23 secs

Conversation 6

We need a new generation of policies that achieve economic and social equity, says Ms. Blackwell. It will only happen, she insists, with a new generation of leaders. This leadership must include people of color who bring their experiences into the forefront as everyone debates the public policy issues of the day, she concludes.

Conversation 1 RealAudio3:57 secs


Angela Glover Blackwell’s passion for community and her willingness to do the work necessary to weave ideals and realities together is exemplary. We thank her for including us in her always-full schedule and eagerly cheer her on.

Heather Tamir, senior communications association for PolicyLink in New York, kept track of our interest in Ms. Blackwell and PolicyLink’s work over the course of many months. Never yielding to mutual frustrations, she was instrumental in bringing this Conversation to pass so that we could have the pleasure of sharing PolicyLink’s vital message. We thank Heather on all counts.

Related Links:
You can learn more about PolicyLink at their website.

Searching for the Uncommon Common Ground:  New Dimensions on Race in America is part of The American Assembly’s “Uniting America” series and published by W.W. Norton.

Leadership for Policy Change:  Strengthening Communities of Color Through Leadership Development, a report on the leadership work to which Ms. Blackwell referred in this Conversation, is available at the PolicyLink website.

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