What is the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice?
The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice is a nonpartisan, 501 (c)(3) organization that educates, informs and advocates for racial justice, equality and fair opportunity. The alliance's goals are to:
• Promote positive change for the future of our youth
• Educate for change through knowledge and understanding of past and current racial issues and conditions
• Enrich our cultural environment through multi-racial collaboration
• Address racial and criminal injustice and advocate for ways to improve the criminal justice system in Delaware
• Collaborate with like-minded groups to challenge structural and systemic racism.
Why is there a SDARJ? The alliance was established in 2015 through the collaborative efforts of the Delaware State League of Women Voters, the Sussex County League of Women Voters and the Lewes/Rehoboth Association of Churches. The alliance received guidance and support from the Coalition to Dismantle Jim Crow, a Wilmington-based organization established to focus on racial and social justice issues that are prevalent throughout Delaware's public and private sectors. All of these organizations were encouraged by the work being done in many states to legislatively remove barriers to racial justice, especially in the areas of education, law enforcement, incarceration and employment.
The alliance was further encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Congress and in Delaware to reform the criminal justice system to make the system less punitive and more rehabilitative.
The ongoing work of the Delaware Access to Justice Council led by Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., the Criminal Justice Council headed by Chris Kervick, and the Delaware Center for Justice headed by Ashley Biden led us to believe that Delaware was committed to racial and social justice reform. The alliance's intent was and continues to be to ensure that Southern Delaware was included in such reform initiatives and received its fair share of resources.
Following the lead of groups in other states, a significant number of Sussex County residents came together in a book study group to read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration During the Era of Colorblindness." This highly acclaimed book eloquently and clearly defined the complex issue of racial inequality and offered suggestions for addressing these issues. At the end of the study group, there was consensus that a process should be implemented in Southern Delaware to begin the public conversation that would educate, inform and advocate for racial justice.
Furthermore, there was agreement that all of us, despite our racial and ethnic differences, needed to be more informed before trying to combat racism and its corrosive consequences. This learning needed to occur in diverse community groups where everyone had the opportunity to participate, to be heard, to be understood, and collectively to craft an effective response to dealing with racism in ourselves and in all aspects of our communities. Education, which is the most essential tool for positive change, will remain the alliance's primary strategy.
SDARJ, through shared interactive experiences like its monthly town hall meetings, its book club, its quarterly workshops on issues such as Implicit Bias, Diversity and Inclusion, its public speaking engagements to a wide range of organizations within Sussex County and its other activities, has allowed those in attendance to learn from a broad range of voices, all of whom have made significant contributions to the discussions.
Our speakers have included Strine, the Commissioner for Correction Perry Phelps, the head of the Office of Defense Services Brendan O'Neill, Attorney General Matt Denn, and many other experts and practitioners in the areas of criminal justice and education reform. At one of our well-attended meetings, presentations were made by four local police chiefs and two state police commanders who shared their public safety priorities and community relations goals. At other meetings, presentations were made by recently incarcerated individuals who had made successful transitions back into the communities.
The alliance has taken lessons learned from its meetings to serve the community in other ways, too. For example, together with the Office of Defense Services, the alliance held an expungement clinic for juveniles and adults from Sussex County wherein over 50 individuals qualified to have their records expunged.
In 2017, the alliance's town halls also focused on education in the State of Delaware. Two panels of students, one from Cape Henlopen, and another from Sussex Tech, Indian River, and Cape Henlopen high schools spoke about their experiences in our schools. University of Delaware Professor Daniel Rich presented his research on poverty and race, and their effect on our educational system. Dr. Aimee Wiest, faculty member of Delaware State University, spoke about African-American literature and history.
Starting from the small study group of approximately 40 individuals, the alliance now has a membership of more than 650. We invite you to join us at our monthly meetings, to join one of our active committees, to participate in the monthly book group discussions, and to send us your comments and suggestions.
While this is our first commentary, we hope to offer other comments from time to time on current issues facing residents in Sussex County. We welcome your feedback via the Cape Gazette and/or to the alliance directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.