Winter 2014

Quad Caucus of State Legislators: The Beginning of an International Movement

By Michael D. Reed, NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.

13-Quad Caucus State Legislators MainPhoto(Seated, left to right) Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (SC), Rep. Kyle Yamashita (HI), Mr. Simon Wooley (United Kingdom), Del. Talmadge Branch (MD), Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN), Asw. Annette Quijano (NJ), Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD), Sen. Carmelo Rios Santiago (PR).

(Standing, left to right) Sen. Donovan de la Cruz (HI), Sen. Brian Taniguchi (HI), Rep. Alan Williams (FL), Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez (MT), Sen. Jim Bradford (SD), Rep. Roy Takumi (HI), Sen. John McCoy (WA), Rep. Karen Awana (HI), Rep. Anastasia Pittman (OK), Rep. Hubert Vo (TX), Rep. Mike Shelton (OK), Rep. Regina Barrow (LA), Mr. David Mark (Poland), Ms. Gabriele Gün Tank (Germany), Rep. Greg Porter (IN), Rep. Ken Ito (HI).
In August and November, NBCSL reconvened with the National Asian Pacific Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASAL), and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) to wrap up a three-year Quad Caucus project. These meetings took place in Minneapolis, MN (in conjunction with the 2014 NCSL Legislative Summit), and Miami, FL, respectively.

The Quad Caucus began in 2012 through the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing grant to advance the dismantling of structural racism, promote racial healing, and reduce barriers that keep children impoverished (particularly children of color). The Minneapolis and Miami meetings were the eighth and ninth of the project.

In Minneapolis and Miami, the symposia opened with special activities to expose members to diverse cultures and to further build relationships.  The meeting in Minneapolis began with a visit to the 2014 Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Wacipi, which is one of the largest Pow Wows in the United States. A Wacipi is a Native American gathering that includes traditional dance, music, clothing, and customs. Wacipis are some of the most important events in Native American cultures and communities. In Miami, the Quad Caucus attendees participated together in salsa lessons.

The purpose of the last two meetings was to finalize recommendations on policy solutions state legislators can use to counteract structural racism. Over the course of the project, legislators participated in small groups to focus on four policy areas: education, health, juvenile justice, and secured families.  Small groups enabled legislators to recap the issue-relevant panel presentations from prior meetings and synthesize lessons from those sessions to establish priorities. These policy priorities are intended to serve as avenues for lawmakers to pursue ending the cycles of structural racism, particularly as it impacts children. Many of the priorities spoke to cultural competency, wrap-around services for parents and children, and an emphasis on prevention rather than reactionary policies.

The education group focused on embedding cultural competency and responsiveness into teacher training and curriculum development. The group also emphasized the need for improved transparency and accountability structures to allow parents and teachers to better collaborate on the academic needs of children.  In addition, it focused on implementing school funding structures that ensure resources are directed toward children with the greatest need and to programs that are the most effective at reaching them.

The health group recommended that state lawmakers focus on health disparities through education, prevention, and treatment improvements. The legislators learned that communities can use myriad resources to meet these goals, such as telemedicine and mid-level dental providers to reach more diverse communities that need medical services the most. The group also reviewed oral health, obesity, and other health issues which have a tremendous impact on children, but can be treated with modest investments and reforms.

The juvenile justice group’s priorities centered on reversing inequities in the justice system that have resulted in failing  to rehabilitate young people when they break the law, and  changing systems that disproportionately punish youth of color. Their recommendations included reforming zero-tolerance policies, eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, improving services for at-risk youth (including mental health, mentorship, and educational programs), and supporting cultural competency for agencies that have a role in the justice system. The group also recommended that states improve staff diversity in law enforcement, criminal justice, and similar professions.

The legislators in the secure families group made several recommendations to improve the economic security of families. Their recommendations included wealth and asset-building policies for families through tax incentives. The members supported financial literacy programs for children and families, housing policies that facilitate affordability, community development, and job creation. The members also recommended steps to create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs that serve communities of color.

Groups continued their work at the Miami meeting in November, where legislators were provided with a series of communications and media training sessions to assist them with messaging their priorities in their legislatures and communities. These sessions were also designed to help the legislators build support and coalitions around their goals.

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Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (MN) Wacipi

The first training session featured communications experts and researchers, and began with remarks by Safiya Jafari Simmons, Chief of Staff & Communications Director at the Center for Policing Equity. Ms. Simmons provided an overview of steps legislators could take to pitch their priorities to media outlets, improve their messaging during interviews, and how to frame discussions for maximum impact. She was followed by Rachel Godsil, Director of Research at Perception Institute, a national consortium focusing on the role of the mind sciences in law, policy, and institutional practices.  Ms. Godsil shared research she and her institute colleagues conducted on variances in how different groups process, associate, and empathize on matters regarding race, particularly in messaging. She highlighted the importance of communications techniques that emphasize shared experiences as a way to improve the chances of successfully conveying one’s message. Ms. Godsil was followed by Alexis McGill Johnson, Executive Director of Perception Institute, who helped legislators understand how to frame their discussions on race for skeptical audiences and even hostile media outlets and interviewers.

Following their panel, the members were split into groups to receive more specialized training with each expert. During these interactive sessions, members worked with the trainers to develop communications strategies for their previously developed policy priorities as they sought to communicate with diverse communities and legislative stakeholders. The sessions also gave members an opportunity to practice the techniques with one another and provide peer feedback.

In addition to communications training, members attended a media training session at the Miami Media School.  Media training facilitators provided the members with tips on how to improve their presentations in several media situations, including television interviews, radio interviews, and press conferences. The members were given an opportunity to practice with professional equipment, and receive immediate feedback from instructors at the school.

The Miami Quad Caucus meeting also featured a delegation of legislators and leaders from Europe, the result of a partnership with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The international delegation provided a unique opportunity to discuss common struggles minorities face across the globe as they also seek to topple structural racism in their own nations.

The Quad Caucus was greeted by Congressman Alcee Hastings, who serves on the U.S. Helsinki Commission; Dr. Mischa Thompson, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission; and Lora Berg, GMF Senior Fellow and Senior Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. State Department. The international delegation included Simon Wooley, Co-Founder and Director of Operation Black Vote (United Kingdom); Assita Kanko, Town Councilor of Ixelles, Brussels (Belgium); David Mark, Officer on Roma and Sinti Issues for the Organization for Security and Cooperation (Poland); and Gabriele Gün Tank (Germany), Commissioner for Integration for Berlin. The delegation joined the Quad Caucus for the entire meeting, participating in all training activities and panels, and sharing insight at each session.

The international delegation shared their experiences as racial and ethnic minorities in European political systems with the legislators in a roundtable dialogue. They discussed the difficulties they face being properly and fully acknowledged, often having to balance their national identities with their ethnic backgrounds, despite serious social, political, and even legal barriers. Each member of the delegation expressed admiration for the courage, candor, and progress in the work Quad Caucus members perform both as a group, and in their states. The international delegation and Quad Caucus members pledged ongoing transnational cooperation and support in addition to building partnerships in the future.

As the Quad Caucus project ends its initial three-year project, members look forward to continuing the important progress that has come about from each successive meeting. The members have shown incredible levels of growth and commitment to racial healing and cross-cultural collaboration. While the initial phase of the progress has come to an end, there is no doubt the Quad Caucus will continue its important work for years to come. 

NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.