Click here to view the full report.
Our first case study looks at the efforts of two ministers, Rev. Atanacio (Tony) Gaona and Rev. Harvey Williams, to encourage mutual understanding, communication, trust, and assistance between Latinos and African Americans in their community. The community in question is
Most Latinos in
The work that Rev. Williams and Rev. Gaona have done in alleviating tensions and bringing “Blacks and Browns” together is impressive, and has been featured in a New York Times article and a report on Latino-Black coalition building in the South (Swarns 2006; Wooten 2008). Below we summarize what we learned about their activities based on a three-hour focus group discussion (held in February 2009 in Willacoochee) with Revs. Williams, Gaona, and six other people involved in this effort.
Unlike many coalitions that begin with the rise of a pressing problem or a recognition of commonality, the relationship formed by Rev. Atanacio Gaona and Rev. Harvey Williams started in the early 1990s with a simple request for a ride home from work. This one mundane occurrence led to nights of dialogue, mutual understanding, and identification of common challenges within
This coalition is unique because it mainly revolves around the two ministers. There is no formal organization or ad-hoc structure, but rather an expanding circle of congregants and friends who have been inspired by these two men. Ministers Williams and Gaona have developed a commitment to help one another, and work within their respective communities towards becoming more accepting and cultivating the idea of brotherhood.
Basis of Coalition
Trust, acknowledging the humanity in others, and the desire to build a more tolerant community were all common themes articulated by focus group participants as to why
Rev. Gaona indicated that trust can emerge when “people keep their word.” Others stated that consistently showing good intentions would lead to the development of trust. Rev. Williams added, “I see (Rev. Gaona) as a human being, as a man.” Another participant offered that “we must accept our differences” and that “inside we are the same.”
Acknowledging the humanity in others was another key factor leading focus group members towards coalition building. This was particularly important because the group included a law enforcement official, a school board member, and a retired teacher (all three were African American). Each purposely strove to establish trust and acknowledge the humanity in others within his or her profession. The law enforcement official, who serves in a leadership capacity, echoed this point by recounting an experience in which he admonished subordinates who targeted Latino drivers.
African Americans and Latinos desire to build a better community for themselves and their families. All participants viewed the existence of Latinos in
The first major issue identified in the discussion was racial profiling and the overall treatment of Latinos by
Another issue identified in the discussion was the treatment Latinos received from landowners who hired them to plant and harvest crops. African American participants observed that Latinos lived in “slum areas” with homes and trailers in dilapidated condition. The law enforcement official thought farmers “only cared about crops” and not about the laborers. The African American participants also noted similarities between the current treatment of Latinos and the historic treatment of African Americans. This conscious recognition of similar struggles serves as a strong motivator for African Americans to support Latino interests.
The focus group discussion revealed several areas in which the group is succeeding. The first was that they sensed an improvement in the degree of mutual respect that the Latinos and African Americans were showing towards each other. For example, the high school students said that Latino students are being treated all right and noted that last year the valedictorian was Latino. Adults also indicate that mutual respect is increasing as groups grow in their mutual understanding. Certainly the best example of this was the better understanding Rev. Williams gained about Mexicans when he accompanied Rev. Gaona on a trip to his home town in
The circle which has formed around these two ministers has also succeeded in gradually garnering support and cooperation from other individuals or groups in the community. Revs. Williams and Gaona have broadened the dialog and now meet every week with several White pastors to talk about issues of concern, and they mentioned that Rev. Morrison (a White minister) has “become a strong supporter of Hispanic rights . . . legal or illegal.” In addition, their “5th Sunday” program brings their respective congregations together for worship, discussion, and socializing. Beyond that, the efforts of the two ministers have also received cooperation and support from a county social service agency, a local food bank, a local business (
As for progress on some of the key issues, there has been very little on the problem of inadequate housing for the Latino farm workers. A focus group member said that the farm owners only care about getting their crops planted and harvested and try to house the workers as cheaply as possible. The focus group did indicate that some steps have been taken on the matter of police arrests or fines for unlicensed Latinos driving to work or driving children to school. Specifically, they mentioned Rev. Gaona’s efforts to inform Mexicans about the need to get drivers’ licenses and how to do it, efforts by both Reverends to use vans driven by licensed drivers to pick up and transport Mexicans to and from work, the sheriff’s desire to hire a Latino officer, and the deputy sheriff’s efforts to discourage officers from exploiting the unlicensed Latino drivers they stop.
Challenges and Limitations
The most serious challenge or limitation mentioned in the
Both leaders said that they had not faced much opposition to their efforts at Black-Brown cooperation. However, they indicated that this county is run by a relatively small set of families that own large amounts of land, and that creating change without their support is very hard. Rev. Williams also indicated that he sometimes hears negative comments by Blacks about Mexicans and acknowledged that after he and Rev. Gaona were featured in a New York Times article, someone circulated an email about Latino gangs in
Several points noted in our research about conditions conducive to developing inter-group cooperation and coalition-building pertain to
Second, the emerging positive relations and cooperation among African Americans and Latinos in
In terms of the “collaborative capacity” issues identified in our research, this group has remained rather small and is limited by a scarcity of resources and external support in their effort to promote change. Both Revs. Williams and Gaona have inspired a small circle of associates, who are well-informed about the issues and are committed to this cause, they recognize the need for more people to get involved and take on leadership roles. But where the resources needed for this will come from and what the most useful activities or programs for encouraging wider participation and social change should be are questions that hover over this group, waiting for good answers.
Click here to view the full report.