Project RACE and interview with Susan Graham

We are thrilled to announce that we have developed a partnership with the amazing multiracial advocacy organization Project RACE.  You can read more about them on our Partners page or on their site.  In the meantime, dive into our interview with Founder and Executive Director Susan Graham below.

How did the idea for Project RACE first develop?

The idea for Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) came about as the result of a few separate incidents. When I received my 1990 census form, I did not see a racial category for my two multiracial children. Wanting to do the right thing, I called the US Census Bureau, explained my situation, and asked if I could designate two races for my children, even though it was a “mark only one” question on the form. The Census Bureau employee told me they were asked that question a lot and he said he would find out. Finally, he said he talked to a supervisor and “the children take the race of the mother.” I asked him why arbitrarily the mother and not the father? His voice became very hushed and he said, “Because in cases like these we usually know who the mother is, but not the father.” I was shocked and angry at this answer. It was enough to propel me into taking action. About the same time, my son was starting kindergarten where we lived outside of Atlanta. A form was sent home asking me to check one box to indicate my child’s race, among other demographic information. I called the school, explained my son was multiracial and asked how I should mark that. They told me I did not even have to fill out the information and that I could send it back without checking a race, which I thought, was progress. I found out later that because I did not fill in a race, my son’s kindergarten teacher was told to fill out a race for him, based on her “knowledge and observation” of him on the first day of school. She marked him down as black. So now we had the same child who was considered “white” on the census, “black” at school, and “multiracial” at home. I thought something should be done so that multiracial children could embrace their entire heritage and data could be more accurate. I started to look into this and found a woman in Ohio who was trying to do the same thing there. Together with my son, we decided to start Project RACE. We had no idea then that it would grow into a national advocacy force. Now, 23 years later, we are still fighting for equal civil rights for multiracial children, teens, adults, and our families.

Please talk a little bit about Project RACE Kids, Project RACE Teens, and Project RACE Grandparents.

My son testified in Washington about the need for a multiracial classification in 1993, when he was eight years old and again in 1997 when he was 12. Soon after, he had the idea to start Teen Project RACE, which gained more and more membership. When he left for college, his younger sister took it over and when she went to college, we opened up the search and were very pleased to find our next three teen presidents. The teens have held bone marrow donor drives, made several videos, and are frequent contributors to our blog. They have a presence on Facebook, Tweet often, and keep up with social media. They are awesome! Olivia Mukendi is the current president and we recently officially changed the name to Project RACE Teens to be consistent with our other branches. Karson Baldwin’s two older sisters Kayci and Kendall were both Teen Project RACE presidents, and Karson started Project RACE Kids when he was 10. Our kids are very active. They blog, have teen panelists, review books that are age appropriate, and have many ideas for what they can do in the coming years. We realized recently that we were getting many inquiries from grandparents of multiracial grandchildren. We began Project RACE Grandparents as a response to a need and are still in the formative stages.

What does Project RACE mean to you personally?

That’s a great, but tough question. Project RACE is the only organization that has truly filled the need for advocacy for the multiracial population. I’m a civil rights activist at heart, so it has given me an important platform, personally. However, Project RACE is not just Susan Graham; we have fabulous volunteers all over the country. Our niche is public policy for multiracial people. My role has been to teach people about advocacy and how to best influence public policy. I have not done this as an academic, but have been “feet to the floor” in walking the walk and talking the talk. I’m proud of what everyone has accomplished with Project RACE.

What changes have you seen as a result of Project RACE’s efforts? Also, is there a particular story that comes to mind of how someone has been helped?

Project RACE has been responsible for so many positive changes in public policy, forms used in education, by the medical community, and with employers. But two stories always come to mind. By the time my daughter started kindergarten in Fulton County, Georgia, it was a totally different experience than when my son enrolled at the same school three years earlier. My daughter was able to look at the application form, point to the multiracial box and say, “That’s my box. “ We had a mother in North Carolina who contacted me because her interracial family was in a very rural area, and her son had been discriminated against at his school because he was biracial. It spread to their home, and racist graffiti had been displayed in their yard. I asked her to go online and take her son to the page on our website that talked to kids about our work and had photos and bios of famous multiracial people. She did and called me back to tell me her son had openly cried when he saw those pictures and said, “I never saw anyone who looked like me before.” It was a very emotional time for all of us.

What would be your ultimate goal for Project RACE’s work? What is your vision of a more-perfect world?

The ultimate goal for Project RACE’s work would be to have multiple check-offs standard on all forms with multiracial terminology included. One word can change the life of a child and children need to see that multiracial children are included in our day-to-day lives. They need to be recognized for their entire heritage. My vision of a more-perfect world would be a world without racism against any group and with inclusion of all people as equals.

 

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