In her research on grassroots organizing, Hahrie Han learned about a standout case in Cincinnati. There, an evangelical megachurch, one of the nation’s largest, played a significant role in advocating for the passage of a progressive public education policy in one of the nation’s most racially divided cities.
The 2016 ballot initiative, called Issue 44, aimed to make pre-K available and affordable for every child in Cincinnati. Funding it would require a significant tax increase for property owners, but in the end that didn’t deter voters from overwhelmingly supporting the measure. The initiative won approval by 24 percentage points, the largest margin of any new education tax in Cincinnati’s history.
Han—a political scientist who now directs the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University—was fascinated by the surprising role played by Crossroads Church, whose “racial reconciliation” program, Undivided, had supplied hundreds of volunteer hours to support Issue 44.
The Undivided program and the collective political action that grew out of it will be the focus of Faith, Race, and Politics, a daylong conference that the SNF Agora Institute will host in partnership with Crossroads on Monday in Cincinnati. The event will explore Undivided and the participation it inspired as a model for how groups—whether they are bonded by religious faith, or by some other deeply held belief or connection—can bridge divides.
At this time of tense polarization in the United States, the conference is seeking out alternate narratives: stories of people finding a common cause, organizing, and working together for change.
“To understand and resolve some of our national challenges, we first have to understand what’s going on within communities and organizations on the ground,” Han says. “Democracy is grounded in the experiences people have in their everyday lives.”
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