Tell the truth without shame or blame. That’s the deceptively simple idea behind Nurturing Diversity Partners, Reggie Jackson and Fran Kaplan’s consulting group that leads workshops on issues of race and racism.
The truth when it comes to entrenched racial disparities, however, is not always easy to hear or confront. That’s why Jackson, 55, and Kaplan, 73, have spent their professional lives helping Wisconsinites do just that.
The duo first met over a decade ago when Kaplan interviewed Jackson, who has long served as head griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum, while researching a film on the institution’s founder, James Cameron. The two hit it off, and when the museum closed its doors in 2008, they reunited to brainstorm how best to carry on Cameron’s work. One idea was a program series called Griot to Go. “The goal was to have people come together for conversations about things we don’t normally talk about in this country,” says Jackson, a history buff whose work focuses on America’s legacy of racism. “And the fact that Fran and I are from different generations, racial groups and backgrounds showed people that you can do this work across such boundaries.”
The workshops were such a success across Milwaukee that Jackson and Kaplan wanted to expand their reach. So, in 2017 they created Nurturing Diversity Partners as a way to bring anti-racism workshops to the whitest parts of Wisconsin. “Everyone told us we were crazy to go into these communities and that we’d be run out of town,” recalls Jackson. “But we went anyway, and we’ve found that there are people in every community who are willing to stand up to injustice, and they’re often looking for allies.”
Over the past four years, Jackson and Kaplan have traveled to over 40 communities across Wisconsin, where they’ve worked with churches, businesses, health care systems and school districts. “There are always people who really care about these issues, and they’re the ones who invite us,” says Kaplan. “What we do is help them normalize the conversation about race so they can continue it.”
Though Jackson and Kaplan pride themselves on an arsenal of unique programs, Nurturing Diversity Partners regularly tackles familiar topics. Among them is unconscious bias, an issue that Milwaukee County hired Jackson and Kaplan to help employees address after the county named racism a public health crisis in 2019. The move was a step in the right direction, says Kaplan, but Milwaukee still has a long way to go. “Cultures do change, but what public health tells us is that you need a lot of different factors to change,” says Kaplan. “We now have to figure out what those factors are with race and begin to really address them.” The need for Nurturing Diversity Partners, in other words, shows no signs of slowing.
What work needs to be done to improve a sense of community in Milwaukee?
“It’s very simple: A healthy Milwaukee is a city that values every individual equally. It’s a city that provides people in every community with opportunities that allow them to use their human potential in the best way possible.” – Reggie Jackson