Community Action Duluth employee says she is driven to eliminate racism

Julia Cheng has it good. She helps people who are struggling nearly every day, and she has the chance to realize her deepest principles and get paid for it. These deeply philosophical ideologies most often involve her beliefs about racism because she sees firsthand the effects that it has on her clients. Cheng is a tax-site coordinator for Community Action Duluth (CAD), which is a non-profit organization with the mission of helping locals through several different means. "It is the mission of Community Action Duluth to use innovative strategies that mobilize low-income people and the broader community to build assets that prevent poverty, create equality, and strengthen our social fabric," according to the organization's website.

At CAD, Cheng helps low-income families and members of the community to prepare their taxes by making sure that the entire system is working smoothly. This involves recruiting volunteers, dealing with the IRS and getting grants for funding.

Through this work, Cheng has come to the realization that many people in the community regularly come up against racism. This has transferred into the work that she does for CAD as well as into the ideologies that she promotes.

"She has been an asset to our agency since she first started as an AmeriCorps member," said Angie Miller, executive director at CAD.

Cheng wasn't always a tax-site coordinator for Community Action Duluth. She had worked on the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc. board where she has been a member since 2006. The memorial is dedicated to three African-American circus workers who were lynched in Duluth on June 15, 1920.

"My involvement with the memorial board kind of led me to get interested in working here at CAD," Cheng said.

There are several different ways in which the organization is working to alleviate the effects of racism, Cheng said. CAD has three strategic priorities, one of which is anti-racism.

"I'm on the anti-racism committee here at CAD," Cheng said. "We do things to build our staff into a more multiculturally diverse and aware group of people."

CAD also sponsors several anti-racism programs within the community. These programs most often involve helping raise awareness and creating discussion about racism.

"Starting in 2006, we sponsored a number of ASDIC's," Cheng said.

ASDIC stands for Anti Racism Study Dialogue Circles. CAD sponsors discussion-based forums like this with several other organizations in the community, including Peace Church and the People's Institute North.

"There are a number of groups that met for about 12 weeks," Cheng said. "Some of the people in my group are still very active members of the community in different arenas."

Not only does CAD try to promote anti-racism within its own programs, the organization also helps its partners, including those involved in the Unfair Campaign, to do the same thing. Cheng said she can't speak for the Unfair Campaign, but she said that CAD has been involved in the campaign.

"The position of CAD is that racism is more than personal interaction, like staying away from racist epithets," Cheng said. "We consider racism to be something that is embedded in the institutions and systems on an all-permeating level."

Cheng also said that until this kind of racism is addressed, it will be very difficult to eliminate poverty.

"There are a lot of barriers that have arisen because of public policy over centuries of our history," Cheng said.

In essence, a lot of these barriers seem to be inherent in the systems that are in place around the world, Cheng said. What exactly must occur to change those systems or tear down those barriers isn't clear.

However, many of the programs at CAD work on the assumption that the organization is having a positive effect on helping with the fight against racism. These programs have definitely led Cheng to certain realizations about how racism is affecting the community.

"Some of us are very fortunate to work in a field where we get to realize our deepest principles and get paid for it," Cheng said.

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