On March 13, 2008 the U.S. and Brazil signed the historic U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality, in which both nations pledge deepened cooperation in promoting equality of opportunity for the members of all racial and ethnic communities of the United States and Brazil. The Joint Action Plan calls for the engagement of the public, civil society and private sector of both countries for a long-term investment to combat racial inequality.
This bilateral recognition of our shared history and commitment to racial equality has strengthened the ties of friendship between the United States and Brazil. The U.S. Government has expressed interest in supporting multi-ethnic democracies throughout the region. Brazil, with the world’s second largest population of African descent, has become a proving ground for public policies to promote equality. Together, the U.S. and Brazil have the largest population of African descendents in the Western Hemisphere, with African-Americans making up over 14% of the U.S. population and Afro-Brazilians making up over 45% of the Brazilian population. Combating racial discrimination is also a priority in Brazil’s current government agenda. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has committed to the fight against racial discrimination by establishing a ministerial-level agency, the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR), headed by Minister Edson Santos.
The Joint Action Plan called for the formation of a Steering Group composed of various U.S. and Brazilian government agencies. The first Steering Group meeting took place during the formal launch of the Joint Action Plan on October 31, 2008 in Brasilia, Brazil. The Steering Group approved and formally announced six projects with funding for immediate implementation. After announcing the six initial projects, Assistant Secretary Thomas Shannon mentioned in an interview with O Globo, “We can offer our experience. The state has the right and authority to use its resources to promote integration and social inclusion.”
The projects selected require the involvement of a diverse set of players committed to strengthening linkages between Brazilian and United States universities; improving educational and career opportunities for people of African descent; expanding the exchange of information and best practices; and promoting equal labor rights. Simone Manigo-Truell dos Santos, director of the organization Levantamos: The Center for Afro-Brazilian—American Cooperation, and a participant of the Joint Action Plan launch, is involved in two of the six projects announced, which include the exchange program, Youth in Enterprise: The Buck Starts Here and The College Horizons outreach program. She commented, “These two projects embody the purpose of the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan in that they are affirmative actions being implemented to help educate Afro-Brazilians and provide them with the necessary tools to succeed despite the negative effects of racism.”
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics from both countries also attended the Joint Action Plan launch, and participated in various thematic panels. The engagement of U.S. and Brazilian civil society is essential to achieving the common goal of promoting racial equality. Launch participant Dr. Walter Allen, a specialist on affirmative action at UCLA, commented, “[I] am hopeful that the work begun at the launch can continue to expand and become a major collaborative effort where academics from the United States and Brazil can have the opportunity to not only dialogue with each other but also with NGOs and the two governments to address the pressing issues of race and ethnic discrimination.”
The NGO representatives and academics networked, exchanged ideas, and presented the outcomes from the thematic panels to the Steering Group, providing guidance for future endeavors of the Joint Action Plan. Lorelei Williams, another participant in the event, applauded the Department’s efforts to engage civil society, noting that “NGOs are a great leverage point for reaching the disadvantaged populations that businesses, universities and government often have less access to. NGOs often have a visceral understanding of the challenges facing Afro-descendant communities – and can therefore offer valuable, creative solutions.” U.S. civil society participants at the Joint Action Plan launch were pleased with the effort to engage a diverse set of actors. In the words of community activist Roland Roebuck, “The personalities selected were very effective and provided a view that was very balanced because it involved all sectors.”
The Joint Action Plan is still in its infancy, yet it is already evident that both governments and members of civil society are making a substantial investment to correct the mistakes of the past by combating discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity for all citizens. The next steps will focus on continued engagement and closer collaboration among the public sectors, civil society and the private sector from both Brazil and the United States. As a long-term effort to foster equal opportunity for all races and ethnic groups in the United States and Brazil, the Joint Action Plan will continue to promote the cooperation of all players who have a key role in the issues at hand. As Judith Morrison from Inter-American Foundation observed, the Joint Action Plan can be seen as the most recent example of “both governments taking the issue of racial discrimination seriously” through their work on an initiative that, she believes, “will have a real impact in both countries.”
Those interested in taking part in the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan, or learning more about it, may e-mail JointActionPlan@state.gov.