How civil rights and family history converged for me in Alabama

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Credit: Suzette Brooks Masters, Selma AL February 28, 2020

On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I want to reflect on what I learned in the last year, about America, our legacy of racism, my own family history, and the power of stories.

Exactly a year ago, my husband and I visited Alabama. It was the last trip we took before COVID changed everything.

We went on our own civil rights journey to Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma. We were deeply affected by what we saw, particularly after visiting the powerful Legacy Museum and National Museum for Peace and Justice…


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Credit: Suzette Brooks Masters, looking up outside Montgomery AL right before lockdown.

I won’t lie. It’s hard to make a list of things to be grateful for with a pandemic raging, our democracy on the brink, deep divisions in our country, and an economy in distress. But I’ve spent so much time fretting in 2020 that I feel the need to practice gratitude.

Here goes.

1. I am thankful to be alive and healthy.

2. I am thankful for a loving family that is not riven by conflict and for its newest member, Koda the Pomsky.

3. I am thankful for my partner who keeps me sane, listens to me rant and…


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A small town newspaper begins a community conversation about a path forward

I am sure many of you, like me, are worried about the state of our nation. The intense polarization, the othering and dehumanization of our opponents, the assumptions we make about how our opponents perceive us and what they’ll do to us and to our country if they win, and the incessant drumbeat of information (true and false) are both exhausting and frightening.

But here’s the thing. We live in America but we also live in local communities. And the leadership and tone set in those communities at all levels, in all manner of institutions and organizations and all manner…


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Celebrate the little things when big things loom large, but add a shot of radical honesty.

To celebrate or not — that is the question.

I just had a birthday — not a big one, the kind one fusses over, but one nonetheless. And for the last 10+ years I’ve been marking my late September birthday with a gathering of dear women friends based in the New York City area. We range in age from our early 30s to our early 70s. We’re US-born and foreign-born. We’re of all faiths. Some of us have kids, some don’t. We’re highly educated and lean progressive. We’re privileged. We are doers and thinkers.

But this birthday felt different. Coming right before a critical election and in the midst…


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Credit: Art by Erre, photographed by Suzette Brooks Masters at Mass MOCA, 2020.

Non-Judgmental Listening and Story Sharing Can Durably Change Attitudes Around Contentious Issues and Heal our Divides

Ushering in a more just and inclusive America is a daunting prospect in a time of heightened conflict and division. Polarization creates incentives for each camp to hunker down, look inward, and activate its in-group or base. The self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing nature of this oppositional cycle makes it hard to transcend and see another path forward. So too does the in-group policing that creates the pressure to stay in a silo of the like-minded and avoid connecting with skeptics or those who hold conflicting views.

For those courageous enough to engage with people beyond their in-group, there are significant personal…


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Credit: Suzette Brooks Masters

Lessons from two pivotal immigration moments of the 20th century

We find ourselves in another key inflection point in our nation’s immigration history. Trump has made immigration control a centerpiece of his presidency and a core narrative arc in his appeals to the public. He has branded his America-First nationalism as incompatible with generous immigration policies, parlaying fears about demographic and cultural change into fears of the “other.” And he has turbocharged the politics of division, pitting his supporters against newcomers or any other opportunistic targets in a zero sum narrative fight over identity, resources, jobs and social capital.

True…


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For supporters of immigration and immigrants, crossing the pandemic portal requires a strategy reset, one that prioritizes gaining new supporters in a critical segment of American public opinion and avoids unforced errors.

I came to this realization gradually after having spent most of 2017 and 2018 thinking about how an explicit anti-immigrant agenda could gain traction and be electorally successful in a diverse nation like ours. Then, in 2019, I honed recommendations for how to defend against the success of grievance politics. The result is Change Is Hard, a paper explaining my research findings and recommendations, which was released in…


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By Suzette Brooks Masters

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down, seemingly overnight. The non-profit sector, like other sectors, is reeling. Many non-profits will not survive the next few months, just as too many people who will lose their battle with COVID-19. How can we ensure that the best of what they do will endure even if they do not, that the ecosystem they were a part of stays strong, effective and resilient even as it shrinks?

Responses to the pandemic that have elevated new norms allowing collective interests to supersede individual ones offer interesting examples of behavior…


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Thai farm stand in the Inland Empire Photo: Suzette Brooks Masters

Some new Census statistics have just come out and they deserve analysis and reflection. My thoughts below are based on the new data, as interpreted by William Frey of Brookings and discussed in a New York Times article here:

The US has more foreign-born residents in percentage and absolute terms than it has in 100 years. At 13.7% of the US population and 44.5 million, the foreign born population is the highest it’s been since 1910, the crest of the last large wave of immigration that ended abruptly with the 1924 racial quotas. America’s immigration doors did not reopen until…

Suzette Brooks Masters

I think about how to strengthen our pluralistic democracy, make it truly inclusive, and ensure that it leaves nobody behind.

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