Everyone should know their rights, but many are not aware of them. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio works, through the Know Your Rights program, to educate the public on their rights, particularly as they pertain to identity. To help the ACLU of Ohio in this mission, the Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF) awarded the organization a $35,000 grant to further the scope of its educational efforts.
The Racial Justice Initiative grant, which launched in 2020, has provided more than $788,000 across the State of Ohio in support of projects that foster long-lasting impact and institutional change for racial justice. The Know Your Rights program provides educational opportunities in all 88 Ohio counties on systemic racism and tools you can use for safe interactions with law enforcement.
“The Racial Justice Initiative was created in response to civil rights protests seen around the state,” Laura Spires, Grant Manager at OSBF, said. “The mission is to support projects that specifically identify, address and challenge systemic racism, which hinders the pursuit of justice and public understanding of the rule of law for historically marginalized communities of color in Ohio.”
OSBF’s grants committee reviews applications and selects projects that align with the mission. While grants vary in size, the ACLU of Ohio requested $35,000, while the Bar Foundation plans to distribute $1 million in grants through the Racial Justice Initiative by the end of 2023. “ACLU of Ohio’s Know Your Rights: Rights vs Reality project is an excellent fit for our grants program because it will create valuable educational materials and experiences for students across the state of Ohio,” Spires explains.
Popular and necessary topic
The Know Your Rights program is the most popular of the ACLU of Ohio’s programming, Director of Equity and Inclusion Raphael Davis-Williams said. The members of the board, as well as other participating volunteers can help educate the public on their rights concerning encounters with law enforcement, voting laws and other resources to keep individuals safe.
“The reality of those interactions is, you don’t get a chance to really think because of the way law enforcement reacts sometimes to Black and brown men,” Davis-Williams said. “Until we can get some genuine law enforcement reforms in place, what we want to do is prepare individuals for how to react in those situations [where they may interact with law enforcement].”
ACLU of Ohio Development Director Cindy Tomm said the funding from the grant will provide video education materials and further the Know Your Rights content on the organization’s TikTok page. They will also host panel discussions to discuss some of the challenges facing Black and brown communities.
“What we realized was our Know Your Rights presentations were not culturally competent, oftentimes, in the communities where we were serving,” Tomm said. “We would be the ACLU coming in with Know Your Rights from one perspective only. We felt like we really needed to broaden that: make that be a little bit more of a 360 look at who you are, your environment, the lens of folks that are different from us who were writing the Know Your Rights programming, and felt that Know Your Rights really applies more to Black and brown communities more now than ever, and they’re the ones who need to know how to react when law enforcement comes in front of them.”
ACLU of Ohio is excited to spark conversations and questions with this program. With social media, people have more of a platform to share information, but also the opportunities to ask the questions they want to know and to connect with the ACLU of Ohio more than ever. The ACLU of Ohio and the executives of OSBF encourage people to stay up to date with what’s going on through the Racial Justice Initiative because of the importance of the work and the doors the organizations who receive this grant can open.
“People should and do care about projects like those supported by the RJI because working towards a more fair, understandable, and accessible justice system is important for our state, and this aim will not be achieved without carefully reviewing, discussing, and addressing parts of our legal system that are not serving all Ohioans equally,” Lori Keating, Executive Director of OSBF, said.
“We know that one grant cannot solve an issue which took centuries to create,” Spires said. We hope that by funding organizations with a wide range of missions and service areas that we can combat systemic racism and empower communities to make positive change. Grants funded through RJI will impact all Ohioans and benefit our state through public education, cutting edge research, resource development, and policy recommendations.”
The Racial Justice Initiative will have additional opportunities for funding in 2023. For more information, check out OSBF’s website for the next application deadline to be announced. For more on the ACLU of Ohio, visit its TikTok page or website.