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Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Lawrence Alliance tries to revive interest

Anti-discrimination group hopes new director, mission will bring volunteers

July 11, 2000

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The next year will be an important one for the Lawrence Alliance, a nonprofit organization with a mission of fighting racism and discrimination.

"If it doesn't pick up momentum, we will not be picking up funding for next year," said Jason Smartt, one of two men working to save the group.

The alliance was dormant because of a change in leadership and tiring volunteers, former members have said.

But Smartt and Christopher Grundy said they hope a new mission statement will again rally volunteers.

Lawrence city commissioners will be asked to approve the new statement at their 6:45 p.m. meeting today at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

The Lawrence city commission will address a new mission statement for the Lawrence Alliance, a nonprofit group focusing on fighting racism, at its meeting at 6:45 p.m. tonight at city hall, Sixth and Masschusetts streets.

"It's Christopher's feeling, and my feeling as well, that the alliance can probably provide a good amount of value to the community," Smartt said. "We also feel we should have to prove ourselves on a lower budget before we start requesting more money."

The group seeks $12,000 from the city for next year, down from the $18,400 it received this year.

Its main expense in the past has been for a part-time director, but the group hasn't had one since Barbara Bonnekessen left in December.

Smartt and Grundy -- who aren't being compensated for their efforts to get the alliance up and running -- hope to hire a replacement for Bonnekessen before the end of the year.

Smartt said any money unspent this year would rollover into 2001, but the group is looking at upgrading its computer, and developing displays for public arenas, such as the Douglas County Free Fair.

The $12,000 the alliance seeks for next year would go toward the director's salary. If the initiative fails, Smartt said any leftover funds could go to the city's Human Relations/Human Resources office, for its work in investigating discrimination complaints.

"It would not end up being frittered away," he said.

Change in leadership was part of the reason for the organization's decline, said Rod Bremby, former assistant city manager.

"An effort like that really needs someone who is paid to stay on top of things," he said.

Bremby said there is still a need for the group, formed in 1991. In the past, the group sponsored forums and other events aimed at improving Lawrence race relations.

"I'm very pleased to see there is some new energy," said Ann Weick, dean of the Kansas University School of Social Welfare and a former alliance chairwoman. "I certainly agree the need still continues to be there."

Part of the new initiative will be a smaller board and an annual report on discrimination in the city.

Smartt said he would like the group to have a "much more participatory role with the community as opposed to a core group of people who like to get together and talk about discrimination."

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