Vital Difference: The Role of Race in Building Community (2004)

Vital Difference: The Role of Race in Building Community (2004)

Author(s): Ceasar McDowell, Joy Amulya, Christie OʼCampbell, Ryan Allen
  • Type: Report
  • Researcher: Other Researchers
  • Timeline: 2000s
  • Affiliation: Faculty

Co-authored by Ceasar McDowell, then associate professor of the practice of community development and director of The MIT Center for Reflective Community Practice (CRCP), this report argues that race—often considered divisive—can actually play a significant role in uniting underserved communities. 


"Vital Difference: The Role of Race in Building Community" is the result of a multi-year collaboration between MITʼs Center for Reflective Community Practice (CRCP) and five community organizations engaged in building democratic participation aimed explicitly at addressing racial exclusion. This collaborative aimed to use the reflective learning process developed by CRCP to enable practitioners from these communities to access the tacit knowledge that is embedded in their practice. Vital Difference demonstrates the power of this reflective process by offering a glimpse into the extensive knowledge developed by the five community-based organizations regarding the role of race in community building. Vital Difference makes the case that (1) practitioner knowledge is critical for advancing the field of community building, (2) race is of fundamental importance in community-building work, and (3) engaging race drives the reinvention of the tools and processes best suited to building meaningful and lasting democratic participation.


The mission of the Center for Reflective Community Practice (CRCP) is to work toward a more just and equitable society by expanding access to and engagement with the knowledge developed by people working on the ground in disenfranchised, low income communities. CRCP aims to both empower and learn from those individuals who, in the face of injustice, inequality and exclusion, have dedicated themselves to making their communities healthier and more vibrant places to live. The knowledge that is formed in the face of struggles to create lasting change, by those who are least served by society, is significant, sophisticated, and essential for framing and solving todayʼs most urgent social problems. CRCP believes that the impact of work for social change will increase when the knowledge from community practice is used widely in efforts to address injustice and inequity.

Amulya, Joy, Christie O'Campbell, Ryan Allen, and Ceasar McDowell. (2004). "Vital Difference: The Role of Race in Building Community." 10.13140/RG.2.2.22129.51040