Books by Mark Warren

A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform

The persistent failure of public schooling in low-income communities constitutes one of our nation’s most pressing civil rights and social justice issues. Many school reformers recognize that poverty, racism, and a lack of power held by these communities undermine children’s education and development, but few know what to do about it. A Match on Dry Grass argues that community organizing represents a fresh and promising approach to school reform as part of a broader agenda to build power for low-income communities and address the profound social inequalities that affect the education of children. Based on a comprehensive national study, the book presents rich and compelling case studies of prominent organizing efforts in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, San Jose, and the Mississippi Delta. The authors show how organizing groups build the participation and leadership of parents and students so they can become powerful actors in school improvement efforts. They also identify promising ways to overcome divisions and create the collaborations between educators and community residents required for deep and sustainable school reform. Identifying the key processes that create strong connections between schools and communities, Warren, Mapp, and their collaborators show how community organizing builds powerful relationships that lead to the transformational change necessary to advance educational equity and a robust democracy.

Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice

By Mark Warren, Oxford University Press, 2010

Fire in the Heart uncovers the dynamic processes through which some white Americans become activists for racial justice. The book reports powerful accounts of the development of racial awareness drawn from in-depth interviews with fifty white activists in the fields of community organizing, education, and criminal justice reform.

Drawing extensively on the rich interview material, Mark Warren shows how white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own. Contrary to much contemporary thinking on racial issues focused on altruism or interests, Warren finds that cognitive and rational processes alone do little to move whites to action. Rather, the motivation to take and sustain action for racial justice is profoundly moral and relational. Warren shows how white activists come to find common cause with people of color when their core values are engaged, as they build relationships with people of color that lead to caring, and when they develop a vision of a racially just future that they understand to benefit everyone–themselves, other whites, and people of color. Warren also considers the complex dynamics and dilemmas white people face in working in multiracial organizations committed to systemic change in America’s racial order, and provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that white people can play in efforts to promote racial justice.

The first study of its kind, Fire in the Heart brings to light the perspectives of white people who are working day-to-day to build not a post-racial America but the foundations for a truly multiracial America rooted in a caring, human community with equity and justice at its core.

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Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy

By Mark Warren, Princeton University Press, 2001

Dry Bones Rattling offers the first in-depth treatment of how to rebuild the social capital of America’s communities while promoting racially inclusive, democratic participation. The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) network in Texas and the Southwest is gaining national attention as a model for reviving democratic life in the inner city–and beyond. This richly drawn study shows how the IAF network works with religious congregations and other community-based institutions to cultivate the participation and leadership of Americans most left out of our elite-centered politics. Interfaith leaders from poor communities of color collaborate with those from more affluent communities to build organizations with the power to construct affordable housing, create job-training programs, improve schools, expand public services, and increase neighborhood safety.

In clear and accessible prose, Mark Warren argues that the key to revitalizing democracy lies in connecting politics to community institutions and the values that sustain them. By doing so, the IAF network builds an organized, multiracial constituency with the power to advance desperately needed social policies. While Americans are most aware of the religious right, Warren documents the growth of progressive faith-based politics in America. He offers a realistic yet hopeful account of how this rising trend can transform the lives of people in our most troubled neighborhoods. Drawing upon six years of original fieldwork, Dry Bones Rattling proposes new answers to the problems of American democracy, community life, race relations, and the urban crisis.

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Social Capital and Poor Communities

Susan Saegert, J. Phillip Thompson, and Mark R. Warren (Editors), Russel Sage Foundation, 2005

Neighborhood support groups have always played a key role in helping the poor survive, but combating poverty requires more than simply meeting the needs of day-to-day subsistence. Social Capital and Poor Communities shows the significant achievements that can be made through collective strategies, which empower the poor to become active partners in revitalizing their neighborhoods. Trust and cooperation among residents and local organizations such as churches, small businesses, and unions form the basis of social capital, which provides access to resources that would otherwise be out of reach to poor families.

Social Capital and Poor Communities examines civic initiatives that have built affordable housing, fostered small businesses, promoted neighborhood safety, and increased political participation. At the core of each initiative lie local institutions – church congregations, parent-teacher groups, tenant associations, and community improvement alliances. The contributors explore how such groups build networks of leaders and followers and how the social power they cultivate can be successfully transferred from smaller goals to broader political advocacy. For example, community-based groups often become platforms for leaders hoping to run for local office. Church-based groups and interfaith organizations can lobby for affordable housing, job training programs, and school improvement.

Social Capital and Poor Communities convincingly demonstrates why building social capital is so important in enabling the poor to seek greater access to financial resources and public services. As the contributors make clear, this task is neither automatic nor easy. The book’s frank discussions of both successes and failures illustrate the pitfalls — conflicts of interest, resistance from power elites, and racial exclusion — that can threaten even the most promising initiatives. The impressive evidence in this volume offers valuable insights into how goal formation, leadership, and cooperation can be effectively cultivated, resulting in a remarkable force for change and a rich public life even for those communities mired in seemingly hopeless poverty.

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