Jeruse Maria Romão
Fellow Since 1998
Núcleo de Estudos Negros - NEN
This profile was prepared when Jeruse Maria Romão was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Jeruse Romão understands that the process of challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down discriminatory barriers involves concerted efforts over many years. Since images formed in childhood tend to endure, she feels it makes more sense to provide positive racial messages in school than to try to combat the effects of prejudice later in the life cycle. For that reason Jeruse is determined to make sure that children of all ethnic groups have access to accurate materials on Afro-Brazilian history and culture while they are still young and impressionable. Since so few appropriate texts exist, she has created the Center of Reference for Afro-Brazilian Educational Materials, an exchange network that brings together people who design and produce books, games, music and other teaching resources with school systems and individuals who seek learning tools for their classrooms. While the Center itself is the first of its kind in the region, what is truly novel about Jeruse's idea is her plan for producing and disseminating these educational materials as broadly as possible. Over the past few years, since the decentralization of the national school system, she has led the struggle for municipal legislation to oblige local school districts to incorporate Afro-Brazilian themes into educational curricula. At the same time, from her position as education coordinator of the Nucleus for Black Studies, she has been among the principal actors in preparing and gathering didactic materials for elementary and secondary school students, working with teachers' unions to enlist their support. Now Jeruse is reaching out to the private sector, especially successful black business people, appealing to their sense of social responsibility in the hope that they will sponsor the mass production of the materials she assembles. By weaving together contributions from each of the three sectors of society, Jeruse is engineering a comprehensive and effective shift in the attitudes towards race that children develop in school, thereby laying the groundwork for increased opportunity and reduced social tension when they move into adult life.