João Marcos Aurore Romão

Ashoka Fellow
Brazil
Fellow Since 1988

Citation

This profile was prepared when João Marcos Aurore Romão was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1988.
The New Idea
Romao wants to mobilize Brazilians to fight human rights violations, especially racism. His experience has taught him that subtle prejudice and violence are more common and just as damaging as outright violence and that both are primarily the result of what he calls "dehumanization." It's easy to attach pejorative labels to faceless groups of people, forgetting they are human beings.
Romao has demonstrated that people from very different backgrounds, colors and educations can successfully work together for a common goal. In 1984 he lived in a mostly white middle class neighborhood. The inhabitants of neighboring slums (mostly Black) had to travel through Romao's neighborhood by cablecar to go to work in downtown Rio de Janeiro. By the end of 1984 a series of robberies were committed on the cablecar. The middle class neighborhood started to get organized to combat the crimes. One of the suggestions was to "arm everybody."
At the same time that Romao attended these meetings he was also involved through his active role in the black movement with the favela (slum) organizations. The favelados complained about police violence and their white neighbors' prejudice. From this unique position, Romao decided to act. He distributed thousands of little notes saying that everybody was scared: the middle class people were afraid of the favela people and vice versa, and that things couldn't go on this way. The message was, "know your neighbor and stop being afraid."
The reaction was very positive. This movement was later called "SOS Santa Tereza." But there was need for more. Romao went to the media and in a very popular TV program he denounced some police elements involved with the criminals in Santa Tereza. Once more he insisted, "they are only able to keep on terrorizing us because we're too afraid to act."
SOS Santa Tereza grew in size and strength. The bandits (6 adults that used children to commit the robberies) and the corrupt police officers were put in jail. Today one of the youngsters involved in the criminal acts works with Romao's group. But more significantly, Santa Tereza has a strong and active multiracial and multi-class neighborhood association.
Based on this and a lifetime of similar experiences, Romao started to develop what later on would be called "IPCN Civil and Human Rights/SOS Racism." SOS Racism is promoting the creation of multi-professional, multiracial groups to deal with human rights violations. These groups' objectives are: (1) to give direct assistance to human rights violations' victims; (2) to mobilize society against violence and prejudice through discussions, lectures, seminars, and the media; and (3) to promote self esteem and pride in one's culture. To reach these objectives, SOS Racism will provide courses to community, syndicate, and church leaders, police and businesspeople regarding violence and prejudice. They have also started to do consciousness-raising work in the schools with students, teachers, and parents. Successful graduates of his roughly one year training program became deputized representatives of SOS Racism in their communities.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You