Mark R. Warren

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“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.”
– Reverend Joseph Lowery

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.

Watch short clips of Mark speaking on themes from his new book: youth and racial justicerace in schools and racial justice and advocacy

About the Author 

Mark R. Warren is a sociologist concerned with the revitalization of American democratic and community life. He studies efforts to strengthen institutions that anchor inner-city communities—churches, schools, and other community-based organizations—and to build broad-based alliances among these institutions and across race and social class. Mark is interested in the development of community leaders through involvement in multiracial political action as well as the outcomes of such efforts in fostering community development, social justice, and school transformation; and is committed to using the results of scholarly research to advance democratic practice. Click Here to Visit Mark’s Home Page

Mark is the author of several books, including Fire in the Heart: How white activists embrace racial justice (Oxford University Press) and Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy (Princeton University Press), and is co-editor of a book on social capital-based strategies for combating poverty called Social Capital and Poor Communities(Russell Sage Foundation Press). Mark also published a lead article in the Harvard Educational Review on the relationship between community development and school improvement, entitled “Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform.” He currently co-directs a large-scale study of community organizing efforts at school reform and educational justice in six localities across the country. The book from this project, A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform (Oxford University Press), is out in September of 2011.

Mark is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he teaches courses on community organizing, social capital and qualitative interviewing. He works closely with many doctoral students who are interested in community organizing and school reform, in the relationship between communities and schools, and in the role of activism in advancing social, racial and educational justice.

Mark is the founding chairperson of a new Special Interest Group of the American Education Research Association on Community and Youth Organizing for Education Reform. Through this venue and others, Mark is working with a growing number of scholars to build a new field of research on the role of community organizing in education reform.

Mark is also an active member of the community at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. Before coming to Harvard, Mark was an associate professor of sociology at Fordham University, where he founded and directed the college’s service learning program. Mark continues his involvement with college students through his membership on the board of Harvard’sPhillips Brooks House Association, the college’s student-led community service/action network.

 Some of the activists featured in Fire in the Heart


Mark Soler
Mark is Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy in Washington, DC. He has worked on juvenile justice reform for many years and helped found the Building Blocks for Youthproject when he was President of the Youth Law Center. You can read about Mark in chapters 2, 3 and 5 of Fire in the Heart.


Ingrid Chapman
Ingrid is an anti-racist organizer and trainer for the Catalyst Project in the Bay Area, where she has been most recently developing the Anne Braden Anti-racist Training Program. In this photo she is on a march protesting SB 1070, the anti-immigrant legislation passed in Arizona. You can read about Ingrid in chapter 2 of Fire in the Heart.


David Utter
David is the director of the Florida Youth Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was a founder of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana which helped close the infamous Tallulah detention center and advocated for black youth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You can read about David in chapters 2 and 5 of Fire in the Heart.


Cathy Rion
Cathy is a youth organizer and former member of the board of Californians for Justice.  She is also a Unitarian Universalist minister and is pictured here officiating the wedding of another anti-racist organizer,  Jes Champagne (photo by Jill Shenker). You can read about Cathy in chapter 6 of Fire in the Heart.


Alex Caputo-Pearl
Alex is a teacher at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where you see him teaching his history class. Alex is one of the founders of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent-student-teacher activist organization, and is active in a progressive caucus in his union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles. You can read about Alex in chapter 6 of Fire in the Heart.


Kathy Dudley
Kathy is an evangelical Christian who has worked on community development and interracial partnerships for many years. She is a  founder of the Voice of Hope Ministries and the Dallas Leadership Foundation. Recently, she has been working in Nigeria, where she is pictured conducting workshops in Christian community development. You can read about Kathy in chapters 4, 6 and 7 of Fire in the Heart.


Lewis Pitts
Lewis is a lawyer with a long history of supporting racial justice organizing in the South. He served as the lead attorney in the civil suit filed against members of the KKK and Nazi Party for killing 4 anti-Klan protesters in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979. He is now working as a children’s advocate with Legal Aid of North Carolina. You can read some of Lewis’ views  in chapters 3 and 5 of Fire in the Heart.


Z. Holler
Z. is one of the leaders of the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a founder of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first effort of its kind to address the history of racism in the United States.  Z. is a retired Presbyterian minister who began his activism during the civil rights movement.   You can read about Z. in chapters 4 and 7 of Fire in the Heart.


Joseph Ellwanger
Joseph is a retired Lutheran minister and one of the leaders of the faith-based community organizing group called MICAH in Milwaukee. Joseph led the first march of white people in support of civil rights in the South, in Alabama in 1965. Here he is pictured in with Annetta Nunn, Birmingham’s first African American chief of police while attending the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. You can read about Joseph in chapter 4 of Fire in the Heart.


Madeline Talbott
Madeline is a long-time community organizer for the former ACORN organization. She is now the lead organizer for Action Now in Chicago. Here she is pictured in a rally at Wells Fargo Bank to demand loan modifications for people who were given predatory loans. You can read about Madeline is chapter 3 of Fire in the Heart.


Bob Peterson
Bob is a 5th grade teacher at La Escuela Fratney, a bilingual public school in Milwaukee. Here you see Bob watching his students try Christopher Columbus for genocide in a role play he organizes in his section on the “discovery” of America. Bob is also a founding editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and the National Coalition of Education Activists. You can read about Bob in chapter 6 of Fire in the Heart.


Seth Newton
Seth is a former labor organizer for HERE, SEIU and AFSCME where he helped organize and represent mostly immigrant workers in hotels and the service industry in California. You can read about Seth in chapters 2 and 4 of Fire in the Heart.

Praise for Fire in the Heart 

“Maybe the truth should hurt, but it’s difficult to find one’s bearings after getting slammed with the overwhelming reality of white racism—which makes Mark R. Warren’s new book Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice (Oxford University, September) a heartening read.” Read the full review by Micah Uetricht in In These Times.

“Fire in the Heart is a one-of-a-kind look at the motivations, tribulations, and contributions of white allies in the racial justice struggle. It brings to life the human dimension of social activism, and the voices of the activists included herein by Mark Warren are a true inspiration!” – Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

“In his timely, well-researched, and profoundly creative book, Mark Warren enables us to appreciate the power of moral understanding as a major source of the motivation to act, especially in ways that challenge the status quo. By focusing on racial ‘border crossers,’ people engaged in what seems to be inherently paradoxical action, he takes us well beyond the arid models of human motivation all too common in social science. By reconnecting ‘head, hands, and heart’ he helps us understand the courage to make change. And by combining the richness of narrative with systematic analysis, he makes a genuinely unique contribution to our understanding of why we do what we do. Warren’s book, like his first one, is of unusual value to scholars, practitioners, and the interested public.” – Marshall Ganz, author of Why David Sometimes Wins

“Based on rich and detailed data from interviews with 50 progressive white activists across the country, Mark Warren paints a vivid portrait of how some whites develop an awareness of racial injustice and a commitment to combat it. In the process, he persuasively demonstrates what is necessary for whites to find common ground with people of color. Anyone who cares about the future of race relations in America should read this book.” – William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

“We need all Americans working together to ensure all people–regardless of race–have access to economic and social opportunity. Mark Warren’s insightful book reminds us that a deep and lasting national commitment to justice is hard, necessary work. The color line must stop serving as a barrier to national progress.”  – Angela Glover Blackwell, co-author of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future

“In a society where racial inequality and injustice have been passively accepted as part of the American social fabric, it is critical to understand what it will take for a greater number of individuals to become committed to its eradication. This book provides that insight and it does so with clarity and passion. Advancing the cause of racial justice in education and beyond requires just this kind of activist scholarship.” – Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University


Recommended books on the role of white people in addressing racism:

Thompson, Becky. (2001). Promise and a way of life: White antiracist activism.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Wise, Tim. (2005). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press.

Thompson, Cooper, Schaefer, Emmett, & Brod, Harry, Eds. 2003. White men challenging racism: 35 personal stories. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kivel, Paul. 2002. Uprooting racism: How white people can work for racial justice (2nd ed.). Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

O’Brien, Eileen. 2001. Whites confront racism: Antiracists and their paths to actionLanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kimmel, Michael, & Ferber, Abby, Eds. 2003. Privilege: A reader. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Useful teaching resources:

USC Rossier’s online master’s in school counseling program -  Speak Up: Opening A Dialogue with Youth About Racism 

Pollock, Mica. 2008. Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in schoolNew York: New Press.

Ed Change

Teaching for Change

Multicultural resources for children on


Research, policy and advocacy/action centers focused on racial justice:

Applied Research Center

The Advancement Project

Justice Matters

Poverty Race Research Action Council

Center for Social Inclusion

The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change

The Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

California Tomorrow

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at the Harvard Law School

The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity

The Research and Action for Change and Equity (RACE) Program at the Western States Center

Other related centers addressing racism and racial justice:

Everyday Democracy


Center for Reflective Practice at MIT

Racial justice networks and publications:

Colorlines Magazine

Root & Branch Magazine

Poverty Race Research Action Council Newsletter


Black Youth Project

Want to know about efforts to address racism in Europe?


Lentin, Alana. 2004. Racism and anti-racism in Europe. London: Pluto Press.


Internet Center Anti Racism Europe


European Network Against Racism

Institute of Race Relations