Each and every one of you – and your incredible networks – are part of our work on behalf of children. As we reflect on the progress made in 2017, we hope you are approaching 2018 with renewed vigor and determination to keep building coalitions to facilitate racial healing, bring equity to communities and create vibrant futures for children.
With our shared work in mind, the second annual National Day of Racial Healing on Jan. 16 will be a tremendous platform for showcasing the racial healing already underway and introducing more individuals, families, organizations, public officials and communities to the powerful healing concept. At the core of this work is uncovering the Truth in communities and organizations, acknowledging those Truths, and moving beyond the past to craft a new narrative for a national discourse where every person is valued and respected. In embracing racial healing, we turn away from centuries of racial hierarchy and toward a future that recognizes our common humanity.
At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we believe this is the pathway forward for communities, institutions, systems and our society as a whole. In recent months, I have personally experienced the transformative power of this healing in action. As we prepare for 2018, I’d like to share two of those experiences with you.
Two weekends ago, I was in Jackson, Mississippi for the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Mississippi occupies a special place in my heart because of family roots. My parents came to Detroit from Clarksdale, Mississippi. And Mound Bayou, Mississippi was founded by a group of former slaves led by my ancestor, Isaiah T. Montgomery. In speaking at the museum opening, I shared that my family’s blood, sweat and tears were spilled in building Mound Bayou and establishing a resilient community that became home to Medgar Evers and a breeding ground for the Civil Rights movement. Mound Bayou was a groundbreaking model at the time, a community created by African Americans where Blacks had access to education, hospitals, jobs, housing, banking – the things any other person in Mississippi could have. But until I saw the Mound Bayou exhibit in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, I never knew why the community had flourished and then failed.
What I learned was stunning. The people in power realized that the only way to stop its growth and success was to pull up the railroad tracks leading into the town – to choke off its access to commerce, to isolate it until it withered. When I knew the truth, it made me feel proud of my ancestors. Their powerful determination signified the beginning of equality for African Americans and it took something as extreme as tearing up the railroad tracks to stop it. When the people of Mississippi and visitors from all over the country enter the museum, they will see this and other stories – authentic narratives that stir strong emotions like mine. This Truth-Telling is the critical ingredient for healing in Mississippi and across the U.S.
Healing circles are frequently used in racial healing. People gather for these experiences, and they can be transformational for some participants because they unearth painful truths and conscious and unconscious biases. I had a recent experience like that from a healing circle that unfolded in my sister Brenda’s living room.
Brenda lives outside Los Angeles, where she shares a Facebook page with neighborhood friends. When the NFL national anthem controversy erupted, explosive comments were posted on the Facebook page, leading to confusion, hurt and anger. My sister posted a message urging her neighbors to stop the heated conversation on social media, and then did something truly brave: she invited everyone to her house for a face-to-face conversation.
I happened to be in LA that weekend, and ended up facilitating a healing circle. About 20 people of diverse races, religions, genders and ethnicities, arrived at my sister’s front door. Many were hesitant. Some were afraid. One arrived, despite being urged not to come. I led them through questions, and asked: “When was the first moment you realized people are different?”
Initially, they asked, what does “different” mean? I said, “You define it.” They paired up. One individual discovered “different” when encountering a person with a disability. An individual from Alabama recalled making friends with a Black girl, and later, when local Black girls were murdered in the bombing of a church, thinking: “That could have been my friend.” These conversations were deep. An individual noticed that others were “different” when they didn’t celebrate the same holidays.
Toward the end of our time together, one friend said with kindness and pride, “I don’t see Brenda’s color.” I replied, “When you say that you don’t see her color, that means that you don’t see all of her. You deny her complete identity.” A neighbor responded, “Thank you for saying that. We get scared of what to say.” I urged her, “Give Brenda the same affirmation that made you feel so good in your earliest memory of affirmation.”
In Brenda’s living room, we turned a very explosive Facebook conversation into a moment of human connection, of affirming one another.
That’s what racial healing can do for your community, and for our country.
And that is why the National Day of Racial Healing is so important. Let’s not accept the divisions we see today as permanent or the way things have to be. We can lead the transformation. The National Day of Racial Healing – Jan. 16, 2018 – is a time to begin anew and a call to action. We are all available to lead healing in our communities. Please participate in this very special day.