Coming to grips with racism: America Healing conference moves conversation from hope to possibility

Since the birth of America, racial privilege and structural inequities have influenced the nation's policies and social systems, from healthcare, education and child welfare to media, food consumption, justice and countless other facets of everyday life. In America, those who differ from the majority because of race, color, sexual orientation, religion, gender, weight and other characteristics face a deluge of outright discrimination and unconscious bias.

This paradox is routinely denied by its individual and institutional perpetrators, and sometimes even by its victims. But the impact is real. The social consequences of discrimination can be devastating for everyone, as its targets struggle to overcome barriers from artificial constructs, while those in the majority may consciously or subconsciously wrestle with the root causes of their behavior.

Thus, as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation implements a $75 million, five-year initiative to combat structural racism in America, healing the wounds of racism is a key component. "Our America Healing initiative is designed to give communities all over the country opportunities and resources to come together to undo the effects of centuries of racism and to heal the hearts," says Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. "We would like to think that twenty years from now racism will be a thing of the past and people will acknowledge that it not only existed but that there was a concerted effort to make it go away. We are proud to be part of that effort."

The Kellogg Foundation profoundly believes that healing is required to help our society move beyond denial to acknowledging and addressing the destructiveness that racism inflicts on families and communities from coast to coast.

Conference in Asheville

During a four-day, America Healing conference in Asheville, May 23-26, Kellogg Foundation grantees joined with social organizers, activists, educators, civil rights leaders and representatives of other foundations to share their visions and strategies for creating an America where there are equal opportunities for all. But before the tactical sessions began, there was an extraordinary day of healing. Each of the more than 300 conference participants were in concurrent day-long sessions where they shared emotional and instructional experiences related to race.

Dr. Gail Christopher, vice president of program strategy for the Kellogg Foundation, reasoned that grantees, as well as civic and civil rights leaders, can better enact meaningful change in their communities if they are engaged in healing sessions, where they gain a more comprehensive understanding of their own feelings and grasp the pain and suffering of others –whites and people of color alike.

"Racism has caused so much suffering in so many people," Christopher says. "It hurts, it damages and it destroys people and communities. We need healing as individuals, as families and as a nation. Our healing sessions were designed to help people connect with themselves and others in ways they had never done so before. We helped them talk about racism in a personal sense, and how they have seen it harm their friends, classmates, neighbors and strangers. Our nation needs this conversation. Before America can experience a society where all men, women and children are truly created equal, with equal opportunities, we must come to grips with racism."

By many accounts, the stories told in the healing sessions helped participants view racism through a different lens.

Christopher points out that while healing is an underpinning for the Kellogg Foundation's America Healing initiative, the foundation expects its grantees to implement programs in their communities that address structural racism and ease the pain and suffering of its victims. The America Healing conference, which was held one year after the initiative was launched, provided opportunities for grantees to discuss their challenges and accomplishments, as well as get the much needed support from their peers for their fight against racism.

"We want to build momentum to help sustain these leaders," Christopher says. "I've had folks come up to me in tears saying how much it means to them to be with like minded people.

They are finding allies across the racial lines doing this work – even in some of the most racist communities in this country – and they are working to convince them that things have to change. So this is to support and nurture the leaders and connect the movement drivers in ways they have never been connected before. We have the leaders of all the major civil rights organizations together, not to espouse their own agendas, but to be part of a collective agenda and I am very happy about that."

Progress Toward a Post-Racial Society

Under the America Healing initiative, Kellogg Foundation grantees are working across the country to address structural racism and make progress towards creating the post-racial society that many people believe can exist, but does not yet exist in America.

"What's good about the phrase, post-racial society, is that it's aspirational," says Christopher. "It suggests that there is something in the heart and minds of most people that we should not be blinded by color or the fallacy of racial difference. That's the key. This idea of racial difference is not grounded in science. The human genome and evidence tells us that there is more difference within the races than between the races. So this whole notion about racial differences is a fallacy.

"It has to be acknowledged that our society has been built on that fallacy. People of color are not proportionately represented in leadership roles of government or private industry. And wealth is so unevenly distributed in this nation. So all of this ties back into the institutionalization and internalization of this fallacy not only of racial difference but racial hierarchy. We have to pull the covers off and say this is as crazy as people believing the world was flat. America Healing is an important part of that process."

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“Empleen el dinero del modo en que crean conveniente, siempre y cuando promueva la salud, la felicidad y el bienestar de los niños.” - Will Keith Kellogg

“Sèvi ak lajan an jan w vle depi se sante timoun, byennèt timoun ak kè kontan pou timoun w ap ankouraje.” - W.K. Kelòg