Consider the work of former Mississippi Governor William Winter who has established the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. This wonderful organization is multifaceted in its work to eliminate racism and bring about reconciliation. One of the best examples of their work was when they were invited to go to Philadelphia, MS where the three civil rights workers were slain in 1964. They helped the townspeople work through truth-telling to get to a point of reconciliation between whites and blacks. Even more recently they arranged for an exchange of twenty students from Philadelphia, MS and twenty students from Tallahatchie in the Mississippi Delta where Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955 to learn each other’s history – to tell their stories. Because of the work of the Institute, Mississippi has seen a number of changes, for example, curriculum in the public schools has been changed to include the civil rights movement.
Their mission is to “foster reconciliation and civic renewal wherever people suffer as a result of racial discrimination or alienation, and promote scholarly research, study and teaching on race and the impact of race and racism.” The work of the Institute goes far beyond the borders of Mississippi. They were involved in the “America Healing: Racial Equity Communities of Practice Conference” made up of over 140 organizations and individuals who work toward racial healing here in our country, among their many other projects and educational outreach.
There are a number of grass-roots organizations all around the United States that are working for the same goals. The Minority Round Table of Hampton Roads in Virginia is one example. Founded in 1994, they work to gather individuals from the diverse ethnic backgrounds in the area to come together in forums and work on common problems and exchange information – to tell their stories. The Memphis Race Relations and Diversity Institute in Tennessee is another example. They work with businesses to truly understand about diversity and how to successfully handle it within their particular business. The Greensboro (NC) Truth and Community Reconciliation Project follows much of what was learned from South Africa and Mississippi. In Georgia the Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee built a “living memorial to promote justice and racial reconciliation” a generation after the killing of two black couples by whites in 1946. Birmingham, Alabama – once considered the most racist place in America –has programs not only through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, but also through the Birmingham Metro Diversity Coalition. The BMDC coordinates all of the organizations that are working for racial justice and harmony in that city. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program is far-reaching in thousands of schools to promote understanding.
These projects and organizations are nationwide. Consider the youth-led Racial Healing and Reconciliation Project in New England that deals with many issues of race relations. It also looks at the connection between race and public health issues as does the Racial Healing and Reconciliation Documentary Project in Jamaica, NY. In Tampa, Florida the “Race With History” and “Listening Beyond the Lines” provides CDs and videos telling the stories. Because three young black men were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota there is the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, “a public commitment to acknowledge its (Duluth’s) painful history and move forward to a more just and inclusive community.” And for providing educational materials internationally one can go to “Facing History and Ourselves” in Brookline, Massachusetts. The website for “blackgivesback” provides insight into many of the projects going on across our country. I am so impressed by the work and enthusiasm of the Birmingham Change Fund and the Community Investment Networks around the country where African-Americans are investing time and money in philanthropic endeavors.
I only have mentioned a few of the hundreds and hundreds of things going on in our country to promote harmony between races. Do we need to do more? Of course, we do. Even so, I have come to believe that the dream of Dr. King lives on. I believe that racial reconciliation is possible. However, we cannot achieve it by ignoring our history. We must listen to each other as both sides share their stories. We must be involved in truth-telling. Reconciliation will not happen easily, but it can happen. It’s up to all of us.
It’s up to you.
I welcome your comments.