Day 1 at the Truth Racial Healing & Transformation Summit
“In Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation the power of love is leveraged to transcend the power of fear,” says the visionary leader of this initiative, Dr. Gail Christopher, senior advisor and vice president at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. She is speaking at the opening of a summit that has convened 570 leaders from across the country representing racial healing and justice organizations, faith communities, corporations, academia, government and the arts.
Fifteen of us have traveled from Richmond, Virginia, to Carlsbad, California, to take part in this historic event. I will be blogging regularly as we experience these days together. On the first evening the attendees are welcomed by Stan Rodriguez of the Santa Ysabel Band of the Lipay Nation. “Hear with your heart,” he tells us. “We are the ancestors of the ones who are to come. What legacy are we going to leave them?”
Kellogg’s president and CEO, La June Montgomery Tabron, recalls the words of its founder that the only change that is permanent is the change that emerges by the force of the people. And she inspires us with Nelson Mandela’s powerful insight that “No one is born hating another…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Gail Christopher calls this event “a dream come true…. In this time when there is so much anger and pain, we will together project a different energy into the discourse.” Explaining TRHT, she says (I am paraphrasing here): What do we mean by truth? It is in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. (Of course the founders only meant white men.) Our goal is to bring forth the potential of our democracy for all to be respected and honored. Healing means to move beyond denial to recognize the fundamental fallacy of racial hierarchy and its monumental cost and to come face to face with our true humanity. In the human body, healing takes place naturally when the conditions are right. It is the same in this work: healing comes with trustbuilding, building relationships, creating a new narrative. The transformation is expressed in ending our separation and segregation, reconstructing our legal system and building an economy open to all. “Systems produce exactly what they are designed to produce. The inequalities are there by design.”
Former Mississippi governor William Winter, now 93, but as feisty as ever, is interviewed by Tsi-tsi-ki Felix, a journalist and news anchor with Univision. Winter says of the TRHT initiative, “This is the most important thing that any one of us can be involved in, without exception. We must learn to live with each other.” He says we must renew our determination not to allow the progress in racial justice to be reversed.
Winter recalls a segregationist governor claiming at a political rally, “If I am elected there will not be any more integration in Mississippi.” A supporter standing next to Winter cheered loudly. “I said to him, ‘You don’t really think he can do that?’ ‘No, but I just like to hear him say it!’” Winter observes that Americans “can get into a lot of trouble when people succumb to believing that which is not so.”
Winter says that in his travels as one of the commissioners serving President Bill Clinton’s One America initiative in 1997 and 1998 he found that everyone, regardless of race, class or politics, wanted four things: a good education for their children; a fair shot at a job; a decent house on a safe street; and to be treated with dignity and respect. “Why can’t we devote energy to making these aspirations a reality?”
The former governor, known for his educational reforms, grew up in “the most segregated corner of the most segregated state in America.” But he had a father and a mother who “taught me not to hate anyone or be unkind to anyone and to try to be fair.” A pivotal moment was his experience in the newly integrated officer corps in World War II. “I was with very able African American officers.” But on buses in southern towns he got to sit at the front while they had to it at the back. They could not eat at restaurants or go to the movies together. “I said, these things have got to change.”
I end today reflecting on Gail Christopher’s reference to the concluding words of Lincoln’s immortal second inaugural address: “With malice towards none, with charity for all…” By this he meant love for all, says Christopher. “We are not going to allow this country to descend into hate. We will stand in the presence of divine love to heal the nation.”