Magazine article Liberal Education

Racial Healing and Relationship Building

Magazine article Liberal Education

Racial Healing and Relationship Building

Article excerpt

IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus established four taxonomic "varieties" of the human species in his book Systema Naturae, describing each variety by "culture and place." The Americanus was "stubborn" and the Europeanus "inventive," while the Asiaticus was "haughty" and the Africanus "crafty, sly, careless." He later added a fifth variety, Monstrosus.

Classifications like these led to a hierarchy of human value that, over the centuries, has been expressed in policies, attitudes, and laws-from slavery to segregation, racism, racial inequity, and prejudice-that have left people emotionally wounded. Even well before Linnaeus, indigenous peoples in the "New World" were disrespected and dehumanized when their lands were colonized and confiscated by Old World invaders.

Imagine a day in the future when we have abandoned this belief in a hierarchy of human value-and healed the accompanying pain-in favor of a commitment to equity and the value of all. To realize such a future, we will need to acknowledge our wounds, affirm the sacredness of all, establish just policies, and move forward on a path of justice, dignity, and humanity. Fortunately, here in the United States, we have a pathway forward: the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) enterprise, which was launched in January 2016 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

One of five TRHT design teams working to jettison the belief in a hierarchy of human value, the Racial Healing and Relationship Building Design Team seeks to harness the transformative power of authentic relationships in order to promote emotional healing in diverse communities. As part of TRHT, healing sessions will play a significant role in the transformation of communities and our nation. This healing work is based on three major principles: truth telling, racial healing, and transformation.

Truth telling

Healing sessions held at Kellogg Foundation conferences have helped participants build relationships through honest dialogue. LaShawn Routé Chatmon, executive director of the National Equity Project, says that, at a healing session she attended, "You could feel some of the pretense wash away, and people began an honest exploration or reflection of themselves." Chatmon was paired with a white woman who spoke about abuse she had faced. "In my story," Chatmon recalls, "I talked not so much about the negatives of oppression, but how proud I was to be an African American woman and where I thought that came from for me."

Using a similar process in her work to improve educational outcomes for children, she says the healing sessions affirmed her belief that "everyone has a story and that there's healing power in listening. . . . We have to release emotion," she says, "before we can think clearly and strategically about how we're going to take action."1

Racial Healing

If we build trust based on shared experiences, we will generate the energy, will, and creativity to heal our hearts and find lasting, creative solutions for racial injustice. In Chicago, Monica Haslip established the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy. This innovative high school program for at-risk youth, most of whom are of color, helps students thrive in a spirit of racial healing. Little Black Pearl combines an educational model that is based on love, value, and culture-centered intervention with a rigorous academic curriculum. According to Haslip, "The community is in the building all the time, so students see more opportunities and possibilities."2

During the summer of 2016, in New Orleans, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center hosted its annual Maafa Ceremony, a "remembrance and healing ceremony" that encourages acknowledgement, bonding, and commitment. Maafa is a Kiswahili word that means "horrific tragedy" and refers to the transatlantic slave trade. In a procession that wove through New Orleans, stopping at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave, about five hundred participants offered homage, songs, and blessings for wisdom and courage, remembering ancestors and slaves. …

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