Talking about the curse of racism

SHARE’s Jacob Piney-Johnson leads a conversation on racism at the National Day of Racial Healing event in Kalamazoo on January 17. The event was presented by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Black Arts & Cultural Center, Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, ISAAC, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, SHARE and Welcoming Michigan, in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Photo by Jacqueline Luttrell.

It’s an overwhelming curse, older than this country, with threads woven through the fabric of society. 

One evening of talk didn’t cure racism. No one expected it to. But Kalamazoo’s Day of Healing event in January brought out a capacity crowd of community members willing to talk about the curse — and that was a good sign, event speakers and organizers say.

The National Day of Racial Healing was sparked by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Initiative.

The exact target of the TRHT initiative is the belief in a “hierarchy of human value,” WKKF press materials state. “This absurd belief, which has fueled racism throughout American culture, is the perception of inferiority or superiority based on race, physical characteristics, or place of origin.”

Jacob Piney-Johnson, a representative of SHARE was among eight Kalamazoo activists who attended a TRHT summit in December. 

“It’s not a one-time event; it’s really going to take some long-term effort in organizing to really address the illness of racism. But to see folks come out, to be in solidarity, to communicate and converse with each other about the topic ... It felt like a spark for me,” he says about the Kalamazoo event.

“The complexity of the issue is huge.” The TRHT guidelines break the issue down into areas of the economy, law, narrative change, separation and racial healing. “That’s one of the things I appreciate about the initiative,” he says. “It’s a multi-faceted approach.”  

Piney-Johnson hopes these talks “on a basic level, tell the truth about the history and build relationships with folks, and then go down deeper and really do some unpacking of that iceberg. See what’s really going on at the national level and, specifically, on the local level.”

For the next step, he hopes for sessions that are “really looking into the future. What does a society look like,” he says, “when it moves beyond hierarchy, as a concept of human identity?” 

Work will continue, he says. The TRHT is still organizing in Kalamazoo, with the next event to be announced. There have been, and continue to be, monthly events by anti-racism groups, Piney-Johnson reminds us. “The work of racial justice happens on many fronts, and it really has to be a holistic approach.” 

This story by Mark Wedel is abridged and reprinted with permission of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. You can read the full story online at secondwavemedia.com.

March 26, 2017

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