The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, together with more than 130 organizations committed to its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise, lead a National Day of Racial Healing on Jan. 17, 2017. This bold call to action—held just days before the inauguration of President Trump — was initiated as a response to the contentious rhetoric, hate crimes and vivid expressions of racism revealed during the 2016 campaign for the presidency. Many across the country were stunned by the ferocity shown, others whose daily lives are too often impacted by explicit and implicit biases were not. But no matter where we fall, we were all in need of both healing and of space to re-connect with our dignity and humanity.
The Kirwan Institute heeded the call. One of the many roles The Kirwan Institute takes on is that of “convener” — holding space where folks can come together across difference, and strive together toward greater understanding and a more just future for all in our communities. On this day, we held a community-based, World Café discussion in Columbus, Ohio that focused the participants’ attention on two questions: What is the Change? And What Time is it, for us? We adopted a stance of humility in our engagement with one another by suggesting that we de-couple vulnerability from risk, safety from the absence of danger, and certitude from correctness.
In such a space, powerful emotions and ideas were lifted up, such as practicing radical empathy, allowing for and responding to anger, and stepping back to find points of connection with those who think differently than us. We talked about respecting the humanity of all of our neighbors, even those with whom we might disagree, by standing firm in love. We talked about rooting and reaching out, and the power of vulnerability. We talked about shifting our “us vs. them” mentality and striving for more “yes, and” conversations. And we all discovered or re-discovered the power of process, of coming together for no other reason than to support and nurture each other in times of great collective, and individual anxiety. As an institute, we were deeply moved by participants’ willingness to be vulnerable, to commit to mutual safety, and to seek points of continuity in complexity. We at Kirwan are inspired to continue creating spaces such as these.