Hundreds of community, civil rights and social justice leaders met in New Orleans recently with the support of a philanthropic foundation to facilitate a dialogue on how to repair American's racial wounds.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Mich., convened a four-day conference, "Healing for Democracy" in April that focused on how the country can deal with its ongoing race problem. Gail Christopher, the foundation's vice president of program strategy, said that the conference comes at a critical time for the nation.
"Trayvon Martin's tragic killing, the shootings in Tulsa, the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman in California and organized efforts to suppress voter participation for people of color, all exemplify the need for racial healing that can break down the historic barriers that have divided our nation," said Christopher of Ft. Washington, Md. "Our convening will help the participants bring racial healing to their communities."
The Kellogg Foundation, the seventh largest in the United States, was established in 1930 as an independent, privately owned foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg. Its mission is to ensure that all children be given an equal opportunity to succeed. The foundation works in areas of the country that have high poverty rates.
Christopher, 61, said that racial issues need to be aired out because it's in the best interest of the country.
"There's an urgency to address this now," Christopher said. "In our near future, the majority of children in America will be kids of color and many will live in poverty. To ensure that generations can grow up in a thriving and inclusive democracy, we must put these issues of inequity squarely in front of us so that, together, we can move beyond them."
The Martin controversy led to countless discussions in the Crescent City.
"I think he was a victim," said Joselo Lucero of Patchogue, N.Y. Lucero, 37, has been a leader against anti-immigrant violence since his brother, Marcelo, was murdered in 2008 by a White youth who happened to be hanging out with group of young people.
"It is the environment in this country," he said. "There are some people who believe that if you are Black, you are a criminal. A hoodie [and] baggy jeans fit into the stereotype that Blacks who wear those things are bad."
Rachel Godsil, director of research for the American Values Institute, said the Martin controversy shows a racial divide among Americans." CNN reported that 78 percent of all Americans thought that George Zimmerman should have been immediately arrested after the killing of Trayvon Martin," Godsil said. "In that group, it was 58 percent of Whites and 83 percent of Blacks."
She said that the divide deepened a few weeks following the shooting, with constant media coverage of the controversy.
"Forty-three percent of Whites surveyed said that they had heard enough of it while only 16 percent of Blacks said the same," she said. "This shows that Whites really do not like to talk about race."
Donna Brazile, a national Democratic Party operative and commentator who lives in the District, said that people of color need to organize.
"We need to increase the level of civic engagement in communities of color," said Brazile, 52. "We need that because we have seen the re-segregation of the South. Those people who oppose us know that we have power, but do we know that?"
Brazile said that with the use of the ballot "we can elect the first woman and the first Latino" as president of the United States.