Commentary: Hard Truths, Healing and the Way Forward

What will it take to heal?” In the aftermath of the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the country’s democracy, that question has been voiced often and with growing urgency.

For some newly reckoning with the violence, wreckage and loss, the question was an emerging one. Yet many too familiar with the inequities in this country, and the effects of racism on our relationships and democracy, recognized the violence as part of a deep division that has wounded our nation and its people for generations. Witnessing those events, so many wondered: what does it take to come together when one person’s truth is another’s falsehood? How will we find common ground when fear and divisiveness keep us polarized?

In communities across the country, our grantees and partners have been seeking answers to those questions for more than a decade. Thanks to their efforts, there is a way forward — a way to begin the healing. But it starts with acknowledging hard truths about racism and is not an easy path.

In our work on behalf of children, families and communities, we have encountered the powerful and lasting effects of racism in every layer of our society. We believe that racial healing is at the heart of racial equity, and advancing equity makes it possible for all children to thrive.

In 2010, hundreds of people began co-creating practices that could make healing possible, as part of our America Healing initiative. Since then, in healing circles and conversations across the country, the practices and tools have been refined. And 14 Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation communities and 28 centers at colleges and universities are using the tools to build relationships, pursue racial healing and address the impacts of racism. Today there are conversation guides and resources to share the practices and widen the healing circle.

Their collective experiences affirm that healing requires time, dedication and real courage. It is hard work, deep work. But the hunger for healing is palpable. Since November, these resources have been downloaded nearly 10x more than in 2020 — people like you who are looking for a way forward.

Though we celebrated the National Day of Racial Healing yesterday, racial healing is an ongoing process we can undertake as individuals, in family and friend groups, in our communities and across society as a whole. Healing makes it possible to recognize our common humanity, acknowledge the truth of past wrongs and build the authentic relationships that can transform systems and communities, and shift our national discourse.

It all begins with an honest conversation and people like you and me being willing to share our truth and listen to understand someone else’s. I have been part of those conversations and know the courage that it requires. Being willing to engage in a conversation where everyone does not agree takes listening with an open heart and mind. It is hard to tell someone his or her story isn’t “true.” Conversations move from partisan to personal in that safe space, and we can recognize our common humanity. 

During yesterday’s fifth annual National Day of Racial Healing national premiere, young people, advocates and artists — including Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Legend, Yara Shahidi, Storm Reid and more — joined the conversation. Across the country, more than 90 virtual events and conversations are happening this week in local communities. We hope that anyone who views the national event or participates in local conversations will see how racial healing is an essential first step toward transforming the world around us into the equitable society our children need.

The National Day of Racial Healing is intentionally held the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. King inspired us to come together, confront hard truths and take action. As he put it, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Our grantees and partners in communities are doing that work and advocate the same path.

This year, as the pandemic continues to rage and we mark Inauguration Day, many people like you are saying, I need to be part of the solution. You do. Please join us.

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La June Montgomery Tabron is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich.

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A previous version of this article contained an error that’s been corrected in this version.