Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dr. Cructcher, President UR“We in this country are at a cultural and maybe moral crossroads," says Rev. Alvin Herring, director of racial equity and community engagement at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We must speak truth, hold ourselves accountable, lament, and offer and accept forgiveness.” Herring was speaking to 300 community leaders at a forum titled “Journey to Equity” organized by Hope in the Cities and hosted by the University of Richmond. In welcoming the participants, Dr. Ronald Crutcher, president of the University of Richmond, recognized the challenge. “This is not easy work and we all have a part to play.” (Photo: Dr. Ronald Crutcher) 

Alvin Herring Forum URRev. Herring told the audience that the Kellogg Foundation is “launching a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation enterprise and Richmond is one of 10 localities chosen to launch it.” While in Richmond, he met with police and faith leaders and with the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) which was created to implement the recommendations of the anti-poverty commission. (Photo: Rev. Alvin Herring)

Speaking on behalf of Mayor Levar Stoney, who constructed an unprecedented multiracial coalition to win office, Dr. Thad Williamson, OCWB’s first director, told the forum, “The research question I care most about is finding out just how far we can go in making the City of Richmond a model of emerging social justice out of the embers of an often-terrible history.” He thanked Hope in the Cities for its work over the decades to “overcome racial polarization and to help make possible this strange moment, when Richmond is being seen as a harbinger of hope in what for many is a terrible and fearful time…Mayor Stoney in the campaign liked to say his goal was that by the end of his tenure Richmond would no longer be referred to as the former capital of the Confederacy. Perhaps we will become known as the capital of racial reconciliation. Or better yet, imagine Richmond being known as the capital of community wealth building with a racial equity lens and unabashed commitment to inclusion of and respect for all people.”

Alvin Herring forum at URNoting that Richmond is in a “process of trustbuilding,” Williamson highlighted two key areas of the mayor’s objectives: First, to change the conversation on education by creating an Education Compact - “a shared commitment among all local elected official to work together to prioritize and elevate the needs of children and families.” Second, to extend the community wealth building paradigm even further and make it the model not only for one agency but for genuine systemic change. Beyond expanding programs connecting residents to jobs it means “looking deeper than we have before at the entire array of human services and building seamless pathways for families across the full spectrum from in crisis to stable to thriving.”

Alvin Herring Forum URRev. Herring began his remarks by asking everyone to turn to their neighbor and say “Sawubona,” a Zulu greeting that means “I see you.”  He explained, “We have to see each other in a whole new way…When we start seeing people, they start wanting to be seen. They start wanting to tell their stories… People who were invisible to us start showing up to us and their struggles become real to us."  He said that racial equity requires that we give each other “a moment of intentional respect…That is the real work.”

Speaking of the Kellogg Foundation’s commitment to overcome the fallacy of a human hierarchy based on race, Herring said, “We have to bring all of our resources to bear to jettison this false notion.”  He continued, “We at the Kellogg Foundation believe healing is necessary to dismantle racism.  No matter how fierce you are in your action, at the end of the day this still needs to happen. There is no running from this. Why not make this day now?”

Alvin Herring Forum at URResponding to Herring’s talk, Kelly Chopus of the Robins Foundation said, “Grant makers are talking and learning together about equity issues. “The public sector has started conversations and learning as well. In the region, the five superintendents who represent the largest schools districts regularly meet to discuss these issues and how the issues impact kids and families. The Richmond school board has committed to use an equity lens as they make school policy. Nonprofit organizations are doing the same, hosting community conversations on important and challenging topics such as equity. Others are changing the narrative for kids and families by asking, ‘what has happened to our kids?’ rather than ‘what’s wrong with our kids?’”

Herring acknowledged that sometimes when you are in the midst of such a challenging process, progress is “hard to see.” But he assured the audience, “Richmond is on the rise! We at the W.K. Foundation will walk with you.”

Photos: ©Karen Elliott Greisdorf