Racial Healing: A National Day, but a Personal Journey

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

I was at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation conference in 2016 when the idea of a Day of Racial Healing was first mentioned. It seemed to emerge organically from the conversation at the conference.

Now, in its second year, LaJune Montgomery Tabron, the Kellogg Foundation’s CEO, reminds us that “in healing, we acknowledge the truth of past wrongs and the authentic narratives of people across communities. The National Day of Racial Healing is a call to action for people to come together and begin the dialogue.”

The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) began that dialogue in 2016. We called it Putting Racism on the Table. Based on our work, we now know:

  • 36% of our membership is applying a racial equity lens to their grantmaking and another 34% are considering adopting such a frame;
  • 30% sought additional learning for staff and leadership on racial equity;
  • 22% engaged trustees in conversations about race and how it relates to their organization;
  • 18% engaged grantees in conversations about racial equity;
  • 16% changed their grantmaking priorities; and,
  • 16% changed internal operations, policies, procedures and/or organizational culture.

I am proud of this. These actions didn’t come from one day of racial healing. Multiple conversations with many philanthropic leaders led to a multi-pronged, multi-year learning journey. But, my sense of urgency to do this work did emerge from one day of racial healing.

I was personally devastated when Trayvon Martin was killed. I couldn’t watch news coverage or read stories about it. Every time that I did, I thought, this could have been my son – roughly the same age and the same experience. My healing started when I wrote a blog post about my feelings. I let others into my experience as the mother of an African-American boy in this city, this country, at that point in time. The feelings that I would have normally kept bottled up, I shared with my professional community. That was not the only event that put WRAG on the Putting Racism on the Table learning journey, but it was pivotal.  For a movement like WRAG’s to start, someone in a leadership position must lead.

In order to heal, we must admit that there is pain and suffering. We must see or create a path to lessen or completely alleviate that pain. The depth of my pain – and my denial of racial realities — was revealed in the death of Trayvon. My healing continues. It is a process, not an event. For some, the National Day of Racial Healing may be that catalytic event that Trayvon Martin’s death was for me. I simply urge you to start on your path to racial justice, to understand the need for racial healing and to use your position to encourage others to do the same.

This piece orginally appeared on the Daily WRAG.