Opinion: Celebrating the National Day of Racial Healing

by Melia LaCour 

Days of observance can be instrumental to our healing. They are sacred hallmarks in our lifetime. They call our attention away from the sedation of the daily grind to stop and reflect in community. During this life pause, we can truly remember, honor, mourn, celebrate, love or be in silent reflection. For just one day, we can stand together in the paradox of remembering by being present to our past. We can call forward our pain, our losses, our triumphs, our revolutionaries, our beloveds, our lessons and honor their impact on our lives for they are all fundamental to our healing evolution.

Today is one of those hallmark days. January 21st marks the 4th National Day of Racial Healing. If you’re willing, today could be an invitation from your own heart to join thousands of people across the United States who have already committed to personal and collective healing from the noxious inheritance of racism.

If you’re open to it, today could be the day you choose to step into your own healing work to begin breaking free of the confines of a racial legacy that has boxed us in, beat us up, tied our hands and ripped us apart.

Should you choose this path, know that you are not alone.  In 2016, hundreds of people gathered in Carlsbad, California to attend a W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) convening to design Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT). TRHT is a “comprehensive, national community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.” Currently, there are 14 TRHT communities engaged in systems change work, rooted in racial healing

Out of this convening, in 2017, the National Day of Racial Healing was born.

“We think about the national day as a chance for people to take a moment, getting together with one another and affirming our common humanity and our relationships with one another to acknowledge, in an honest way, the deep racial divisions that are part of this nation’s history and our present,” said Oronde Miller, WKKF program officer. He added that the day is about strengthening compassion and respect amongst people from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds while rooting in a deep commitment to sustained action.

Icela Pelayo, also a WKKF program officer, added that racial healing work must be done before systems change work.

“People work proceeds transformation and systems work,” Pelayo explained. “It’s work that happens at an interpersonal level, individual level and across communities. Repairing the damage caused by racism as it manifests itself in these three ways allows us to transform racialized outcomes.” Pelayo added that the work is done through deep conversations in dyads and racial healing circles so that people can bear witness to one another’s stories.

As you sit in reflection on this significant day, you may begin to wonder: what is meant by racial healing?

“Its about restoring us to our humanity, the way we are supposed to be as humans,” said Seattle University veteran professor, Pamela Taylor.  Taylor has been offering racial healing circles though the Peacemaking Circle process since 2015. “Race is constructed, and systems and policies and practices are based on the lie of race that is intended to create hierarchy and distance from each other. We are not supposed to be this way. How can we restore our humanity? There is a lot to learn and unlearn and educate around people’s understanding of how people are supposed to be around each other.”

The reality that racial hierarchy has existed since the genocide of Indigenous people in this country is also central to TRHT’s philosophy about the need for racial healing.

“The organizing meme or narrative that we really built America was the hierarchy of human value. The idea that people were not people,” said Dr. Gail Christopher, former Senior Advisor and Vice President of WKKF and original visionary of the TRHT. “This belief contributed to America becoming a super-power. It undergirded colonization. It’s a world view and has to be jettisoned.  We must ask ourselves how this fallacy of racial hierarchy has been sustained?”

Dr. Christopher shared that the true power of the National Day of Racial Healing is to spotlight the racial healing work in which TRHT communities and others are engaging in across the country to heal the damage of living within this racial hierarchy.

“Some people call it anti-racism. I say racial healing, because it’s about healing,” she said.  “We focus on hearing each other’s stories. The principles are appreciation, belongingness to a common humanity, and consciousness change which allows you to see yourself in the face of another.”

The capacity for us to build stronger, more compassionate relationships with both ourselves and each other outside of the racial hierarchy is part of the healing process. The needed action is to destroy the racial hierarchy altogether.  And Dr. Christopher warns that this kind of healing is needed now more than ever.

“This current resurgence of white nationalism, and to have it functioning in the leadership of this country, is just unbelievable. There is no excuse for this. The only reason its promulgated is because it is based on the notion of racial hierarchy and needs to be called out and not continued.”

While the consequences of this hierarchy do continue, many across the United States are organizing around the National Day of Racial Healing to move towards a liberated future. Since the inaugural day in 2017, this observance has sparked a growing national desire to engage in racial healing as a fundamental part of racial justice work. In fact, this year, there are over 60 registered events occurring nationwide in celebration of this observance.

“Every year we see an increase in the number of proclamations from local and state governments around the country. These proclamations really affirm the intentions and the importance of having a day where people are allowed to share their respective experiences, and allowed to see one another more deeply and allowed to acknowledge both the racial divisions that have plagued this country and the vision for what’s possible.” Miller shared.  Currently, they have received 70 proclamations from cities, counties and state governments across the country actively committing to racial healing.

The National Day of Racial Healing can be a time for us to pause, reflect on our history and reality, to organize and to plan how we will stay awake and interrupt the driving forces of systemic racism.

Just one day after honoring the legacy of Dr. King, we may do well on this day of observance to remind ourselves that he once asked us to be “creatively maladjusted” to systemic racism.

“There are some things in our social system that I’m proud to be maladjusted to, and I call upon you to be maladjusted to,” Dr. King declared.  “I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of lynch mobs; I never intend to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and discrimination; I never intend to become adjusted to the tragic inequalities of the economic system which will take necessity from the masses to give luxury to the classes; I never intend to become adjusted to the insanity’s of militarism, the self-defeating method of physical violence. There are some things that I never intend to become adjusted to, and I call upon you to continue to be maladjusted.”

In observance of the National Day of Racial Healing and all the days moving forward, let us all be creatively maladjusted.

For more information about the National Day of Racial Healing and livestreaming events, please visit:

National Day of Racial Healing: https://healourcommunities.org/day-of-racial-healing/

Things people can do on the day: https://healourcommunities.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Designed-Website-Resources-Individuals2020.pdf

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation: https://healourcommunities.org/

For more information about Pamela Taylor’s racial healing circles, please visit: https://thecircleworks.com/author/circleworks4socialjustice/

Melia LaCour is a columnist for the Emerald and the Executive Director and Founder of “Becoming Justice.” Her work is rooted in the belief that racial healing is a critical component of racial justice work. She is a native Seattleite with a passion for justice, writing and karaoke.  

Featured image is attributed to Charles Wagner under a creative commons license.