The National Day of Racial Healing in the Context of Now

by Melia LaCour

Today is the Fifth-Annual National Day of Racial Healing. Across the country, thousands of people will gather to engage in racial healing programs, discussions, and virtual forums in service of creating a more equitable country.

Launched in 2016 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in partnership with hundreds of racial justice activists across the United States, today’s observance comes at a time when our hearts are yearning for it most. With violent surges of white nationalism, the continued devastating rampage of COVID-19 disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), the sanctioned murder of Black people, many of us are feeling unfathomable grief, righteous rage, and utter depletion. The need for racial healing is urgent. 

So, what does racial healing mean in the context of now?  And why is racial healing important to our movements for justice?

I spoke with racial justice leaders who work in education, government, the arts, entrepreneurship, and nonprofits to explore these critical questions. I believe each leader is powerfully rooted in racial healing, love, and fierce action. Their wisdom sheds light on why racial healing must be central in our justice work at this time.

Reagan Jackson, program director at Young Women Empowered, or Y-WE, (right) and Mary Hall, co-founder of Blackout Healing (left). (Photo: Zorn Taylor)

Reagan Jackson, Program Director at Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) and Mary Hall, Co-Founder of Blackout Healing

Jackson and Hall co-founded Blackout Healing: Carefully Curated All Black Healing Spaces. For Us. By Us. With Us. Together they raised $25,000 and created a Black healing space at the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) on June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth). Their work is a loving response to the deep need for racial healing for Black people, especially in these current times. 

“We spent our summer, you know, either in COVID, in quarantine, … completely isolated or at a protest,“ said Jackson. “Even just living in Rainier Beach, I feel like I can barely walk a block without seeing posters of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, and at a certain point it feels to me like I’m walking through a funeral. Like, my whole life in the United States is walking through a funeral. And as public and prevalent as Black death has been is as public and prevalent as I want to see Black healing be. The protest [CHOP] was, in and of itself, living in vibrancy. Living in our fullness is a testament to not just our resilience but to our capacity to heal and to move forward.”

“I think right now, for me racialized healing is reclaiming the rest of my identity and reminding myself that I’m a whole person,” Hall later added. “And I think that in order to get past the rage, and the exhaustion and the tiredness, and be able to connect with other people, and remember that we’re all humans, it feels really important to me to allow more space than just this, like, one side of trauma that feels really, really difficult. I’ve also been loving this idea that we imagine ourselves to freedom and to liberation, and [invoke] the power of an emancipatory imagination in the way that Black people have always imagined themselves free and called it so before it was.”

Dr. Raedell Boateng, Director of Network for EdWork with Technology Access Foundation (TAF)

“It [racial healing] looks differently for those who have racial privilege and those who have been oppressed,” said Boateng. “In my role at TAF I get to support holistic development for BIPOC teachers and educational leaders. And we are in the process of developing a parallel track for white leaders because we recognize that we can heal and grow all day long, but if the people with political and influential power for systemic change aren’t growing and changing too, we are just running in circles. “ 

“So, we will now have two tracks of transformative educator development — one for BIPOCs and one for white folks. While the two tracks are similar in their outcomes and supported by a liberation pedagogy, there are major fundamental differences, the most important one being that for BIPOCs, we are learning to effectively challenge educational spaces to make room for who and how we (and those we lead) are AND not burn out. For white folks, it’s more of a continual process of self-awareness so as not to perpetuate inequality as BIPOCs strive to show up liberated. Both require self-exploration and challenging and changing systems. But for BIPOCs we ask, how can I take up space? For white folks we ask, how can I help create space?”

(Photo courtesy of Glenn Harris)

Glenn Harris, President of Race Forward and Publisher of Colorlines

“Racial healing means being willing to engage in truth telling about our communities and our history,” said Harris, who also once served as manager of the City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. “Naming power with love. It is an opportunity to reconcile the deep divides that have existed since the founding of our nation and to find new paths forward. It requires courage, love, and humility. It has the profound potential to center us in our collective humanity.”

When asked why racial healing was vital to our racial justice movement at this time, he shared, “Now, more than ever, honest conversations about race and our history are essential for us to find a path forward as a country. There can be no just, multiracial democracy without reconciling our history and collectively moving forward. In this moment, it’s critical that we engage those outside of our common circles of friends and acquaintances. We have to get outside of our own comfort area. We must remember that all of us are on a journey. We must remember how we came to know what we know today about justice and offer others the same opportunity to grow.”

Delbert Richardson, Second Generation Storyteller and Founder and Curator of The Unspoken Truths: The American History Travel Museum

“What does racial healing mean to me? Racializing it changes it. It’s almost impossible to heal if one does not understand the nature and the impact of the injury, which is American chattel slavery,” said Richardson. 

“What trauma are white folks either in denial of or ignorant of? That’s the foundation to racial healing. Healing must be, in my view, a personal journey. And I can’t look outside of me to heal what I am being affected by. Trauma. Embracing trauma to me is imperative to one’s healing journey.” 

Richardson also shared more about his personal journey of racial healing. “What I want to do is to feel better about self, and what I don’t want to do is point the finger at other people. Part of my journey is not to embrace the victimization but to be empowered. I love that piece about being gentle with myself along the journey of healing. Look at Jan. 6, I’ve got to be real careful of how I’m triggered by things I really don’t have any control over. I do have the ability to put feelings into context to where I don’t allow things to harm me. I’m angry, I’m rageful, I’m scared, and all that stuff, right? All that stuff is a reaction to what is going on outside of me. So, the question becomes for Delbert: How do I embrace my feelings but not allow my feelings to affect me adversely?”

Anthony B. Craig, Ed.D., Member of the Yakama Nation, Director and Professor of Practice, Leadership for Learning (Ed.D.) Program at the University of Washington College of Education

“So, for me, racial healing is really understanding that, as an individual Native person, I exist in a continuum of time that has me as connected to my ancestors as it does to my descendants and all of my contemporaries. So, the work I try to do now is, and I don’t know if it’s equal parts, but it’s liberating my ancestors who survived, in spite of attempted genocide and in the name of settler colonialism and white supremacy. And it’s not long-ago history. I mean, it certainly started centuries ago, but we’re talking about my grandmother who raised me and knew my children.”

“So, I have a grandson who was born about 100 years after my grandma. Is it very different for my grandson versus my grandmother? And I don’t think it is in terms of realizing how many tribal people think about racial healing, which is our tribal sovereignty, our tribal self-determination, in relationships with our land and waters.” 

“So, it’s not about passing laws in the settler colonial government, let’s say, unless those laws and policies and practices and rights are related to our tribal sovereignty and, you know, realizing our rightful freedoms to our homelands. So, I mean, it’s related to liberation of all other Peoples of Color and understanding settler colonialism. And the harms are particularly acute for Indigenous people and Black people, given our shared history as the original oppressed people.”

Tami Farber, Racial Equity Consultant and Transformational Executive Coach.

“I think it’s about understanding our history and [the] construct of white supremacy. Do we really understand the manifestations of what we have internalized and then how specifically they show up for us? And what’s the impact on us and those around us? That’s some of the personal work that I know I’ve done, is to really understand what I have internalized from growing up in this racialized body, this white body, that has created a sense of superiority or separated me from [BIPOC]. How has that informed my thinking? How has that informed my perceptions, my beliefs, my values, my judgements? And really being able to question those.  And not question from a judgement, beat-up, you know, deficiency mode, but to really question from a loving, critical inquiry place so that we can say, ‘Ok, now I’m seeing this more. And now, being informed, I can actually do something different.’” 

“And then we have to move into practice and as white folks we can’t do that practice alone. So, I really believe that white folks need to be doing deeper somatic work, really getting into the body and know what it’s like to really feel, to pause, to slow down, to build trust and to practice and experience what intimate, intentional, meaningful relationships look like where there’s accountability and that conflict can exist, but we stay in it together, we don’t avoid it.”

Monyee Chau, Seattle-based, Contemporary Taiwanese, Chinese American Artist

“In a Eurocentric world, we all carry generations of harm [from] the aftermath of colonization within our bodies, and intentional acts of decolonization are where we heal from racial harm,” said Chau.

“Within my practice, racial healing becomes a guiding process. I identify as a storyteller who searches for what healing can be for both my communities and I, in sharing the things that society often deems dirty, cheap, and an aesthetic/people to fetishize. I share the ways food and labor is a different language for love and care; that this legacy of resilience in my people is a story often forgotten, but that should stop with us.” 

“I focus on the ways I navigate this world as an Asian American person, whose experience does not align with those of Asian or American people, and get to tell the journey of my family and communities that have historically been told for us. I actively validate who I am in this process, and that is what heals me.”

The need for racial healing space is ever present. On this day of observance, these leaders call us home to ourselves, to reflect on, to learn about, and to commit to our own racial healing in service of ourselves and the collective. Through their stories, they challenge us to integrate racial healing as a personal and collective practice that extends far beyond just today. In the context of now, racial healing must be integrated into the bedrock of our racial justice movements each and every day. 

For more information on today’s National Day of Racial Healing events, visit the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s National Day of Racial Healing webpage.

Melia LaCour is a columnist for the South Seattle Emerald and executive director and founder of “Becoming Justice.” She identifies as Black, mixed race, and her work is rooted in the belief that racial healing is a fundamental component of racial justice work. She is a native Seattleite with a passion for justice and writing. Follow her on Twitter @melia_mlacour.

Featured Image: A collage of headshots of folx featured in this article. (Images courtesy of the individuals pictured.)

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