For 2016, Let’s Revive the Passion for Racial Equity

A letter from La June Montgomery Tabron, President & CEO of W.K. Kellogg Foundation

In the 1960s, television broadcast black and white images of civil rights demonstrations that became etched in our consciousness. As a young child, I grew up in an environment of passion and raw emotions, as marchers clashed with unwavering opposition and great leaders were slain. These defining moments led to the historic outlawing of public discrimination, and paved the way for progress.

I inherited all that desire, yearning and thirst for equality and benefited from policies rooted in the civil rights movement. Many of my teachers were committed African-American professionals, men and women who took advantage of opportunities to attend college and then give back to their communities.

I was so fortunate to be born and raised in an era when there was some commitment towards equality, where children of color were encouraged to learn and make a difference. A series of anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws were a major step towards equality, but the civil rights movement failed to change the will of enough people. Over time public officials and judges, who were often encouraged by interest groups that opposed the broadening of civil rights, limited the scope and reach of these laws. The nation’s unfinished mission is reaching hearts, minds and souls, so that race equity can be broadly embraced by the majority of the population and the prevalent belief in racial hierarchy is at last overcome.

Today, five decades after the civil rights movement, I see barriers that are halting, and even reversing, progress. Structural racism is limiting educational, employment and housing opportunities for people of color.

La June Montgomery Tabron

Poor Children in the U.S.Today, five decades after the civil rights movement, there is still so much work to be done. Structural racism is limiting educational, employment and housing opportunities for people of color, while health disparities overwhelm communities, disabling adults and children alike, and lowering life expectancies. As a nation, we are failing our children: Census data show that children are 36 percent of the poor, but comprise only 24 percent of the U.S. population.

This snapshot in time may seem discouraging, with seemingly insurmountable challenges, but the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) sees opportunities for our nation to do better, and we have a blueprint to mark the course.

Since the founding of the Kellogg Foundation, our work has centered on creating opportunities and better life outcomes for communities, families and children, who were being left behind by society. Today, that becomes even more important as our nation heads towards majority minority status. Our broad body of work ranges from encouraging parent engagement in schools, to improving dental care in underserved communities to creating opportunities for men and boys of color, and many other areas that create environments where all children can thrive. A common thread is our desire to work with communities to heal racial wounds of the past, help communities move beyond conscious and unconscious bias and assist them in dismantling structural racism that is restricting opportunities for children.Throughout this 2015 Annual Report, we emphasize our commitment to racial healing and race equity. We believe in community-lead efforts that bring families and individuals together, and bridge our physical, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation and religious differences, allowing communities to forge powerful coalitions that can create opportunities for success for our children. Racial healing is a critical part of this equation!

Our roadmap towards healing and racial equity begins with local “truth and racial healing’’ convenings. All aspects of a community will come together, talk openly about the role of race in their community, and then overcome past differences to develop and implement strategies that will heal the wounds and create healthier and more nurturing environments for our children. For four centuries a hierarchical structure has been sustained with whites on the top and people of color on the bottom. Our convenings will help transform beliefs in this racial hierarchy, and the many structures that support it.

At the crux of every effective democracy is an unvarnished justice system, where rulings and incarcerations are based on truth and facts, not skin color or status. Yet, in communities of color, residents believe justice is fleeting. A CNN poll found that 75 percent of blacks believe that police in their neighborhood are prejudiced. A poll by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) found that 68 percent of Latinos worry that authorities will use excessive force. This lack of confidence in police leads to dangerous breakdowns in the police-community relationship, creating tensions where cooperation is needed. In communities, such as Ferguson and Baltimore, where unarmed black men have died at the hands of police, mistrust with the justice system erupted into violence. Furthermore, the nation’s mass incarceration policies have shattered families and communities, sending men and boys to prison when other options should have been considered. Professor and author Michelle Alexander underscores the devastating impact by noting that more blacks are in the correctional system today than were enslaved in 1850.

WKKF has invested in research on how law enforcement can work with communities to create positive environments. Moreover, we recognize the role that “law and order” from slavery to today has been utilized to intimidate and even force submission to a racial hierarchy that has placed people of color at the bottom of our society and restricted their opportunities for success. The acts of violence by police against unarmed men, women and children of color are injustices perpetrated by law enforcement, but also reaffirm our own commitment to research and reforming local justice systems across America.

But we must also generate passion for this work.

Fifty years ago, there were legions of Americans ready to die for equality — black and white, from all walks of life. Working-class people like James Earl Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York gave the ultimate sacrifice so that blacks could sit in the front of the bus, vote in elections and not be publically treated as second class citizens. Where is that passion today? How do we get it back?

This is a call to action. To get results, to keep moving towards equality, our ranks must swell with those committed to racial progress, committed to blocking efforts to limit voting by people of color, committed to ending racial disparities in school discipline, committed to quality education for all, committed to jobs for residents of underserved communities, committed to restoring fairness in our justice system, committed to ending segregated housing patterns, committed to providing opportunities for men and boys of color.

That’s the equity agenda for WKKF. Our call to action goes out to government, the private sector and other foundations and nonprofits to join with us. Be our partners. Be committed. Show your passion.

Change won’t come overnight, and it won’t be easy, but together we can build a brighter future for our children.