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During an interview in preparation for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 2022 Annual Snapshot, CEO and president La June Montgomery Tabron spoke with passion and pride about the foundation’s work on racial healing. As WKKF reflects on its seventh annual National Day of Racial Healing and re-commits to racial healing and equity year-round, we share a moment from that interview.
Q: Why is the Kellogg Foundation’s work on racial healing so personally important to you, especially at this moment?
I’m particularly passionate about racial healing right now because I’ve personally seen how racial healing can transform lives and organizations. In the wake of the pandemic and the global racial reckoning that’s been going on for nearly three years, relationship-building and connecting to bridge divides may be more important now than ever.
One of my favorite examples of the transformation that racial healing enables happened when I was visiting a college to deliver a commencement speech. There had been a series of racial flash points that had taken place at the university, and I was brought in to give the commencement on racial healing and equity.
I came in a couple of days early to speak with their board of trustees, and I’d heard that some didn’t really understand why I was coming in to give this commencement and were generally upset with the way the student body was reacting to these racial flashpoints.
So, rather than do my planned talk with the board, I shifted our conversation into a two-day racial healing circle. We had an opportunity to talk to each other, affirm our humanity and share our personal truths and life experiences. I thought it was a great conversation, but, honestly, because they had to leave quickly afterward, I wasn’t sure how everyone responded.
The next day, I gave my speech at the Commencement, and as I came down the rostrum, one of the trustees was there – one who had turned up during the first day of our healing circle with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face – and he had the biggest smile I’d ever seen. He came up to hug me afterward saying that our racial healing conversation had “changed my life” and “I’ll never be the same again.”
That experience reminds me how important it is to start with racial healing before you go into any conversation on racial equity. Because this is how change happens. This person is part of a system – in this college – and can make a difference for many, many others. This kind of conversation breaks down barriers and opens real opportunities for lasting transformation.
Also, knowing that we needed that kind of racial healing experience long before 2020, it’s almost hard to imagine the level of need for this conversation that exists – and the transformation that is possible – in the world we have today. Collectively, we’re still working through the consequences of a pandemic that’s claimed millions of lives and the global discussion on race that emerged in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The work of racial healing has always been critically important for children, families and communities, but it’s hard to remember a moment in recent history when it’s been more urgent.