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Mindful : June 2016
The group shared its proposal at a public meeting last June: a mashup of several ideas involving theater, social media, and “intimate conversations” about race. Even members couldn’t really explain their own plan. Glover has stopped attending and Kennedy took a hiatus, while the others are learning to cope with meetings that toggle between productive and discouragingly hostile. “Sometimes we just need to tighten our seatbelts and hang on,” Wofford says. If there were a direct path to racial equality, someone would have discovered the trailhead by now. There is none. America’s original hate crime, the forced importation of Africans to build the nation’s economy, might be long in the past, but its legacy has persisted in the 153 years since emancipation: through the vio- lent suppression of Reconstruction-era gains; through lynchings and Jim Crow laws; through restrictive covenants and bank redlining; through funding mechanisms that perpetuate second-rate schools in poor districts; through unequal treatment by the police and judicial sys- tems; through old-boy hiring networks; through demagoguery and talk-radio venality and a billion commonplace slights. Against these forces, progress is necessarily slow, even at the local level. Because there’s no surefire path, the Winter Institute continuously tweaks its methods, learning what works in specific communities and adjusting accordingly. Even without guaranteed results, it’s clear from the Welcome Table that people crave engage- ment and believe in its potential to improve their communities. Some drop out, but many stay in the room and muscle through the hard conver- sations in the hopes that they’ll lead to more systemic gains. “Discourse is going to be our best weapon— being able to put any topic on the table to discuss in an open, nonthreatening environment,” says Oxford’s Don Cole. “As we do that over and over and over again, much is going to fall off that table. In the end, only the truth is going to lie therein. And once we get there and recognize that truth together, then I believe we’re more powerful individuals to take that truth off to others and to the world.” ● Steven Kennedy took a break from the St. Roch Welcome Table group. Dixon still attends. “Even if it’s just to show the level of distrust and damage that’s been done in this country, it’s been valuable,” she says. Barry Yeoman is an award-winning magazine journalist who specializes in narratives about complex social issues. He has written for Parade, The Saturday Evening Post, The New New South, Sunset, and The Nation, among many others. 64 mindful June 2016 community