Kellogg Foundation launches racial reconciliation initiative

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 2/11/2016, 6 a.m.
In an effort to address the centuries of racism and structural inequality in the United States, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation ...
Gail Christopher, vice president of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. Photo: Courtesy Kellogg Foundation

In an effort to address the centuries of racism and structural inequality in the United States, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has announced its plans to establish Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, a program that will illuminate the impact of racism throughout society and bring diverse communities together to find solutions.

While inspired by global reconciliation efforts such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Gail Christopher, vice president of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, said the unique history of the United States necessitated a new approach.

“There’s nothing for us to go back to in America,” she said. “Our country was built on the false premise of a hierarchy of human value. That belief has undergirded most of our human history, and is embedded in our structures — our residential segregation patterns, in our opportunity structures and our immigration patterns.”

Established in 1930, the Kellogg Foundation is one of the largest private charitable foundations in the country, with an endowment of over $8 billion. In the past decade, it has invested more than $200 million into organizations working to promote racial healing and eradicate structural racism.

For its Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, initiative, the foundation has committed $35 million over seven years.

“For America, we think it’s about truth and racial healing from the harm that has created, and transforming ourselves as a country to where we all believe that people have a right to equal opportunity,” Christopher said.

The formation of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation process was informed by polling data research conducted by Jonathan Kaufman, director of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

A growing consensus

By aggregating decades of public opinion polls, Kaufman found that now a majority of Americans believe that more needs to be done to eliminate racism. Eighty-six percent of blacks, 70 percent of Latinos and 53 percent of whites say the country needs to make more changes to give blacks equal rights as whites.

These numbers represent a sharp increase in the public’s acknowledgement of racism.

“Things in the country are not great in terms of race relations,” said Kaufman, “but underlying that is a hopefulness that blacks, whites and Latinos want to get together to try to move to a higher ground to find something better.”

One issue that has seen dramatic changes in public opinion is criminal justice.

“Prisons, mass incarceration and African American dealings with the police were the kinds of issues that prompted white backlash in the 1960s,” said Kaufman. “Now the polls show that whites are acknowledging there’s a problem. They feel like many blacks do — that blacks aren’t being treated fairly and something needs to be done.”

One reason for this change, he explained, is the prevalence of cell phone videos showing police violence towards unarmed African Americans. “I think it woke whites up and made them come face to face with the reality that African Americans have been talking about for a long time,” he said.

Another reason, said Kaufman, is President Obama. Through his own advocacy, he has drawn greater attention to issues such as mass incarceration, and in becoming the country’s first black president, he has inspired many Americans to push for racial progress.