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Initiated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Enterprise, a National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Heal

1/10/2017, 2:47 p.m. | Updated on 1/10/2017, 2:47 p.m.
Just five days before inauguration of Donald Trump as the country's 45th President, millions of Americans on January 15 will ...
Dr. Gail C. Christopher

Initiated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Enterprise, a National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Heal and Overcome Deep Racial Divisions

WASHINGTON - Just five days before inauguration of Donald Trump as the country's 45th President, millions of Americans on January 15 will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, memories of the civil rights icon revolve around his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, calling for an end to racism and to the expansion of economic opportunities.

Dr. King's brilliance - strategic leadership of the Civil Rights Movement to unparalleled courage and integrity - is often over shadowed by the speech that scholars hailed as the 20th century's top public address in the U.S. Unfortunately, Dr. King's dream of equality articulated in 1963 remains unfulfilled in many communities today - a reality affirming the continued structural inequities and bias spurring widespread disparities in social conditions and opportunities for people of color.

Think about Dr. King's powerful vision. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That's the America many of us strive to create, but clearly, despite progress in some areas, we are still seeking to realize.

Furthermore, the vitriolic, divisive rhetoric and raw emotions raging throughout the past year pulled the scab off a persistent wound in the American psyche, bringing the issue of race front and center and exposing the divides in our society. What does the nation do about it? How do we move forward on a path toward racial equity that facilitates racial healing, dismantles structural racism and lifts vulnerable children on a path to success?

To-be-sure, America has made progress over the decades. Government and the courts enacted statutes and rulings ranging from Brown v. Board of Education to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that outlawed public discrimination, while purportedly providing equal opportunities. Yet, these actions only addressed the effects of racism, not its core foundation. Time has demonstrated that government and courts can enact and uphold laws, but they don't change hearts, minds and souls or address the root cause of racism.

Racism is rooted in the false belief in a human hierarchy, an antiquated taxonomy of the human family, which has fueled structural racism and conscious and unconscious bias throughout U.S. culture with a perception of inferiority or superiority based on race, physical characteristics or place of origin. Whites are placed at the top and all other racial groups in descending order. This absurd notion, which science has soundly discredited, was used to justify colonization and enslavement for centuries. And the false ideology fuels white supremacist movements and other overt expressions of racial and ethnic hatred and bigotry.

The United States has witnessed how the belief manifests in many ways. From coast to coast, communities experience disparities for people of color in health, education, employment and housing.