Kansas City Public Schools, the Kauffman Foundation and Mayor Sly James have teamed up to organize the first in what could become a series of community conferences aimed at improving the civic dialogue on race.
“The Truth Project: A Racial Equity Workshop” will convene the second of its first two sessions — the first was Friday — on Saturday at the Central Library.
Sponsors invited the Racial Equity Institute (REI), a North Carolina non-profit that works with communities and government agencies on communication across racial lines, to run the session. Organizers are keeping a low profile for the invitation-only gathering of community leaders, which they hope will become an ongoing forum for understanding the roots of racial inequality in housing, education and other city institutions.
The initial sessions are a pilot “just intended to dip our toes in the water,” said Myles Sandler, Kauffman’s director of engagement-education. She declined to specify who was invited, except to say it was a cross section of elected and community leaders along with city and school system staff.
Natalie Allen, a KCPS spokesperson, said the idea for the initiative grew out of a collective recognition that racial disparities were not commanding the appropriate attention.
“We know based on data that Kansas City is a very segregated city,” she said. “Calling it just socioeconomic differences is a disservice...We all kind of see this as the time and the place to talk about this.”
James has long hoped to jump-start a productive conversation on race relations in the city. He is working on his own yet-to-be-unveiled race project, and wants to determine whether the workshops will be a part of his effort.
James’ chief of staff, Joni Wickham, said in an e-mail that the mayor “hopes participants develop some shared understanding of how we can move forward as a city in terms of racial equity and having difficult conversations about race.”
The invitation says in part: “This workshop helps participants become clear on how race and racism have been constructed in the US and how ideas about racism live in our unconscious minds and social structures even 50 years after the successes of the Civil Rights movement.
It also quotes from a 2014 piece about the city’s public schools by Lewis Diuguid former Kansas City Star editorial board member, who wrote, “Throughout the Kansas City area and the state, many seem unwilling to forget or forgive the district’s racially tinged history.”
Deena Hayes-Greene, co-founder and managing director of the Greensboro-based REI, said Friday the initial sessions employ group exercises and data to help participants develop a more common understanding of the history and impact of racism.
“It’s so people can walk away with a collective clarity.” But the meeting is only a first step and “an invitation to become part of a process.”
REI has worked with numerous local institutions, including public school systems in West Palm Beach, Indianapolis and Charlotte-Mecklenberg.