City Hall will facilitate a series of meetings over the next three years aimed at improving race relations and by extension neighborhoods and communities in New Orleans, under a program announced this week by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The “Welcome Table New Orleans” initiative will be conducted in partnership with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi. The initiative will be funded by a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Urban League of Greater New Orleans is also a partner in the effort.
“We believe pretty strongly at the Winter Institute that the legacy of race and racism has run a tortured thread throughout American history and has affected just about everything we do in our country,” said Susan Glisson, executive director of the institute.
“At times there have been efforts to ameliorate the negativity that comes with racism. But for the most part, we haven’t as a nation fully grappled with the legacy of slavery and segregation and institutional racism.”
The Welcome Table is an attempt to address those issues, as well as the other ways — such as religion, gender and sexuality — by which Americans divide themselves to the detriment of their communities, Glisson said. The institute operates similar programs in 16 Mississippi communities.
Under the initiative, residents of different racial groups and backgrounds will be divided into groups of no more than 25 people. For several months, they will participate in relationship- and trust-building exercises. Then they will undergo education and training about how to deal with the more challenging aspects of race relations. The final step is the creation of an “equity plan” to address issues raised by the group and the larger community, Glisson said. The Winter Institute will oversee the discussions.
Each group will decide what actions are included in its plan, Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse said.
“My hope is that groups will focus on one or more than one of the pillars that are included in NOLA for Life,” Morse said, referring to Landrieu’s multipronged program to reduce the city’s murder rate.
Those pillars include creating safer communities, opportunities for young people and more economic opportunities for people in need, she said. But the groups will not be limited to those areas, she said.
Landrieu approached the Winter Institute to bring its program to New Orleans.
In a written statement, he said the effort is aimed at bringing “diverse citizens from across the city together to meet, share experiences and work together to improve neighborhoods and communities.”
“Race is a topic that you can’t go over or under or around — you have to go through it,” Landrieu said. “I believe our city’s diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and that the people of New Orleans are ready to look closely at the ways in which race and reconciliation can have a positive impact instead of a negative impact.”
The city will provide more details on the endeavor at two information sessions next week. The first will be at 6 p.m. Monday at New Hope Baptist Church, 1807 La Salle St. The second will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at St. Roch Community Church, 1738 St. Roch Ave.