Origins & Philosophies
The Madison, WI Institutes for the Healing of Racism belongs to a grassroots movement that traces its origins back to the late 1980s, when an ethnically diverse group of individuals in Houston, Texas began meeting to support one another in the process of healing from the social disease of racism. Our friend Cherry Steinwender was one of the original members of that group and in 1992 a co-founder of Houston’s Center for the Healing of Racism (https://www.centerhealingracism.org). By that time, the idea of the Institutes had traveled beyond the borders of the Lone Star State, thanks in part to the work of author and activist Nathan Rutstein. In 2000, Rutstein co-authored with Reginald Newkirk Racial Healing: The Institutes for the Healing of Racism, the book that more than any other articulates the philosophies and methods that guide us. Our Madison organization was founded that same year by world-renowned jazz bassist, university professor, and local activist Richard Davis, who hosted the group’s meetings in his home until 2017.
The Institutes was founded in the belief that racism is the most powerful and persistent obstacle to the attainment of a just and peaceful society. The Institutes recognizes the essential oneness of the human race; that all human beings share common ancestors; and that all of us share the responsibility to realize in our personal and social lives the oneness of humanity.
The Institutes seeks to create an environment in which people of all races can address each other in a spirit of open and honest discussion, free of blame and victimization. The principle of trusting consultation, grounded in the belief that truth lies not in the individual perspective, but in the unity of diverse souls, is fundamental to every aspect of the Institutes.
The Institutes recognizes that racism is, above all else, a social and spiritual disease, a disease woven into the moral and spiritual fiber of society. It is born of ignorance and fear, which feed upon each other in a monstrous cycle. That of which we are ignorant becomes a source of fear. Fear itself breeds greater ignorance, which further magnifies fear, and so on.
The hope of breaking this cycle lies in the recognition that racism is a disease which takes little account of laws and statutes, but which reaches deep into the individual heart and mind. It is felt that only through addressing racism in our own hearts can people of all races generate a compelling power to eradicate this pernicious disease which so cripples our nation and retards its progress toward true peace and justice.
To accomplish its mission, the Institutes must foster an understanding of how it affects all people. The Institutes is based on the notion that whites suffer from an inherent and at times subconscious feeling of superiority, and that ceaseless exertions are required to overcome this attitude. In turn, the suspicion harbored by people of color, resulting from a legacy of oppression, must also be addressed. The Institutes faces these challenges in a sensitive and non-threatening manner.
Honest and frank dialogue involving all races must occur so that individuals may help heal each other. In the process, mutual understanding develops, which evolves into genuine and sincere friendship and love.
The Institutes for the Healing of Racism has two major purposes:
1. To help individuals heal their disease or wound and,
2. To become a center for social action, whose aim is to foster racial unity within the community.
How the Institutes Functions
The purposes of the Institutes are ultimately inseparable. Neither can operate as a complete remedy, for the wisdom gained through personal reflection must be coupled with action in order to have useful results. At the same time, becoming involved in social action without embracing the therapeutic process could be irresponsible.
Since denial is a major obstacle, participants in the Institutes begin with facilitated educational topics designed to help identify and understand how racism is manifested and how it impacts all levels of society. With this knowledge, participants become motivated to rid themselves of the main elements responsible for perpetuating the disease and retarding the healing of the wound. They become ready to face the problem.
In a trusting atmosphere, individuals do not hesitate to share their true feelings. They feel comfortable, as their views are shared, not as a form of confession, but with the realization that they are afflicted with a disease or a wound and want to become better.
In this trusting and helping atmosphere, it is easy to recognize that the Institutes provides people with an opportunity to make a sincere attempt to cure their sickness or heal their wound. The sharing is not only a way to relieve inner pain, it is also an appeal for help. When people of color reveal what it is like to be patronized or rejected because of skin color – treatment which in turn fuels deep seeded suspicion and heartbreak – white people gain valuable insights into the ugly effects of the disease. Conversely, when white people openly describe their struggle to conquer feelings of superiority, people of color observe a meaningful effort to deal with deeply-ingrained emotions. Members of all races respond to each other with appropriate compassion and support, founded upon unconditional love. In this way, the Institutes fosters a real attempt to destroy the root of a serious, pernicious social ill.
When genuine friendships are forged in this manner, the group evolves into a dependable force for social action. Armed with the knowledge of how hurtful racism is to a person and a community, members of the Institutes become highly motivated to work to foster racial unity.
Format of Facilitation
Typically, the evenings of the series will follow the following format:
- 6:30 to 6:40 pm: Nuggets/Action Items – sharing of news items and articles, responding to action items shared by facilitators
- 6:40 to 6:55 pm: Education of the Mind – two facilitators lead a conversation about the topics of the Institutes
- 6:55 to 7:15 pm: Video clips/excerpts shared by two facilitators
- 7:15 to 7:20 pm: Meditation question – participants reflect on a relevant meditation question regarding anti-racism
- 7:20 to 7:35 pm: Dyad sharing – participants split up into partners/dyads to reflect on meditation
- 7:35 to 8:20 pm: Testimony – participants are welcome to share in large, open group sharing
- 8:20 to 8:30 pm: Wrap up, reminders about the following week’s action item
Volunteer facilitators help lead the Madison Institutes chapter by setting up the logistics for the series and facilitating the dialogue each week. Facilitators are learning just as all participants are. Facilitators are not experts; they simply help to keep the space safe as participants navigate this journey together. To become a facilitator, we ask that you complete two series and attend a training for facilitators.
Our current facilitators are: Dave Black, David Crook, Richard Davis, Jesse Dirkman, Veronica Hutton-Okpalaeke, Tehmina Islam, Nikki Kenyatta, Alix Loniello, Moses Prasad, Chris Reyes, Barbara Rogers, Angela Thorp, Carol Weiss, and Gina Williams.