National Center for Race Amity: “The Other Tradition”

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The founder of the National Center for Race Amity, William H. (Smitty) Smith with Conference honorees.

November 19-21 marked the 5th annual Race Amity Conference held in Quincy, MA. Race Amity is a tradition that comes as a counter to the traditional discourse on race in our country which has been one of blame-grievance-rejection cycle which has not been successful in moving us forward into an era of overcoming racial oppression and racial prejudice. According to the National Center for Race Amity (NCRA) website, “This ‘other tradition’ of close collaboration, amity, and love has served as the moral and spiritual counterweight to the dominant tradition of racism that occupies so much of our national history.” This is the mission the NCRA seeks to promote, and the mission that drives the establishment of this annual conference.

The NCRA was established in 2010 and is based at Wheelock College. The history of Race Amity, however, comes from a much longer historical context. Although only formally known as race amity since approximately 1951 when the Bahai faith began to celebrate Race Amity Day and later Race Unity Day as a way of celebrating people from all different races and backgrounds, culturally and ethnically. Race Amity comes from a tradition of people of different races working together and building friendship and love through relationship. Think of the Underground Railroad during the times of slavery. This was accomplished through relationships between both black and white races, of different socio-economic backgrounds and different faith traditions working together to bring enslaved people to the North.

 

Race Amity focuses on finding areas that people who may not normally interact with each other can find common ground over.

Race Amity focuses on finding areas that people who may not normally interact with each other can find common ground over. The premise is that much of the racial divide in America comes from the history of segregation in this country. Much of the United States remains greatly segregated by race, and Race Amity attempts to bridge this divide, and through a relationship break down misperceptions and prejudices surrounding race. The founder of the National Center for Race Amity, William H. (Smitty) Smith, in an interview with The Humanist puts it this way: “The optimism for the power of the other tradition of race amity rests in a two-fold observation: one history, and, two, that in human relationships the most cherished are family, followed by friends. Friendship involves love, understanding, forgiveness, unimpeachable loyalty, and, at times, sacrifice. It is these qualities that amity embodies which are the tools needed to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges in the racial divide.”

So what does the NCRA do?  It supports multiple initiatives that further the cause of Race Amity nationally, including the annual conference right here in the Boston area. In addition to the conference other initiatives include: expansion of the Campus Conversations on Race model in a national network of colleges that employ the strategy of training student co-facilitators to guide peer group discussions on race and ethnicity; development of theater based race amity education programs targeting middle school students; and the National Race Amity Day in June.

In a social climate where talking about race has become increasingly tense and difficult it is refreshing to have a movement focused solely on overcoming the divisive rhetoric that permeates the media. Race Amity is all about building relationships across race lines to break done segregation based biases and misperceptions about one another.  The conference is an intense three days of workshops, panel presentations, and large group meetings on which these conversations are facilitated and focused.  Speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds and very diverse racial categories.

One speaker, in particular, had a compelling story about how at the age of 48 she first heard the term “white privilege.” Debby Irving comes from a white upper-middle-class background in the Boston area and stated how she had taken for granted her place in life. She describes her process towards understanding racial tensions and institutional racism as her “awakening” process. She describes it as a process of discovering a part of her culture she was largely privileged to not even be aware of its existence. Her break out session was about how we can clearly educate people about white privilege and white supremacy even to people who may not be aware of it, or who are actively denying that it exists. It was an inspiring story that no matter where you are in life, you can still continue to grow and discover things. You can even approach difficult and emotional subjects and learn to be an advocate for a cause like racial justice; it’s never too late.

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Race Amity Conference 2015 Medal of Honor recipients

Other speakers included educators implementing dynamic new educational strategies to increase underrepresented populations participation in STEM-related subjects, the creator of the White Privilege Conference Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., and National Public Radio Host, Audie Cornish, amongst others.

Overall it was an inspiring and moving conference aimed at friendship and relationship building in a time in our history when positive discourse is more needed than ever before.

For more information check out the NCRA website or attend a Race Amity Devotions and Dialogue event on the Wheelock Campus or locally around Boston.

Amy Gatlin is currently working as a graduate assistant for the Office of Government and External Affairs and Profile PicCommunity Impact as the Grants Coordinator.  She holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Minnesota Duluth and is in her final year of her Master’s Program at Wheelock College in Social Work.  She hopes to engage in international work with her social work degree upon graduation as well as advocating for justice reform for juvenile populations and adults.