OXFORD, Miss. – Promoting dialogue and community building around improved race relations throughout Mississippi is the goal of the Welcome Table: An Era of Dialogue on Race, an initiative of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.
The specific goals of the Welcome Table project vary from place to place, depending on what the community’s greatest needs are. For example, in Greenwood, Miss., a biracial working group was established to discuss the sharing of economic prosperity, excellence in every school, building interracial trust and improving the internal and external images of Greenwood.
The hope is that these conversations will yield a cadre of citizens who can engage in purposeful dialogue and action to improve their communities.
The project is funded in part by a $250,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.
“We are delighted to partner with the William Winter Institute around the Welcome Table Initiative,” said Alice Warner-Mehlhorn, a Kellogg Foundation program director. “We support the work that the Institute is doing to address the healing of race relationships in Mississippi communities and strongly believe that, when people are provided with the necessary tools, they gain the capacity to make significant change.”
Since its inception in 2006, the Welcome Table effort has implemented a number of outreach programs throughout Mississippi. One such program is the Philadelphia Coalition in Neshoba County, one of the first areas in Mississippi to embrace the Welcome Table.
Leroy Clemons, chair of the Philadelphia, Miss. Coalition, says that thanks to the dialogue projects in his community, race relations have significantly improved.
“When an issue arises in the community, through open dialogue we can diffuse tensions long before they get to the point of critical mass, because the community feels they can discuss the incident openly, and that wouldn’t have happened in the past,” Clemons said.
Beginning this summer, the Welcome Table will use the funds from Kellogg to provide more strategic planning and coalition building training sessions to participating communities throughout the state.
The Welcome Table will offer a curriculum based on story-telling, which creates a safe space for dialogue and community building. Community leaders from around the state will receive training in a series of three retreats and then be supported as they engage in local work.
“We have heard from across the state that Mississippians are interested in talking about race more honestly but do not know how,” said Susan Glisson, executive director of the Winter Institute. “The Welcome Table project is one tool to help initiate frank but civil dialogue.”
Established in 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.
Besides the Kellogg Foundation, the Hearin Foundation and the Fetzer Institute have also made gifts to support the Welcome Table project.
For more information about making a gift to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, visit http://www.umf.olemiss.edu/makeagift.
Story by Sonia Thompson & I’Nasah Crockett