JCSU, UNC Charlotte and Queens University team up to tackle racial healing

Updated: Feb. 5, 2020 at 5:47 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Three Charlotte universities are teaming up to support racial healing and transformation. Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), Queens University and UNC Charlotte have been selected to receive a $20,000 grant to involve students in the assignment.

The campuses will split the money to provide community awareness. It will be a year long reflection of the Queen City’s history of racism and how it impacted each university.

“Charlotte’s racial history as we know is problematic,” JCSU professor Dr. Cindy Kistenberg said. “Our entire country is so divided right now and Charlotte is equally divided because we have had so many events that were disturbing, deadly and we need a way to bring people together.”

The mission is supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Six students from each campus will be chosen to participate in this work. Students will lead thought provoking projects on their individual campuses. The hope is these projects will promote truth, racial healing and awareness.

“When we tell our stories, that’s essentially how human beings relate to one another," Queens University LeAnna Rice said. "I tell you a story - you either find pieces that resonate with you or you don’t, and many cultures use that to create a sense of understanding.”

The three schools applied for the grant before but were denied. They streamlined their process and added a student component. It was the only applicant that has multiple universities teaming up to tackle racism in the communities.

“If we can bring these students together to create a group that can learn from each other and then take what they have learned into the real world - that says something,” Kistenberg said.

The process will also include healing circles. This will allow the Charlotte community to play a part in this work. Each month the universities will host a healing circle where the community can be honest, share truths and together establish a new racial narrative. An expert will lead the discussion.

“To get people to change is not an easy task, or to even consider something differently,” Rice said. “And so if we can walk away from any of those interactions and someone has thought about something differently - I think that is success.”

The healing circles will start in late summer and will be open to the community.

“The only way to see what’s happening is to expose it, shine a little sunlight on what’s happening," McCarter said. "So if that means we have to stir, we are going to stir - but that stir is in a way that will bring people together. It’s not to promote chaos, not to promote divisiveness.”

University leaders say it will take more than $20,000 to complete the work. That’s why they say they will look for more funding. The campus leaders say this is a heavy lift, but they believe it’s worth it.

“If we don’t do anything, then we are going to keep getting what we’ve gotten all throughout history,” Kistenberg said.

The organizers say this process will force them to turn the spotlight on their institutions when it comes to race and transformation. They want the school’s message to be loud and clear.

Rice added, “How can you participate in something like this and ask people to open up and try to change if you are not also willing to?”

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