The city of New Orleans is adopting a Mississippi-based racial reconciliation program in the hopes of improving community relations.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Tuesday announced The Welcome Table New Orleans program, a three-year initiative funded by a $1.2 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Founded at the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, The Welcome Table is a process that uses facilitated small-group dialogue as a tool to break down barriers and build bridges across different communities. Similar programs have been used in about a dozen cities, according to the Winter Institute’s website.
Landrieu became aware of The Welcome Table in 2004 during his tenure as lieutenant governor, said Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse, who is spearheading the project for the city. Landrieu was impressed with the programs results, which he saw on a visit to Mississippi, and sought to replicate it in New Orleans after he became mayor, she said.
Landrieu, in a news release, did not say why he thought the program was important for New Orleans, but the issue of race and racism continues to permeate civic life in the city.
For example, discussions about the future of Lakeshore Drive turned ugly earlier this month as officials considered whether to open the street to traffic in both directions on weekends and holidays. Many black residents felt the previous policy, which kept traffic flowing away from predominantly white Lakeview, was racist.
Their sentiments, in turn, provoked a sizable backlash from NOLA.com readers who accused the black residents of “playing the race card.”
Landrieu said in the news release that the issue of race should be dealt with frankly. “As I said four years ago, race is a topic that you can’t go over, or under or around — you have to go through it. 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,” he said.
Reese Morse said that the size of each group will be capped at about 25 and meet once a month. Each group will be free to focus on the topic or area of its choosing and to come up with a project that attempts to address it, she said, but the administration plans to create at least two groups with a preset mission.
Source: NOLA.com | Robert McClendon, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune