Reflections on the 2020 National Day of Racial Healing

The National Day of Racial Healing in 2020 offered an opportunity to discuss racial healing and equity on a special day of observation and discussion. Executive Director Portia Espy reflects on the event and its impact.

by Portia Espy

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the Winter Institute hosted approximately 200 students, partners, and community members at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson for a day of conversation, performance, and film. Our event was one of many taking place across the country in observance of the fourth-annual National Day of Racial Healing. We’re delighted that so many of our supporters and partners were able to join us in person. If you were not able to make it, don’t worry ­– you can watch the replay of each of the day’s sessions on our Facebook page.

The National Day of Racial Healing was inaugurated in 2017 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which defines racial healing as “a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.” We know from experience that the common humanity which binds us together also makes the healing process complex and messy – we’re all human, after all. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, we were able to hear the experience and ideas of leaders, thinkers, and practitioners who are working to foster healing in their communities and beyond.

Day of Racial Healing - Importance of Racial Healing Panel - William Winter Institute

First Panel: Exploring the Importance of Racial Healing

The first panel explored the importance of racial healing and equity, particularly in the Deep South, and the roles each of us have to play in the process. Mississippi Public Broadcasting host Karen Brown moderated the conversation among Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans and founder of E Pluribus Unum; Dr. Otis Pickett, professor of history at Mississippi College; Rev. Dr. Jason Coker, field coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi; and Dr. Rhea Williams-Bishop, the director of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Mississippi and New Orleans programming. (Watch the panel here.)

Day of Racial Healing - Education in Healing Panel - William Winter Institute

Second Panel: Education and Racial Healing

The second panel focused specifically on the role of education — both inside and outside the classroom – in the racial healing process. Youth Engagement Lead Von Gordon moderated the discussion among Dr. Jodi Skipper from the University of Mississippi; Dr. Daphne Chamberlain from Tougaloo College; Lorena Quiroz-Lewis, an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation; and David Rae Morris, a photographer and filmmaker. (Watch the panel here.)

Our board chair, Bill Bynum, the CEO of HOPE, offered closing remarks to round out the afternoon session.

The evening session began with a screening of the HBO documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, which spotlights the work of the Equal Justice Initiative as a lens on systemic racism of the past and present.

After the film, EJI’s Deputy Director of Community Education Kiara Boone joined our Director of Community & Capacity Building April Grayson for a conversation about the importance of publicly memorializing and reckoning with the legacy of lynching. (Watch the film here and discussion here.)

Students from Jackson State University - Day of Racial Healing - William Winter InstituteBut perhaps the highlights of the day showcased several of Jackson’s most talented actors and singers. The cast of New Stage Theatre’s original production If Not Us, Then Who?: Freedom Rides to Freedom Summer performed a scene from the show, and Jackson State University’s award-winning performance troupe MADDRAMA treated us to their unique blend of music, dance, and poetry. Pam Confer closed the evening on a high note with a rendition of her original ballad, “Mississippi Beautiful.”

Thank you to everyone who gave their time and support to make the day a meaningful experience.

We hope to see you at one of the Institute’s future events, so please keep up with us on social media and at for announcements.

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