Many have disagreed with the concept. But a dialogue could go a long way toward jump-starting healing.

By Peniel E. Joseph, theRoot.com

Protesting the Zimmerman verdict in San Francisco CA

Protesting the Zimmerman verdict in San Francisco CA

Trayvon Martin’s tragic death has inspired nationwide demonstrations and calls for action that have reverberated all the way to the White House. President Obama’s spontaneous and heartfelt words about the plight of race relations in America touched upon the need for a national conversation about race but expressed skepticism that politicians might effectively lead such an endeavor.

Obama is right on this score. It’s time for all citizens to participate in a dialogue on race in America because we all have a stake in our nation’s democratic institutions.

Such a day could go a long way toward jump-starting the dialogue on race, democracy and public policy that is desperately needed around the nation, especially (but not only) in poor communities of color. In contrast to previously called for conversations on race (including one launched by the Clinton administration) that bore little tangible fruit, this dialogue should be purposeful and policy-driven in pursuit of an agenda of democratic transformation at the local, state and national levels.

The dialogue would be led by activists, civil rights organizers, policy experts and community leaders for the express purpose of crafting public-policy solutions connected to issues of racial disparities in criminal justice, employment, public schools, housing, health care and overall life chances in America.(…)

MOW-FLYER-0710The March on Washington’s approaching 50th anniversary should be a time of national reflection and democratic renewal to assess how far we have actually come.

But to continue the conversation, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University is convening a National Dialogue on Race Day on September 12, and we invite all to participate in local communities across the country. The agenda for the inaugural National Dialogue on Race Day will be organized around three major issues:

1. Fifty years after the March on Washington, how far have we progressed as a nation in achieving Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of multicultural and multiracial democracy?

2. Trayvon Martin, mass incarceration and the public school-to-prison crisis

3. Race and democracy in the 21st century: What do racial integration, justice and equality mean in contemporary America, and how can we shape this dialogue locally, nationally and globally? (…)

Community groups, universities and colleges, civic organizations, churches, synagogues and civil rights activists have natural constituencies to organize single panels or all-day symposiums to which students and surrounding community members would be invited to join in the conversation. Citizens seeking to participate might attend a live local event or simulcast of an event at a different location, stream an event online from their own computers and/or share their thoughts on social media with the hashtag #NDRD. Event organizers would publicize their affiliation with NDRD both on and offline. Ideally, a National Dialogue on Race Day could simultaneously occur in every community across the nation, and even those unable to organize such an event locally could easily participate online. (…)

RaceLogoFaceAmerica is well on its way to becoming a majority-minority nation, but we still too often think and speak about race in binaries. A National Dialogue on Race Day should rightfully include the diverse racial and ethnic panorama that makes up 21st-century America.

As we approach the cusp of the 50th anniversary of King’s dream, a national conversation on race and democracy led by activists, scholars, community organizers and active citizens will help us reimagine American democracy while confronting the social, political and racial injustices that threaten King’s dream and our own.

Peniel E. JosephPeniel E. Joseph is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He can be reached online at penielejoseph.com. Follow him on TwitterThe Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University will convene a “National Dialogue on Race Day” on Sept. 12, 2013. The center invites all to join in the conversation. Follow the center on Twitter.

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