Thanks to a recent Associated Press poll we know that simply electing someone black to the highest office in the land isn't the key to improving race relations in the United States. According to this data, since President Obama's election, racial attitudes in the United States have not only not magically improved, a slight majority of white Americans harbor racial prejudice toward both blacks and Latinos, even if they don't recognize their attitudes as such.
At a time when our social and economic prosperity depends on our ability to live, go to school, and work alongside diverse groups of people, what needs to happen to actually bring Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds together? The Racial Healing and Reconciliation Project (PDF), a Boston program for high school students, could be a useful model.
Started in 2010, the program, which began at Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center as an initiative to improve community health, brought together 16 high school students from diverse backgrounds—half of these students identify as white and half as people of color. They participated in a year of twice-weekly workshops and discussion groups where they were "challenged to move beyond purely intellectual conversations about race and racism." Because conversations about race can easily become emotionally charged, the students were supported through the process by each other, a team of community organizers, and by social workers.
Six months into the project, the students agreed to have a camera film some of their activities. As you can see in the video above, these teens are having the kinds of honest conversations about race that most adults avoid. But, getting to that point hasn't been easy. "You're going to hit a wall where you don’t want to come back," says one boy. "You gotta push through it because it ends up being worth it."
Thanks to the project, the students have become more trusting and have developed true friendships with their peers from diverse backgrounds. If we don't want the next generation to continue the racial divisions that we currently see in our society, this is the kind of program we need in every school.