Who: The HBCU Truth & Reconciliation Oral History Project is sponsored by seven Historically Black Colleges or Universities and two Texas independent universities. Its title sponsor is Wiley College of Marshall, TX and is supported by Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University, Southwestern Christian University, Jarvis Christian College, St. Philip’s College, and Huston-Tillotson University along with Baylor University, City University of New York, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the United States Christian Leadership Organization.
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Student conducted interviews of experiences of racial discrimination of loved ones of color of African American and Latino/a origin. In our efforts to heal from the effects of racial discord in America we must be willing to expose and hear the experiences of those who have suffered. Only by truly listening to those most impacted can we begin the process of healing and reconciliation.
The HBCU Truth & Reconciliation Oral History Project is an endeavor that uses the power of spoken and documented words to heal and create spiritual and social change.
It seeks to do this by asking ordinary loved ones of color to share personal stories of racial discrimination and its impact upon them, in an effort to be heard, and then documenting them. These stories and, their related research, will be used to foster healing at the personal level and reconciliation at the national level, as well as inform educational policy changes within the political environment and spiritual changes within the ecumenical community—all done from a grassroots and common person’s perspective. The story of Exodus and of the Bible tells us the mere fact of crying out as a story share, and of being heard, activates and spurs the healing, compassion, and saving activity of God of which the United States and its current racial environment so desperately need.
These stories are captured, gathered and processed by participating HBCU academy colleges and universities using academic and historical research methodology, and then archived to promote academic thought, theory, and praxis relating to racial discrimination and reconciliation. The research is held in these same HBCU university libraries and archives across the United States and is made available for posterity for further reference, collection, and research.
The project is needed because people throughout this country need healing and an advancement of equity in a more lasting and relational way. While working as community organizers, it was noticed that people repeated the same stories of experiences with racial discrimination over and over and seemed to be more interested in telling their story than addressing a course of action. After a while it was realized that healing was taking place as they told their stories and, as the stories were heard, organizers learned to listen—over and over again. In addition to initiating healing, this process also serves to humanize and validate experiences as it was also recognized that writing down the stories told was just as important, as accounts take on a different and specific significance when the storyteller sees it written. When these stories were shared in the community without documenting them many discounted them as a covering for their own failures. As such, documenting serves as “forensic” evidence—for the sake of the storyteller—in the face of communal disbelief. Together, the telling and the documentation complements each other, providing reason and legitimacy to both the storyteller and those hearing the story.
The project’s themes are manifold and use story, tactically, to marshal the Church, initiate healing, serve as evidence, improve communication, educationally inform public policy, provide for grassroots organizing, and advance research developed by the academy and HBCUs in support of their natural constituency. Incremental results demonstrate that, “If we could talk,” we could address such difficult issues as—why institutionalized racism is so difficult to see and change.
The stories are used to marshal the Church, and its compassion, because its “morally” authoritative. These stories are employed to encourage the Church to take a leading role in matters of racial equity and relationship building, because, as these stories tell, people are hurting. The Church is the natural organization to address this issue, and when it has done so, it did through story—particularly the story of an oppressed people called to promote societal change through relationship.
People listen to stories when they can’t hear facts and figures and we expect to use story in creative ways to facilitate “Church-led” and “Church-enabled” communication, along with its authority, to develop and cultivate relationships that advance equity, to a lesser extent through informing and educating policy-makers, but, even more so, by appealing to the heart of humanity.