Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation framework in Flint evolving amid pandemic, BLM movement

FLINT, Michigan — The Community Foundation of Greater Flint's Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation framework has been in place for the past three years, but In the wake of the pandemic and protests against police brutality, there is "greater, heightened visibility" as organizations seek ways to tap into it to find solutions to racial inequalities.


Launched in 2016 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the TRHT identifies and addresses systemic racism within communities and offers sustainable change and healing. As one of 14 communities nationwide to utilize TRHT, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint has launched a fund with the same name that is getting more attention in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.


In regard to addressing police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and growing tensions within communities over the last few months, Lynn Williams, community engagement officer of the Community Foundation, says the organization is working on how to address it locally.
Lynn Williams, community engagement officer with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint


“We’re having discussions about the possibility as we speak about being able to utilize the framework to impact that and work in partnership with the police force. We don’t have details fully fleshed out, but I can definitely say that we recognize the police force, and the city recognizes that there are some potential tools to help that within the TRHT.”


The Foundation is matching donations — whether they be from grants, other foundations, or individual gifts from those interested in contributing — up to $300,000 for the TRHT Fund to aid in the racial healing initiatives of local nonprofits. To receive funding, the nonprofits must submit a grant application, which will then be reviewed based on their alignment with the fund.


Originally not part of the Kellogg-funded sites in Michigan, Flint was brought on in 2017 "as things were starting to go on politically in Flint with the water crisis. The funders thought a need to bring Flint into the mix," Williams says.


“When they brought us on we were given that challenge to raise a match for the fund for the initial dollars that they’re giving us. We’re still in the process of giving that match — we’re about halfway there now,” Williams says.


Before Floyd's death, the Community Foundation was using the framework to tackle COVID-19 and how it disproportionately was affecting communities of color. That initial interest resulted in the creation of the Coronavirus Taskforce on Racial Inequities, which includes organizations like MSU School of Medicine, Flint and Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, and Greater Flint Health Coalition, among many others, who have teamed up to ensure access to resources, testing, protection, and equity to Flint residents during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.


“With that spotlight, I think with the community there was more of a focus," Williams says. "That’s why we have TRHT in this community, so let’s see what they are doing and what they can do. How can we engage them?"


Responding to the pandemic’s effects, specifically in Flint, set the stage for the conversations happening now, Williams says, adding there is now "a greater, heightened visibility."


“There are organizations and individuals contacting us daily to say, ‘I remember at one point hearing about TRHC and maybe we experienced one of the early racial healing circles, now what can we do together?’ There’s a big surge in organizations and individuals wanting to tap into the ways we can utilize the framework to help existing efforts, and even new efforts, that have come along.”


Part of TRHT’s framework involves utilizing racial healing circles, which are designed to build relationships by bringing people across differences, Williams says. The community gatherings focus on fostering dialogue so people can find solutions to structural racism, even when the conversations are difficult. CFGF has conducted several racial healing circles, but due to COVID-19 there are no upcoming events.


“They help people in the sharing of stories and lived experiences. The common threads to help build their relationships and bring the heart into the work of anti-racism — bringing the heart and not just the mind is important because if you have a group of people who work together, who have come to have relationships with each other, and they value each other, there’s going to be more glue to hold them together when they hit the rough patches of the work.”


Isaiah Oliver, president and CEO of CFGF, says change starts by "building trust with one another.”


“Racial healing begins with telling individual stories and listening. Healing conversations is the start of loving one another. Then a whole lot of change can come from that starting point.”


In addition to funding racial healing circles, the money from the TRHT fund has gone into bringing the "RACE: Are We So Different?" exhibit to the Sloan Museum for six months, training residents and staff in racial healing circles so they can hold their own, funding projects and organizations aligned with the purpose of the fund, and taking trips with residents and partners to learn about the history of racial injustice.


The TRHT framework also focuses on addressing myths to debunk racist histories and bring narrative change to not only communities of color, but the surrounding areas.


“The myths that exist about people of color I don’t think are unique to Flint at all,” says Williams. “There’s the typical part of the national narrative at this time that people of color that are affected by different things are somehow at fault for it. The comments about people not having the ability to pull themselves up is part of their race or something inherent we did versus looking at the structural and systemic issues at play, that the Black male is dangerous, and those typical stereotypes. They play in Flint as they play anywhere.”


Williams is optimistic about the framework's potential in helping residents recognize and embrace anti-racism — because it wasn’t always that way.


“Before the water crisis hit Flint, I would say it was less of a concern as a whole,” says Williams. “Of course people being impacted by racism have always been concerned and have always looked for help, but there has been an increase in acknowledgment, awareness, and inquiry among communities that haven’t traditionally been impacted directly by racism. I find that encouraging and hopeful.”


For more information on the TRHC, go to the CFGF's website.

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Jonathan Diener is a world-traveling musician, comic writer, and freelance journalist having written for Vice, Alternative Press and The Hard Times. His charitable endeavors include the music compilation Not Safe To Drink: Music For Flint Water Crisis Relief, and HOPE: A Comic For Flint. Diener dedicates his time to staying creative and helping the Vehicle City whenever he can.