Mayor Landrieu Delivers Remarks On Race Reconciliation, Celebrates 1st Year Of Welcome Table New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu hosted a special event celebrating the first year of the Welcome Table New Orleans initiative, along with participants in the initiative, the Kellogg Foundation, the William Winter Institute and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. The event highlighted the participants’ racial reconciliation projects and their commitment to the process.

         “We can no longer continue to kick the can down the road when it comes to tough issues like race and reconciliation in New Orleans and America,” said Mayor Landrieu. “As I said five years ago, race is a topic that you can’t go over, or under or around – you have to go through it. With the Welcome Table New Orleans, we brought together a diverse group of residents from across the city to meet, share experiences and work collectively to improve neighborhoods and communities through constructive dialogue on race and healing. I believe our city’s diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and that the people of New Orleans are ready to look closely at the ways in which race and reconciliation can have a positive impact. I am truly inspired by what is being done by the people of New Orleans, taking the first step to building a future that looks much different than our troubled past.”

         On April 21, 2014, Mayor Landrieu announced a multi-year initiative focused on race, reconciliation and community-building. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Welcome Table New Orleans brings residents of different racial groups and backgrounds together to build relationships that will lead to improvements throughout the city. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has generously provided a $1.2 million grant over a three-year period.

         “We support programs like the Welcome Table that empower the community to talk candidly about race to both raise awareness and understanding of the systemic barriers that have held some people back for generations,” said William Buster, Program Director, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “If we have any hope of seeing a different future for today’s and tomorrow’s children, we must be willing to have the difficult conversations that will allow each and every one of us to reconcile our past and heal together. Only then can we truly move forward."

         Information sessions on the Welcome Table New Orleans initiative were held on April 28, 2014, at New Hope Baptist Church in the Central City neighborhood and on April 29, 2014, at St. Roch Community Church in the St. Roch neighborhood. Both information sessions were open to anyone interested in learning more about the initiative, and a combined 300 New Orleans residents attended the two information sessions.

         “From Central City to Algiers and St. Roch to Little Woods, the people of New Orleans shared their time, energy, ideas, perspectives and love for our city,” said Judy Reese Morse, Deputy Mayor of Citywide Initiatives. “The discussions, debates and relationship building were challenging—but inspiring and necessary to move forward together for the betterment of us all. I couldn’t be more proud of the courageous men and women who are participating in the inaugural Welcome Table New Orleans and leading the way for the people not only in New Orleans, but also those in cities across the nation to advance racial reconciliation.”

         The Welcome Table New Orleans is offered in partnership with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Housed at the University of Mississippi and founded by former Governor William Winter, the Winter Institute works with communities to facilitate meaningful and honest discussions about race in respectful, safe and structured spaces.

         "These issues are old, their effects long-felt,” said Dr. Susan Glisson, Executive Director, William Winter Institute. “No one has escaped their touch, whether they are aware of it or not. They cannot be resolved by 'us' or 'them' solutions. By building trusting relationships across difference, community leaders have created spaces to tell the truth about what we all face so that they can craft more informed, effective and equitable solutions."

         As a strategic partner of the City of New Orleans, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans is the fiduciary agent for this effort. The National Urban League is a historic civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities.

          “In this day and age when our country is divided along racial lines on many important issues, we appreciate the efforts of the Welcome Table to create a dialogue on race that leads to understanding, healing and progress and can enable our community and society to be a place where all citizens live in dignity, equality and peace,” said Erika McConduit-Diggs, President & CEO, Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

         After 300 New Orleans residents attended the initial information sessions, over 150 residents decided to begin the process. Since May 2014, these residents from across the city have been participating in the seven Welcome Table New Orleans neighborhood circles in Algiers, Central City, Little Woods and St. Roch. As part of the process, the seven circles were combined into three circles that met in Algiers, Central City and St. Roch for the remainder of the 12-month process.

         “Welcome Table New Orleans has provided our citizens with a new forum for building relationships and sharing concerns, and I look forward to learning more about the projects they are developing as this initiative continues into its second year,” said District A Councilmember Susan Guidry. “The citizens who have participated in this process over the past year have demonstrated an admirable and constructive commitment to the future of our city, and I would like to thank them for their continuing hard work and contributions to our community.”

         “Congratulations to all the citizens who have worked together to explore the difficult issue of race and reconciliation in our community,” said District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell. “I wish them success as they work toward a more equitable future for us all.”

         In addition to the three neighborhood circles, the Welcome Table New Orleans has a circle for mothers who have suffered loss due to gun violence as well as a civic leaders circle. In July 2015, the Welcome Table New Orleans Youth Circle will launch and continue through a 12-month process.


About the 2015 Welcome Table Projects


         Throughout the process, the Welcome Table New Orleans participants engaged in a facilitated process of circle discussions, relationship building and action. The circle discussions were held in safe, civil and secure spaces. The participants have shared a variety of experiences including exchanging personal histories and perspectives and discussing events that have caught the nation’s attention including Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and most recently the terrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. They have also participated in workshops and attended weekend retreats.

         The participants’ efforts have helped them to explore their own thoughts and feelings on race and call attention to the need for racial reconciliation in New Orleans and America. Since April 2015, circles have been meeting on a weekly-basis, designing and developing reconciliation projects to engage and educate people throughout the city and the general public.

         These courageous residents developed reconciliation projects they hope will inform, educate and engage the people of New Orleans.       


         Algiers Circle Reconciliation Project Summary


         This 12-month project is designed to guide high school aged Algiers youth to explore the racial and multi-ethnic fabric of Algiers history through interviews and conversations with elder residents and historians. A multi-racial group of 24 students will be trained by experienced researchers and artists to use their analytical abilities and creative talents to conduct and archive the interviews; to interpret the information acquired; and, to depict their newfound knowledge via a public art installation in Algiers which will be revealed to the public in May, 2016.


         Central City Reconciliation Project Summary


         This project is an initiative designed by the Central City Circle to recognize, honor, and educate. The circle will work with partners to design and place historical markers that recognize and include the contributions made to the city of New Orleans by community leaders who were role models in building bridges across racial lines, as well as sites that divided the city. The circle will engage the New Orleans community through public participation (circles) to inform about the intent of placement and to solicit design ideas and support from youth. Finally, the Central City circle will identify and/or develop programs and curriculums about the markers that educate residents, students and tour guides about these people/places/events.


         St. Roch Reconciliation Project Summary


         The St. Roch circle is a diverse group of individuals who care deeply about the future of our city and the stories of our neighbors. The circle envisions New Orleans as a model city for racial reconciliation, where all neighbors courageously help and encourage one another.

         The circle seeks to engage New Orleanians in dialogue that acknowledges the historic roots of racism and oppression, examines the current impact of racism on our city, and builds pathways forward towards racial reconciliation. Throughout a year-long pilot project the circle will focus our collective efforts on the St. Roch community.

         The St. Roch Circle will identify historically significant places throughout St. Roch to host four (4) intimate conversations and Story Circles that provide residents multiple opportunities to share and learn from one another. Through these dialogues we hope to build a better understanding of the issues and concerns that are most pertinent in the lives of St. Roch residents. The circle will build from the local culture to identify creative ways of sharing and dispersing these stories throughout St. Roch and the entire city, like Conflict Theatres. The project will utilize social media as a tool to raise awareness of the project, to spark conversations about racial reconciliation across the city, and invite people to join the dialogue and attend a culminating event in June of 2016.


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