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The Road to an Undivided Nation—Discovering How Race Divides Us

Author: 
Sandy Rodriguez

Imagine quitting your job, selling your home and taking your three small children on the road for a year in an RV to visit all 50 states in our nation, with the goal of understanding our current divides and finding ways to bridge them toward an undivided nation.

This is the Leaverton’s American Dream and they are living it, state by state, from south, to north, east to west, community by community on a yearlong, enlightening and heartfelt listening tour.  Since January 2018, the family of five has embarked on a cross-country tour, meeting with American people, from all walks of life in the nation’s cities and towns.  The purpose of their meetings is three-fold:  First it is to listen to them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in each community.  Second, it is to collectively explore the roots of the nation’s divides. And last, it is to search for ways that can connect us all, across the many divides.  They were 18 states into their journey, when they visited, learned from and shared their story with the Everyday Democracy team in Hartford, Connecticut.

“We were led to take on this journey after the 2016 Presidential election,” said David Leaverton when the issues that were dividing our country became front and center.  “We started in Tulsa, Oklahoma expecting to hear about and talk about the political divisions that exist between liberals and conservatives.  It was then, that we began to discover a deeper division, more foundational than our political differences that run along racial lines. Injustice and inequality was the key issue that so many people wanted to talk about.  Conversations with people across the country have taught us so many things  that we weren’t taught in our history books. We got more than we bargained for in these conversations, and that continued as a theme as we moved into Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before landing in Connecticut.

In almost every community we have visited, when we opened the conversation on what is dividing our nation, unilaterally, people often wanted to talk about racism.  They wanted to share stories related to justice and inequality relating to skin color.  They wanted to talk about race.”

 

“The challenge is,” said David Leaverton, “reaching the white moderates like us.  White moderates who believe more in order than in justice, as so poignantly put by Martin Luther King in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

 

Here is an excerpt:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf

 

Erin and David provided many examples of how racism is alive and well in our country, gathered from their listening sessions so far.  Erin talked about Mechelle, a pregnant black woman in her early 20s who was ignored and mistreated when she went to the local hospital to deliver her baby.  Mechelle lost her baby and almost lost her own life.  You can read more about Mechelle and her story here. 

 

You can read many more stories on the Leaverton’s blog: 
https://undividednation.us/road-trip/

 

In the intimate community conversation in Hartford, Connecticut hosted by Everyday Democracy one person asked, “Why can’t we just all be one race, and get past this?  Just take the race and ethnicity question off the census?”  David Leaverton responded. “I believe that before we “get past” the racial labels that have divided our population, we first need to acknowledge what has happened historically and what is still going on today.” Only after recognition and a true effort for reconciliation has occurred, can we, as a people, move forward in a way that will transform our culture to one of inclusion and equity for all.

 

The Leavertons are hoping that through the simple act of listening and sharing stories, that diverse opinions, backgrounds and viewpoints that have kept Americans so deeply divided can give way to cross-cultural understanding, authentic forgiveness, and an unprecedented level of justice and unity in America.  They are inspired by the people they are meeting and organizations, like Everyday Democracy, that are working tirelessly to bridge the divides, toward a truly united nation. 

June 4, 2018

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