Breakthroughs Online
May 2012Issue No. 15



Election year political rhetoric heightens emotions over economic disparity, racial divides, and cultural differences.  


Increasingly, the trustbuilding skills of  Initiatives of Change are being called on in local and national contexts. New partnerships are emerging.   

In this issue we highlight the growing momentum for healing across this country, and the work of truth and reconciliation north of our border in Canada.

Trustbuilding is not just an idea: it's about personal responsibility and the courageous choices that we make. These stories feature people who are making such choices.

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A movement for healing and equity
Gail Christopher
Dr. Gail Christopher (Photo: Karen Elliott Greisdorf)

"If we could model for the world what healing is, it would be a great thing," said Gail Christopher, vice president for program strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, at the national grantee conference, America Healing for Democracy, in New Orleans last month.

Five hundred racial healing practitioners and racial justice advocates heard from leaders of major civil rights organizations, academics, and media personalities and took part in multiple workshops. For many attendees the most unexpected and moving moments occurred during the four or five hours spent in small facilitated "healing sessions" where each person was able to share personal experiences. Rob Corcoran and Sylvester "Tee" Turner of Initiatives of Change were part of a 40-member facilitation team leading the groups.

"Racism is the corruption that pollutes our democracy," said Sterling Speirn, the foundation's president and CEO, in opening the conference. "Until we achieve racial equity we will not achieve the conditions for success for vulnerable children and families," he continued, referring to the foundation's mission. "What we have not done is to uproot the tree, the belief that there should be a racial hierarchy."

Throughout the conference, attendees were challenged to confront the reality of unconscious bias and structural privilege. While national polls show a marked decrease in conscious prejudice, inequality is rising, particularly among communities of color in such areas as education, health care, and housing.

"When I look at America's not just a title," said veteran activist Harry Belafonte in an interview with Harvard professor Charles Ogletree. "It is the crux and the heart of what this country needs, and if we can't heal ourselves...then all else will fail...If we cannot bring our citizens together, if we cannot heal, if we cannot show how to be the moral compass, there will be grave consequences."

Gail Christopher is the driving force behind the growing national movement represented in New Orleans. "Racial healing is the capacity to love ourselves and extend that to others," she said at the conclusion of the conference. "Healing is a process of accepting and embracing the truth and the essence of our being."

Through the support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Hope in the Cities is sponsoring a variety of public forums and events in Richmond this year, including the visit of Dr. Wilma King, author of Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America, in collaboration with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia; programming for Higher Achievement middle school scholars, mentors and parents; and a musical stage production on the history of the NACCP in collaboration with the Virginia state NAACP.

Read Rob Corcoran's blog Notes from America Healing for Democracy
Launching a Citizen Project in Quebec

By Laurent Gagnon  
Citizens Project Canada 
(left-right) Léopold & Delvina Hervieux, Rev. Isaiah Dada, from Nigeria, Rachid Raffa, Muslim leader, Dominique Rankin, Algonquin Grand Chief 


Canadian history is still handicapped by the way First Nations people have been treated since the arrival of the French and British colonizers. Deep wounds have been inflicted which are still today at the root of numerous social issues and difficult relationships within and between our communities.


The apology of the Canadian Government, on June 11, 2008 finally recognizing the reality of Indian Residential Schools, is an important step towards healing the past. It is incumbent upon us to reconcile differences and build bridges of trust in order to move forward with a deeper commitment to the truth.


Built on the South African model, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) hopes that all Canadians will be involved in this reconciliation process. Respectful listening to the testimonies of the First Nations people will be an essential element to heal the wounds.


In October 2011 the TRC accepted a grant request submitted by Initiatives of Change Canada for a Citizen Project, in the Québec province, to engage Native and non-native people in an inclusive process.


Three full-day public forums are being held in 2012-2013 in different regions of Quebec. They include: testimonies of survivors, celebration of the sacred, workshops and artistic presentations, leading to awareness of the situation and commitment towards the next generations.


Circles of Trust in these cities create opportunities for an ongoing way to meet, listen and dialogue with Quebecers of all origins.


The Peace Festival of Victoriaville hosted the first public event in March. "It was deeply emotional and the 180 enthusiastic participants from many faith, language and cultural backgrounds brought to light that fiber of common humanity which binds us all together," stated Benoît Charlebois, Managing Director of Initiatives of Change Canada.


Dominique Rankin, a Residential Schools survivor and Algonquin hereditary Grand Chief, is serving as the spiritual leader of the project. Four colleagues from Espace Art Nature of Neuville, who played a major role in the Quebec City Initiatives of Change Canadian Gathering in 2008, are the main partners in this venture.


Read the complete article and related stories here.

Read a related article Canadians bear witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 

Moving from awareness to action 

2012 UPC panel
A panel discusses government
and grassroots initiatives
(Photo: Jan Franzon)

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones addressed 125 participants in the Unpacking the 2010 Census: the new realities of race, class and jurisdiction project at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, on May 18. They represented faith groups, civic organizations, social service agencies and business organizations.

The mayor's Anti-Poverty Commission will report back this month. He told the group, "You will be the community that advocates for the ideas to become reality."

"We need to move from awareness to action," said Jonathan Zur, CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities which partners with Hope in the Cities. "Fourteen months ago we announced this initiative. Since that time we trained 40 facilitators and made more than 60 presentations. All across the region people are talking about critical data."
Dr. Bonnie Dowdy, a professional evaluator, reported that 650 people had filled out pre- and post-surveys. "What was most surprising for participants was the change in poverty (e.g. its growth in the suburbs) and the historical roots." The surveys showed a "significant increase" in knowledge and a desire to take action, but uncertainty about what the individual could do. However, she highlighted several suggestions made by participants:
  • Create job buses that go where the jobs are
  • Hold discussion groups for women in Windsor Farms, the wealthiest census tract, together with women from Gilpin Court public housing project, the poorest census tract
  • Pay a living wage to the people I employ
  • Build relationships with people from different backgrounds

Facilitator Charles Williams said of his experience with the project: "I was stunned. This is my home town and backyard and I had no clue. It moves from just numbers to real people when you know that 38 percent of children live in poverty."

Dr. John Moeser, whose research produced the data for the project, challenged participants to reach thousands more people in the region. "Energy could grow exponentially and could ignite our movement unlike anything since Richmond's Civil Rights marches."  He noted that key issues related to poverty in Richmond had were being discussed more than thirty years ago: "There were discussions about extending bus service to the suburbs. We knew about the growing numbers of Richmonders priced out of their neighborhoods...concern was expressed about the lack of accessible entry level jobs...we knew about the huge disparities between the city and counties... Virtually nothing has changed. It's way past time for debate. No need for more studies and fact gathering.

"Once the Mayor releases the final report of the Commission, this army of citizens...needs to be deployed to recruit other citizens and they, in turn, need to enlist their friends to press for the implementation of the recommendations. As one person said, 'We need to get this knowledge and passion into the drinking water.' When a legislative chamber is packed with voters who speak and demand change, the people's council members and supervisors can experience a remarkable conversion.  


"How long will it take to insure that all of God's people in Richmond, especially the people closest to God's great heart, the poor, are welcomed to live in any neighborhood, attend any school, and given the same opportunities for a full life as the rest of us?"  


The convocation and evaluation process was funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Unpacking the 2010 Census was supported by the Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia.    


Read the complete story here.  

Read the text of Dr. John Moeser's speech.    

Choosing to speak the truth of history



Cristina Comer
Cristina Comer is a 2010 graduate of Duke Divinity School and participant in the Caux Scholars Program. Her involvement with IofC continued while she was living at Richmond Hill in Richmond, VA. She is currently working at Duke Divinity School as a preceptor and research assistant and working on an historical memoir about the Comer family in Alabama. Here she writes: 


It was not until November 2009 that I learned of my family's involvement with a brutal system of torture and death. From that moment on, I knew I would never be the same. Slavery By Another Name tells the story of the convict leasing system and debt peonage labor that was employed all over the South to create a cheap, if not free, workforce for wealthy landowners, mine and mill owners in a time when slavery had been outlawed.

On February 13, 2012, the documentary, Slavery By Another Name, directed by Sam Pollard and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, by Douglas Blackmon, was aired nationally on PBS. The making of this documentary and the story behind it would be responsible for changing my life.   


People like my great-great-grandfather, Braxton Bragg Comer, and his brother, John Wallace Comer, worked with local officials to have black men arrested and imprisoned for minor and nonexistent crimes so that they would have a pool of fresh convict laborers from which to pull. Once the laborers were sent to the work camps, they were often never heard from or seen again. Living in squalid conditions and worked literally to death, these black men helped to build the fortunes of families like mine, while their families were punished with the loss of a husband, father, brother, or son.

The information I learned about my ancestors in Slavery By Another Name was in direct opposition to the stories I had been told about them. I could no longer operate out of the same paradigm. The former paradigm that included hardworking, smart, benevolent Christian men had to shift to include racist murderers.

I began to realize my own complicity in the system of which I was a product. On a daily basis, I reap the benefits of white privilege and wealth, and while I can't change the color of my skin, I can change the way I choose to live. I chose to participate in a documentary that speaks the truth about U.S. history instead of continuing to gloss over horrifying realities because I believe in reconciliation. I believe in reconciliation because I have been on the receiving end of radical acts of forgiveness that have transformed my heart and mind. Knowing the disturbing realities of my family history and upbringing, my community of black friends has loved and encouraged me in ways that defy my understanding. I have learned reconciliation from the very ones from whom I sought forgiveness.
The need for choosing to live in a way that is respectful of the rights and dignity of all humans is as relevant today as it ever has been. If the arc of the moral universe truly bends toward justice, then I believe that Slavery By Another Name helps to weigh that arc. I pray that a reconciling spirit captures the globe! What needs reconciling in your life today? 


Read the complete story here.   

To view the film Slavery by Another Name 

Making time for quiet time

Susan CorcoranSusan Corcoran is the Communications Director for Initiatives of Change USA.

Our lives are busy, our days are hectic, media noise surrounds us and the latest urgent communication is at our finger tips demanding our attention.

Discovering a simple spiritual practice of a daily quiet time can center our lives in a different way. The affirmations of Initiatives of Change describe "Listening in silence - for God's leading, to the inner voice, or to conscience" as an essential source of inner freedom, discernment and direction.

For me the practice of quiet time happens first thing in the morning before the activity of the day begins. An alarm clock and a cup of coffee are essential. A notebook and a pen are helpful. It is a practice I share with my husband which allows us to start our day together.

Jean Brown in her book A Serious Guide to Remaking the World, describes the purpose of quiet time as "connection, correction and direction."

First, it is a time of "connection". I think it is something like logging on. You have your own screen name and password and you can make a direct personal connection with the Divine. Turn off the cell phone, cut off the TV or radio. Make this a private and important time. Often I make a quick note of things on my to-do list so that they don't preoccupy me and I can empty my mind of its busyness. Reading something devotional or inspirational can help refocus my attention.

Then there is "correction". This is good moment to look back and reflect on things I could have done better, relationships to mend, attitudes to change. What is the source of my anxiety, anger or frustration? Standards such as honesty, purity, unselfishness and love help me examine my motives and the hidden agendas. Sometimes there is an apology to make or a willingness to admit I was wrong. This is an important part of the process. We must keep the connections free of debris otherwise this source of Divine inspiration is shut down by the clutter and chaos of unresolved issues.

For me daily quiet time is the most effective tool in my decision-making process. It is what gives my life "direction." I bring into my quiet time the questions that are concerning me. Quiet listening allows me let go of my opinions and preconceived ideas and open my mind and heart to new ways, unexpected ideas and possibilities not previously considered. Sometimes a new ally is identified or someone who needs to be consulted. Or perhaps a certainty grows about one next step which has to be taken in faith before the larger plan becomes clear.

Sharing these thoughts with someone else helps solidify them and makes them harder to ignore. Not only does the discipline of this daily spiritual practice help de-stress my life but obedience to the thoughts adds an aspect of adventure!

Read the complete commentary here
Hope you enjoyed this issue of Breakthroughs Online. Please share this newsletter with your friends and forward it to those you know have a passion for trustbuilding. Visit our website for more information.

Thank you!
In This Issue
A movement for healing and equity
Launching a Citizen Project in Quebec
Moving from awareness to action
Choosing to speak the truth of history
Making time for quiet time
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2012 Caux Conferences

July 1-6: 
July 8-15: 
July 17-23: 
July 25-31: 
August 2-8: 

 Two remarkable lives celebrated

British Ambassador Archie Mackenzie is described by the London Times as "Diplomat and founder member of the UN who was a leading advocate of action to address the developing world's economic problems"

Norwegian resistance fighter and peace activist, Leif Hovelsen is celebrated in Steamboat Springs, CO, as an adopted son. 

2012 May Global Update  

Read the latest  Global Update 

This issue carries two articles from Africa and an interview with Dr Nagia Abdelmoghney Said, one of Egypt's true revolutionaries. 

Trustbuilding Book Cover


Read author  

Rob Corcoran's latest blog,

Make Tackling Poverty Job #1
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The Imam & The Pastor 

"The African model for finding peace amid the continent's warring communities"  

The Times (London)  

AAA flyer image An African Answer 

The second film about

the work of these two  

African peacemakers. 

Order the 2 DVD Packaged set

The University of Massachusetts 
will confer honorary doctoral degrees on 
Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa
on June 1, 2012. 
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Initiatives of Change focuses on the link between personal and global change and seeks to inspire, equip, and engage individuals as trustbuilders. 

It starts with listening and responding to the still small voice within, applying values of integrity to everyday living, and taking risks to bridge divides.

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