Racial Equity

Mistakes & Grace: Brave conversations about race

People clam up when talking about race.

As a communications practitioner, I’ve seen people blush and mumble as they struggle with what to say. Some hold back entirely.

But fear is an enemy to racial equity.

I believe in creating safe spaces for people to talk and learn about race. Mistakes will happen along the way, for sure. And, I am willing to extend some grace as we learn together.

That’s one of the things I love about the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, where I serve as vice president for communications and marketing. Here, we believe racial equity and civic engagement are critical to our vision of a thriving community with opportunity for all. Through our events and workshops – or even your conversations at home – I encourage you to talk about race. I certainly do.

I recently caught up with my friend James Davis, one of the few White students when we attended the predominantly Black Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk. Like any good friendship, we’ve always been able to have tough conversations.

Cherise Newsome and James Davis have been friends since high school.
Cherise Newsome and James Davis

James and other locals appeared in the Foundation’s “What is racial equity?” education video to inform the community about the topic and foster dialogue. I asked him to participate in the video because I knew he was committed – like the Foundation – to learning more about racial equity.

“I think it’s scary for most people to learn or approach things about race because they don’t want to say something wrong or get attacked or labeled or accused of saying something racist,” he said. “For me, it’s definitely been a journey.”

He’s learned a lot along the way. For example, “About equity and equality, I thought they were both the same for a long time.”

Now, James knows that racial equality is about equal opportunity, while racial equity is:

  • Acknowledging racism exists
  • Working to fix problems caused by discrimination
  • Ensuring People of Color have fair access to resources
  • Creating a more inclusive community with opportunity for all

James said his understanding of race has grown by listening more carefully to People of Color and learning about their experiences. But it wasn’t always that way.

“When I heard people talk about race and racism and unfairness, my initial thought was that ‘but that was back then, that’s not a thing now,’” he recalled. “Racism and the effects of racism are still lingering.”

James, the pastor of a Virginia Beach church, said conversations with congregants deepened his understanding. One parishioner described being called racial slurs. Black friends described fearing for their lives during traffic stops. His wife Irene, who is Filipino, explained how she was told to “speak English” when she immigrated here and called "Chinese" as an ethnic slur.

“When I started listening to others’ experiences, without feeling the need to judge or defend, that’s when it started shifting for me to see [that] my experience is not everybody’s experience,” he said. “Then I could listen with empathy and say, ‘oh, I am so sorry, that isn’t right.’”

Those light bulb moments are transformative, which is why the Foundation hosts community events and staff training on race. It also funds nonprofits to do the same. Racial equity is critical to our vision of a thriving community with opportunity for all.

Along with conversations with People of Color, James said he's tuned into podcasts and read news articles to learn about race and racial issues.

I also sent James some of the Foundation’s resources on our partner website: UnmaskingHR.org.

James told me he was open to additional resources I wanted to share about racial equity. I am still learning, too, so I asked him to do the same for me.

That’s what friends are for.

Learn more about the community foundation's commitment to racial equity here.

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