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Reading club aims for racial healing and positive dialogue

Harriet Hollis, center right with microphone, with the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, moderates the first meeting of a reading club that is focused on finding ways to heal the divisions between races. The group met Thursday evening at Our Daily Bread on North Washington Street. The purpose of the initiative is to generate constructive dialogue for common community benefit. (July 18, 2013)

Harriet Hollis, center right with microphone, with the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, moderates the first meeting of a reading club that is focused on finding ways to heal the divisions between races. The group met Thursday evening at Our Daily Bread on North Washington Street. The purpose of the initiative is to generate constructive dialogue for common community benefit. (July 18, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- Around 30 people, black and white, came together Thursday -- for dinner and some meaningful dialogue between the races. As the microphone was passed, participants were invited to share their observations as to the racial problems of generations past and to contribute something positive for the present and the future.

"The Racial Healing reading club is intended to generate dialogue dealing with that big elephant in the room," said organizer Harriet Hollis, projects coordinator for Albany-based Racial Healing and Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc. "We want people to come so we can talk about how much alike we are -- not about our differences. This isn't about blame or finger-pointing."

According to Hollis, racial healing seeks an agreement among races that everyone wants pretty much the same basic things.

"All of us want a good quality of life," Hollis said, "with a good education for our children and a decent livelihood. Those are things all of us can do if we work together."

The Racial Healing initiative, which is funded by a Kellogg grant, is designed to create a multi-tiered approach, building on historic roots in agriculture and economic development in Dougherty, Clay and Wilcox counties, Hollis said. Participants in the program will learn to heal introspectively and then to engage racially diverse community members for discussions and dialogue.

At Thursday's dinner meeting, members discussed "My Black Family, My White Privilege." The book details experiences and observations of author Michael Wenger, a working-class Jewish man who in 1970 married a black woman and raised a family.

According to Hollis, the book was recommended and endorsed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation at the 2013 American Healing Conference as a good way to promote health and honest conversation about race.

"The rest of the world is looking at us here in Southwest Georgia," Hollis said. "All of this is not going to happen overnight. The first step is to get people talking and the book is a great catalyst for that. We want the public to come out and feel safe and empowered to have these conversations."

Hollis said that while the initiative is starting small, she hopes to "fill bigger and bigger rooms with black, white Latino and Asian people."

"If every person agrees to bring just one more person to the next meeting, this could become a city-wide initiative," Hollis said "Then we could really move to make things better for everyone."

For information on Racial Healing, contact Harriet Hollis at (229) 430-9870 or visit www.swgaproject.com or www.facebook.com/swgaproject.