Oral History Project Could Hold Key to Healing The Generational Impacts of Racial Wounds
“We are still conditioning people in this country and, indeed, all over the globe to the myth of white superiority. We are constantly being told that we don’t have racism in this country anymore, but most of the people who are saying that are white. White people think it isn’t happening because it isn’t happening to them.” — Jane Elliot
HOUSTON-She is a 19-year old college Black woman who never understood why she lives with the idea and always felt like she did not measure up and had little to no confidence in herself.
Despite being a good student in high school, she endured abusive harsh words, subliminal messages and blatant put downs about Blacks and that has since dogged everything she has done and kept her from believing in setting goals, dreaming and realizing the winning feelings that come with achievement.
It wasn’t until she came and shared her story at the HBCU Truth and Reconciliation Oral History Project held at Texas State University Law Center that for the first time in her life she began to talk about her struggle and understand that the negative words, teasing and bullying by White students and White teachers from a predominantly White school district and community near Houston left her with low self esteem, feeling undervalued and powerless to make any changes in her life.
For generations, the African American community has been in a struggle to overcome hundreds of years of inequality and in a fight to save the community suffering from self esteem and self identity issues since the advent of slavery.
This one story by this college student is one of many told and collected by the HBCU Truth & Reconciliation Oral History Project. The project is the brainchild of Founder and United States Christian Leadership Organization Director Rev. Steve Miller. Wiley College of Marshall, TX also helped sponsor the event.
“The mission of the HBCU Truth & Reconciliation Oral History Project is to offer storytelling as a legitimate form of participation in the struggle as a means to reverse immobilization and encourage mobilization through healing by sharing stories of discrimination to promote our own healing and validation without being told “to get over it,” Miller said. “The genesis of this project is what I noticed in my eight-year career of working in human rights—and that is people repeated stories of discrimination over and over again when recounting them to people who could help them. We even discovered that, many times, the telling of the story was more important than the solution, which led us to determine that people needed healing from experiences of discrimination in ways that didn’t involve directly solving the problem—they just wanted to talk and get their story out.”
According to Miller, the project’s strategy is to capture stories of the ordinary person of color’s encounter with racism and frame those stories in academic research in order to heal, create legitimacy, improve relationships, develop compassion, and to encourage legislative, ecclesiastic, and practical action.
The primary aim of the project is for people to share their stories and then release them so they can begin the healing process.
Miller is a humanitarian working in human rights in the State of Texas and beyond for over eight years with his work resulting in Federal civil rights investigations by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the United States Department of Justice’s Community Services Division, primarily, within the Texas educational system.
His work has brought increased equity to hiring processes, enlarged job opportunities, and fostered greater understanding of institutional partiality through education.
He also has coordinated and won legal actions at the Federal court level and has been the stimulus of rewrites of discipline policies, whose ends resulted in fewer loved ones of color being exposed to and caught in the educational system’s disciplinary apparatus, which correlates highly with elevated juvenile justice and mass incarceration rates.
He is dedicated to achieving racial equality through spreading the love of Christ and building relationships across ethnic lines in order to promote more lasting and authentic spiritual and social change.
Miller holds a B.S. in Political Science from Texas A&M University; a B.S. in Finance from the University of Houston; a Master’s in Commercial Real Estate Development through the Graduate School of Finance at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University; and a Master’s of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX.
His revelation has resulted in a new way and effort to reach out with a new way to deal with the perils and drawbacks and challenges of racism and work to heal the inner Black man and Black woman by providing a way to free the mind and release those “demons” that hold onto to the soul and keep Black people from looking up, looking forward and discovering the real person inside with great talents and skills to offer the community and world.
Miller said marching and rallying is what people of color know to be “the” way to participate in the struggle for civil rights, they often shy away from participating and thus the results are that African-Americans have lost personal agency and belief they can affect change.
“This has resulted in black immobilization and losses in civil rights gains earned during the King years… and this immobilization extends to almost every area of black life,” he added. “Since people of color, in many instances, fear getting involved in the struggle, we offer storytelling as a low cost, easy, and effective form of participation, which, we hope, will eventually lead to other more robust forms of civic participation… and are hoping that as people heal they will act (again).”
Depressed people keep themselves locked up, in the dark, and refuse to move. As they become less depressed they are encouraged to move out and be a part of society.
The project is needed because people throughout this country need healing and an advancement of equality in a more lasting and relational way.
According to Miller, while working as community organizers, it was noticed that people repeated the same stories of experiences with racial discrimination over and over and seemed to be more interested in telling their story than addressing a course of action.
During the TSU visit, Miller and a team of representatives from key Texas HBCUs were involved in the event.
Participants collected 54 stories from the Houston community involving people walking in from off the street and 20 other student participant interviews. Also 7 professors and scholars, including Dr. James Douglas.
Of those sharing their stories of how racism impacted their lives, 60-percent were female and 40-percent were male participants and ranged in ages from 18 to 85 years.
Universities and colleges participating in the project include Wiley College of Marshall, TX; Southwestern Christian College, of Terrell, TX; Jarvis Christian College of Hawkins, TX.; St. Philip’s College of San Antonio, Tx; Huston-Tillotson College of Austin, TX ; Baylor University; Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Prairie View A&M University; City University of New York; Texas Southern University; MIT: who is studying the project; and Oxford University: who is currently adding a chapter in book written by Dr. Michelle Fine of CUNY on the project that will be published with Oxford University.
According to Miller, those interviewed from the community expressed their gratitude for offered the opportunity to tell their stories because they had been holding in these stories for many years.
Some had no idea how even the small seemingly insignificant story has had an impact on how individuals view themselves.
“People realized they are also impacted by the small experiences and they are just as important as the larger ones,” he said. “It has given that one opportunity to heal and move forward.”
TSU ORAL HISTORY DISCOVERIES
Some key exit poll findings from students oral history:
- Now understand their grandparents better now, because now they understand their fear and apprehension of loved ones without color.
- Feel they have an avenue where they can now be involved
- Appreciate being asked to participate
- Have a broader understanding of unity of all races. Don’t desire to exclude anyone from telling their story, even if White.
- Learned that Hispanics suffer the same types of discrimination
- Learned they were holding in their stories
- Often discounted their own experiences of racism by saying it was small, but cried when they told about that small thing
- White students attending Prairie View A&M told stories of racial discrimination from black students at Prairie View
- More black males participation than expected
- Learned how students were largely disengaged
- Learned they needed to be more engaged
- Felt empowered they were offered a way and opportunity to be engaged.
- Feel the project is something they can stay attached to and that can change the world.
Appeal to the church
The project’s themes are manifold and will use stories tactically to marshal the church, initiate healing, serve as evidence, improve communication, inform public policy, provide for grassroots organizing, and advance research developed by the academy and HBCUs.
The stories will be used to tap into the compassion of the church, because it’s “morally” authoritative. Stories will also be employed to encourage the church to take a leading role in matters of racial equality and relationship building, because, as these stories will demonstrate that people are hurting.
According to Miller, the church is the natural organization to address this issue, and when it has done so, history reveals it was done through stories—particularly the story of an oppressed people called to promote relationships.
More Oral History Exposure
- Expose the small and myriad of ways that loved ones of color suffer from racism that’s distinct and different from the larger more common ways.
- Stories to be displayed and accessible online from anywhere in the world.
- Traveling exhibition to share results in the major markets of Texas
- Wrap stories in academic inquiry
- Promote new academic theory in critical race theory, racial reconciliation, and theology: to teach pastors without color how to teach and preach about racial discrimination and reconciliation to traditionally white congregations
- HBCU community to lead academic thought in critical race theory and racial reconciliation
- Raise up new HBCU Student leadership in the struggle
- Involve Millennials who want to be involved but don’t know what to do and are not approached
- Since most HBCUs are church sponsored – use as an entree into the black church for more human rights participation.
- Use stories of pain of people of color bolstered by academic research to spur the church to be more involved in matters of civil rights
- Uses stories and research to influence public policy
This first of its kind project has kicked off to successful responses and Miller said this is only the beginning. Other session are planned in other areas of Texas and around the country.
People who did not attend can still contribute their oral history story of truth and reconciliation by submitting it to Miller via video.
For more information visit the Truth and Reconciliation website at https://hbcuoralhistoryvideoproject.org for more details about how you can participate in the healing process and stop the damaging effects of racism in our lifetime.
“In our efforts to heal from the scourge of racism in America we must be willing to expose and hear the experiences of those who have suffered,” Miller said. “Only by truly listening to those most impacted can we begin the process of healing and reconciliation…and I believe we saw this on display this weekend.”
By: Darwin Campbell