The W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., has funded a $400,000 grant to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.
“We are profoundly thankful for and excited about this generous gift from the Kellogg Foundation,” said Susan Glisson, executive director of the institute. “Kellogg has supported the Winter Institute in the past, and we are thrilled that they continue to believe in our mission and fund our work.”
The grant will be used mainly to support two Winter Institute initiatives: the Mississippi Truth Project and youth organizing projects throughout the state, Glisson said.
The Mississippi Truth Project is a statewide effort spearheaded by the Winter Institute to create a truth and reconciliation commission that will bring to light racially motivated crimes committed in Mississippi between 1945 and 1975.
“There are still living eyewitnesses from this era who can help Mississippi face and tell its own stories in an honest fashion,” said Charles Tucker, director of communications for the Truth Project. “This opportunity allows the collection of detailed stories and records about this era. This is a unique moment, wherein we have attained a measure of distance and insight into this period while still having living participants and observers of this time.”
Once established, the commission will explore the institutional structures of racism, as well as examine civil rights crimes that, for the past 60 years, have divided Mississippians.
Another component of the project will create a special yearlong course on restorative justice and public education for UM students. The course, taught by Bill and Rita Schwerner Bender, explores the history of public education in Mississippi and how the issue of race shapes educational policy.
Rita Bender, a longtime civil rights advocate, said she is looking forward to the chance to engage with students on the issues of public education within the context of reconciliation. She said she believes that the course is an integral part of the project because “you can’t have reconciliation without addressing truth.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity to work with university and law students to address what restorative justice means in the context of public education for Mississippi children,” she said. “Improving public education in Mississippi is one of the critical unfinished agendas of the Mississippi civil rights movement.”
Bender herself has been personally connected to the movement since 1964, when she and her husband, Michael Schwerner, came to Mississippi as civil rights workers. Later that year, Schwerner, along with civil rights workers James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were murdered in Philadelphia.
Besides supporting the Truth Project, a portion of the grant will be used to fund programs that develop leadership skills in youth throughout the state who wish to lead work on racial equality and civic engagement. One such effort is a media literacy project that partners the Jackson Free Press with students in the Civil Rights Civil Liberties clubs at Jim Hill, Murrah and St. Andrews high schools in Jackson.
“We want to empower young people to become leaders in their communities,” said Dave Molina, project coordinator for the Winter Institute. “This project gives a voice to young people.”
The project, the second of its kind, helps students gain a better understanding about how media works by creating it themselves. Students will produce short films, which will touch on under-investigated issues affecting youth in Jackson, such as issues of race in public and private schools or youth in the juvenile justice system.
Established in 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.