MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Here's a very different take on race and society from La June Montgomery Tabron. She is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the country's largest philanthropic organizations. It's taken on the ambitious goal of, quote, "eradicating structural racism," unquote. Last June, the foundation sent $24 million in grants to organizations across the country. Six months later, we thought this would be a good time for a progress report, so I reached La June Montgomery Tabron via Skype. And I started by asking her what structural racism is and how it can be eliminated.
LA JUNE MONTGOMERY TABRON: For us, it starts with the belief of a hierarchy based on human value. And what we believe is this belief has been rooted in all of us - is conscious and unconscious. And what we believe is, through dialogue, you can shift that belief. And once you eliminate this belief in the hierarchy of human value, then you can begin to treat all of us as one humanity and create policies and systems that support everyone in the country.
MARTIN: Well, give us an example, if you would, of what some of the projects that the foundation has invested in to lead toward that result?
MONTGOMERY TABRON: We've invested a lot of work early on in the social determinants of health; we've look at educational outcomes. And what we see in our work is that there continues to be disparities along racial lines. And as the country becomes more diverse, this is going to be an issue for children into the future. And when you look at what's happening now, we have over 150 cities across the country who are making a proclamation around a national day of racial healing. For example, in New Orleans, there's going to be a concert, and several organizations have come together in New Orleans to make this happen and bring the citizens of New Orleans together for healing.
MARTIN: Can I just - I'm trying to figure out how to say this in a respectful way. That sounds, like, kind of weak sauce given the magnitude of the problem that you've described. For example, I mean, the Kellogg Foundation has been known in the past for investing heavily in education, for example. Like, in the home - in your sort of home base of Battle Creek, Mich., you know, recognizing that white flight has led to a deterioration of the tax base for the Battle Creek schools, for example. Investing, you know, tens of millions of dollars to keep the schools at a high level to even improve their level of performance. So that seems like a tangible investment in addressing the inequities that you've described. So are you saying that the main focus now is to get people to have conversations or to go to a concert? Is that the main focus of the work?
MONTGOMERY TABRON: This framework requires many efforts. And so as you've mentioned, I am so proud of what we're doing in Battle Creek and Mississippi. What we also know is, fundamentally, this racism exists because of the lack of connections and the fact that we've lived in separated societies. And actually, separation and segregation is one of the key structures that allows racial inequality to exist.
MARTIN: How do you know that you're not just preaching to the converted, that the people who are drawn to these kinds of experiences are the people who are open to people of other races to begin with? I mean, for example, do you think that people who attended those rallies in Charlottesville, Va., would be interested in coming to your racial healing dialogues?
MONTGOMERY TABRON: Well, I can tell you we're making progress in that regard. I've been personally a part of these circles where someone will start out in a very contentious space and very nervous, and after several hours of dialogue, actually say, you know, you changed my perspective.
MARTIN: That was La June Montgomery Tabron. She's the president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. She's traveling, but we reached her via Skype. Ms. Montgomery Tabron, thanks so much for speaking with us. I hope we'll talk again and you'll tell us more about what the Kellogg Foundation is working on.
MONTGOMERY TABRON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.