I have to admit that when signing up for an internship at The Center for the Healing of Racism, I didn’t expect to enjoy my time there as much as I did. I thought I had learned all there was to know about racism and intolerance in my history classes at school. I also thought: ‘I’m not racist, I even look multi-ethnic, I get along with everyone…how hard can any of this really hit me?’
Upon arrival, I was amazed at the variety and amount of information the Center holds in the form of books, videos, DVDs, magazines, handouts, pamphlets, newsletters, photos… I was delighted to be allowed access to this collection and I regularly borrowed audio-visual and reading material to reflect on.
At the Center, I connected the most with Co-Director Cherry Steinwender, one of the original founders. I have never met anyone so passionate about what they do, so devoted to educating everyone she comes in contact with. Speaking with Mrs.Steinwender, I was able to bring to surface emotions that I usually push to the back burner because they are too difficult to face, or because they are difficult to recognize as harmful or detrimental. I realized how influential it is to learn from a survivor; someone who teaches from experience, who has suffered what those she reaches out to have suffered.
Although I had the opportunity to help prepare for the various workshops, I was eager to see Mrs. Steinwender and other Center members in action as they delivered valuable information, shared life changing experiences, and made everyone present understand the severity of the issues we face as a diverse nation. I wanted to see what was said and done to make attendees open up about issues rarely discussed. Some of the topics discussed included bullying, racial slurring and name calling, stereotyping, interracial relationships, the effects of slavery, institutionalized racism and inter-ethnic racism, among others
I was the most impacted by Dialogue: Racism, an intensive two-day workshop that demonstrates how our historical failures have propagated racism, stereotypes and xenophobia. I was amazed, and a bit outraged at the amount of historic information I discovered during Dialogue that my history courses at school had failed to provide. For example, I never knew that Native American children were placed in residential boarding schools run by churches, where the ultimate goal was to eradicate any traces of their culture. Children were abused, demeaned and taught to be ashamed of their heritage. Girls were sterilized because it was believed that by eradicating a people, the ‘Indian problem’ would be solved. At Dialogue I was also able to internalize the fact that racism is not just a struggle for colored people. At some point or another in history, every ethnic group that ever set foot in America struggled, suffered and faced death because of discrimination.
Above all, interning at the Center encouraged me to embark on a journey of intense self-examination. I have learned to recognize instances when I behave like a prejudiced person. Like when I grip my purse tighter when certain people come wait for the bus at the same stop I do, or when I take a different walking route because certain people are standing at a corner. As a Latin American, I have learned to recognize internalized racism as well, when I feel that I am not as valuable as the next person, maybe because of my skin color, or social status. Like when I move out of the way of certain people walking towards me in the street or because people like me have no business walking near such a fancy building where only a certain type of people tend do so.
What would I say to prospective Center interns? I would tell them that if they are only interning in hopes of obtaining degree credits, they can expect to walk away with a lot more than that. Be prepared to feel a barrage of intense emotions that you weren’t prepared for, because there will be tears, rage, guilt perplexity, and even shame. There will be times when you feel speechless, helpless, and powerless as you come to terms with the deterioration of the human condition. Be prepared to let the walls come down, to come out from behind that hard shell you put on before you walk out into the world every day. I learned that it is necessary to face what we fear in order to make way for hope, understanding and healing. Our wounds have to be examined carefully if we intend to heal them properly, and the Center for the Healing of Racism is making great strides in doing this for anyone willing to listen.
Review from Guidestar
I've been involved with the Center since its inception. I am white with two adopted children of African-American and White descent. The Center has been invaluable in helping me understand and become aware of my own biases, offered classes in my children's schools (elementary through high school) to address racism and bullying, and continues to be a voice of sanity in insane and polarizing situations. They are media-savvy, reasonable and effective in helping individuals overcome their own biases, whether internalized or unaware. They help organizations to effect real and lasting improvements in workplace culture, and empower individuals to take a stand against stereotyping and racism
The Center for the Healing Racism is an important part of my life. After taking part in the Dialog:Racism program, I began teaching a Healing Racism class at St. Agnes Academy in Houston. Without the help of Co-director Cherry Steinwender and other members of the center, the class would never have materialized. Most important to me, I experienced--along with my students--many opportunities for healing my own unaware racism and new opportunities to help heal the disease of racim. I teach in San Antonio now, but my contact with the Center continues to inspire and help me.