THE BLOG
11/10/2015 05:52 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2016

The Ferguson Truth Initiative: Building on the Legacies of South Africa and Greensboro

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"... you are close to my heart as you embark on ... speaking truth, sharing your stories, and searching together to find ways to create more just relations between you, the citizens, and your police forces and government." Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"Yes, you have our blessings and support."
Rev. Nelson and Mrs. Joyce Johnson, Task Force Organizers
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Seventeen years after the issuance of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report and nine years since the release of the report of the historic Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) - (the first significant and noteworthy community-driven, truth-seeking process of its kind in the history of the United States), the Ferguson Truth Initiative will launch this weekend. Organized by the Truth Telling Project, a not-for-profit organization under the sponsorship of the Center for Educational Equity in St. Louis, this weekend's event in Ferguson, Missouri is one in a series of proceedings implemented to highlight police violence since the killing of unarmed Michael Brown in August 2014. Earlier this year, Truth Telling Project leaders met with key players in the design and implementation of the GTRC to garner wisdom and guidance for hosting the upcoming Ferguson Truth Initiative (FTI).

Like the Greensboro project, FTI is to some degree fashioned after the monumental South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, for citizens of the U.S., the Greensboro project and the Ferguson Initiative are of considerable importance to the legacy and history of our nation. First, both non-government, community-driven initiatives follow occurrences of deadly race-related violence that have caused deep hurt, confusion and division within American communities. Second, the roles of truth seeking and truth telling are considered fundamental to the healing and advancement of African American communities by leaders of both projects. Third, both initiatives were created based on beliefs that giving voice to the violated and oppressed is a necessary measure to confront and end injustice, to transcend the divisive legacies of race-based hatred and violence, and to positively transform American society into the human rights beacon it proclaims to be. Fourth and most admirably, both initiatives demonstrate the bold, grassroots commitments of U.S. citizens acting from places of integrity, love and faith -- without government funding or backing, to support the rights of fellow citizens to live free of violence based on the color of their skin. Ultimately, leaders of both projects agree that promoting truth seeking and truth telling will increase mutual understanding and respect between citizens, and lay the foundation needed for healing the long-standing wounds and by-products of racist oppression in the U.S.

Established on the premise that all victims of oppression and violence have the right to share their truths, validate their experiences, and heal, FTI will specifically focus on sharing the unfiltered, unedited voices of African Americans directly and indirectly impacted by police violence in the city of Ferguson, and beyond. Truth Telling Project co-Director, Pastor Cori Bush noted, "Giving voice to the voiceless through the power of storytelling humanizes each man, woman and child in a manner that no Commission report, visual representation or media interview can." Since the killing of Michael Brown, Pastor Cori has been a vocal and dedicated activist to change violent policing practices in Ferguson and St. Louis.

In its recently released "Declaration of Intent", the Truth Telling Project indicated that the purposes of the FTI are: (1) to widely broadcast the voices of individuals who have encountered and been impacted by police violence, (2) to heighten national and international awareness of Ferguson residents and others who have experienced threat or harm as a consequence of the behaviors of law enforcement, (3) to garner national and international support for a more just and compassionate society in which African Americans do not live in fear of those designated to protect and serve them, and (4) to offer and support opportunities for members of civic, community and church organizations throughout the U.S. to positively impact police-citizen relationships in their communities by engaging them in "A Night of a Thousand Conversations" through "Watch, Exchange, Formulate and Implement" (WeFi) gatherings.

WeFi gatherings involve the assembly of community members in one shared space to watch the FTI broadcasts of victims stories, engage in dialogue to debrief their observations, formulate action plans to address areas of concern, and act to improve citizen-police relations in their neighborhoods. According to Dr. David Ragland, co-founder of the Truth Telling Project, "Because the government of the United States has not fulfilled its commitment to address the consequences of the nation's perennial and systemic racism, we believe that addressing the legacies of structural racism and its consequences in the U.S. must begin with citizen actions to expose truths."

The Ferguson Truth Initiative begins on Friday, November 13 with the swearing-in of "Witnesses to the Truth" and "Truth Tellers." Following a call to order by "Elders", persons who have been impacted by police violence in Ferguson and beyond will begin sharing their narratives. During the next day and a half, select narratives will be recorded for world-wide broadcast, and "Healing Circles" will be conducted to nourish the health and well-being of all participants. In addition to having the support of Archbishop Tutu and GTRC organizers, The Truth Telling Project has also received program assistance from Civil Rights Icons Dr. Angela Davis, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, and Dr. Fania Davis.

All communities throughout the U.S. are invited to organize WeFi gatherings for "A Night of a Thousand Conversations," which will be held on Saturday, November 14 and Saturday, November 21. For more information, please visit: www.thetruthtellingproject.org or contact
Dr. Mark Lance at abuemma@gmail.com.