A student walks in front of Historic Biddle Hall on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University. Photo: QCity Metro

It’s a lofty goal — three universities joining hands to promote “racial healing and transformation” in Charlotte.

Known collectively as the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium, the schools — Johnson C. Smith University, Queens University of Charlotte and UNC Charlotte — will begin outreach efforts this spring and summer to do just that, and just in time for the Aug. 24 arrival in Charlotte of the Republican National Convention (RNC).

A major part of that effort will include “healing circles” — monthly gatherings where community members are invited to “reflect, share truths, and collaboratively create a new racial narrative.”

“The scars that we have are the stories we tell, and those stories are what’s going to help us heal,” Dr. Cindy Kistenberg, associate professor of communications and theater at JCSU, told QCity Metro.

The consortium also will launch a fellowship program — a year-long effort that will recruit six students from each campus to reflect on “Charlotte’s history of racism” and its connection to their respective schools. The fellowship will end with student-led projects on each campus designed to “foster truth, racial healing, and transformation.”

Part of a larger effort

The Charlotte consortium will get grant funding from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), a Washington, D.C.-based organization seeking to create a nationwide network of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Centers. According to the group’s website, one of its primary goals is to prepare the next generation of “strategic leaders and thinkers to break down racial hierarchies and dismantle the belief in the hierarchy of human value.”

That effort so far includes 23 grantees, the Charlotte consortium being the first to include multiple campuses. JCSU will be the second historically Black school accepted into the program, joining Spelman College in Atlanta.

Kistenberg said JCSU was invited to join the consortium in 2017 by Queens and UNC Charlotte, which had planned to apply individually to become TRHT campuses but realized that they might be stronger as a team. The consortium was rejected that first year but was invited to apply again — and was accepted this year, along with 12 other grantees.

“Together, we more accurately represent the greater Charlotte community,” Kistenberg said of the consortium.

A narrative about race

When selecting TRHT campuses, officials look for institutions that are racially diverse, said Tia McNair, vice president for diversity, equity and student success and executive director for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Centers at AAC&U. Officials also consider the cities and towns where each campus is based.

“One of the questions with an application is, what is the narrative about race within your community?” McNair said. “What are the key leverage points fueling racism within your community? So community context does matter.”

Kistenberg, the JCSU professor, said the upcoming RNC was significant in the consortium’s planning.

“The issues we’ve had here in Charlotte — the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, Jonathan Ferrell — all of these things bring to the forefront the need to bring people together, to heal, to tell their stories and work towards healing,” she said. “The RNC is coming here and I think that has created so much angst on the part of a lot of people. So I think the timing of this grant is very important.”

Asked how the D.C.-based organization measures success against such lofty goals, McNair said success is measured in terms of progress.

“When we actually focus on the possibilities for what our community could look like and feel like…when we have people engaging with one another, focus on their common humanity and not on their racial differences, that’s what success looks like,” she said.

McNair added: “We’re not going to eliminate racism overnight. We’re going to make progress towards it.”

Correction: The Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium will get grant funding from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). An earlier version of this article gave a different name.

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.