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Where racial healing happens

Richmond, Va., shows how real dialogue is more than just talk.

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Shortly after Senator Obama's speech on race this March, a friend likened the racial issue to an old coffee pot that keeps percolating. Every few years something happens to bring the vexed problem bubbling to the surface.

Unplugging the percolator requires courageous conversation and frank acknowledgment of the underlying sources of distrust.

My friend, Mike McQuillan, is an educator, a veteran community organizer, and former Senate adviser. He played a key role in establishing the Crown Heights Coalition in New York after confrontations between Hasidic Jews and blacks in 1991.

"Change emanates from the bottom," he says, pointing to important progress over the past two decades. And he's right: Ordinary people are coming together to do extraordinary things. Healing conversation is already under way.

In hundreds of local efforts across the US, diverse groups of citizens are bridging the traditional boundaries of race, class, and culture. Thousands have engaged in dialogue, symbolic acts of reconciliation, and collaborative problem solving. Organizations such as Everyday Democracy and Hope in the Cities (a project of Initiatives of Change) are facilitating this.

Two critical components create space for real dialogue: Not pointing the finger of blame, but extending a hand of friendship. And insisting on bringing everyone to the table, even those with whom we most disagree.

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