Battle Creek

Battle Creek's Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation continues to work for positive change

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

The hiring of the city’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, intentional conversations among staff at Willard Library about racial stereotyping, and a leadership development program for the community’s Latinx women are among the outcomes resulting from a movement that began in 2017 with a simple premise to build relationships.
“Fundamentally, because the framework for BCTRHT (Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation) is rooted in relationships, we can have deep and meaningful relationships across the aisle and the key to the success of this framework is how we stay in these relationships and the accountability to repair harm when harm occurs,” says Rosemary Linares, who serves as co-coordinator of BCTRHT alongside Kimberly Holley who is the city’s new DEI Officer.
Equally as important to this work, says Linares, is recognizing when to end relationships that no longer support the mission of BCTRHT, which is: “To be the catalyst for a racial equity movement in Battle Creek, Michigan that transforms the way we live, work, and interact as a community.”
Linares says being able to “name that when it’s over and have honest conversations” is a part of the ongoing dialogue which can be uncomfortable for some people.
“We have people in our Community Leadership and resident teams who have different perspectives. It’s not an echo chamber because we do have honest dialogue,” she says.
Boonika Herring addresses the audience at the inaugaral Dorothy McClendon Day in 2021The successes resulting from these ongoing conversations are highlighted in a detailed evaluation of BCTRHT’s work five years after its founding.  Formative Evaluation Research Associates (FERA) authored  a final evaluation report highlighting how the work of BCTRHT has “cultivated new and authentic relationships, valuable leadership development opportunities, and expansive platforms to amplify community stories about racial equity during its first five years.”
In 2017 the W. K. Kellogg Foundation funded 14 sites across the country to implement the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework. Linares says this TRHT framework is now being disseminated across the United States, in addition to the 14 original sites.
The evaluation specific to BCTRHT illustrates how the coalition’s work has fostered cultural shifts in city government to support increased access to resources by addressing racial disparities and ensuring civic life is more equitable for everyone who lives in Battle Creek.
“The impact is showing up in ways we don’t hear about until after it happens and that is a testament to the Theory of Change,” Linares says.
Rosemary Linares, contributing author, holds his first copy of Howe We Heal.The changes Linares has seen or heard about are both subtle and impactful and include organizations that now begin their meetings with check-ins that are intentionally designed to see how participants are doing to a first-ever Equity Audit conducted by the city which led to the hiring of Holley, who currently serves as Director of the Sojourner Truth Center for Liberation and Justice.
The audit came about as the result of conversations initiated by the African American Collaborative in 2020 that included members of BCTRHT.
“[The Equity Audit] was uncomfortable because it was not something we had ever done,” says Battle Creek City Manager Rebecca Fleury, one of five city and community leaders who shared their stories and perspectives about the BCTRHT work in the evaluation.  “We were about to open ourselves up as a unit of local government to do two things: completely looking at all our internal policies, particularly around human resources, to see if there were any barriers to us being an equitable organization and one that values and lifts up the importance diversity, equity, and inclusion; and then Phase II was the same lens and questions around police and community relations. These are tough issues, and they are not gone.”
Another “first'' for the city was the creation of a job within its Community Development department that brought in a bilingual individual. Michelle Salazar, a member of the BCTRHT Community Leadership Team and a community advocate, was hired in 2021 as the city’s first bilingual Community Development Specialist. She says she learned about the newly-created position during networking opportunities through BCTRHT.
Trevon Henry, a contributing author, holds his first copy of How We Heal.Although she has been involved in conversations about the need to provide interpreting services for people who have interactions with police and don’t speak English and the creation of policy to make sure that bilingual city staff are compensated for language services that aren’t a routine part of their job, her main focus is on increasing the number of participants in the city’s Minor Home Repair Program.
When Salazar started her job, she says that the program had historically served between 1 to 3% of families in the city who identify as Hispanic or Latino.
“They were underserved and part of that was not having a bilingual interpreter,” she says. “We’ve seen a huge jump in our most recent annual action reporting. 9.5% of our applicants in the program identified as Hispanic or Latino. We saw that jump by being present and understanding their language needs.”
These new positions and the Equity Audit are examples of the “TRHT framework creating impact on multiple levels simultaneously,” Linares says. “Community members adopt and embed the principles of TRHT into their work and their lives. We see it at the city level and how nonprofit collaborative groups come together.”
Employees at Summit Pointe hold up hearts at the Race to Heal yard sign.ELLAS (Empowering Latina Leaders and Advocates for Success) and Gryphon Place are among the nonprofits that have found ways to work together. ELLAS, funded through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, formed in 2018 with a mission to empower, enrich, and elevate Latina leaders and allies to become bridge builders and influential change agents in Southwest Michigan
As a result of ELLAS, Gryphon Place has incorporated Latina leaders from Battle Creek and Kalamazoo into its organization, Linares says.
Disruption and change
In addition to highlighting the ways that BCTRHT has cultivated new and authentic relationships, valuable leadership development opportunities, and expansive platforms to amplify community stories about racial equity during its first five years, the report also illustrates how these new developments have fostered cultural shifts in city government to support increased access to resources by addressing racial disparities and ensuring civic life is more equitable for everyone who lives in Battle Creek, the evaluation says.
This has required honest conversations among members of the Community Leadership Team and residents who participate in Racial Healing Circles who are intentionally seeking to disrupt current systems and be active advocates for change, Linares says.
“Change is one of the hardest things for people and holding all of that and always being one of the only people in the room who recognizes the need for that isn’t easy,” Salazar says.
Salazar’s relationship with BCTRHT began after a chance encounter with a member of the Community Leadership Team at a local restaurant. Her involvement grew after she began attending monthly Racial Healing Circles which are free and open to anyone in the community.
Linares says an in-person and virtual Racial Healing Circle Series at First Congregational Church is starting on January 26. She says, “Over five sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays, community members can participate in racial healing circles facilitated by BCTRHT’s talented racial healing practitioners. To allow for deep reflection and powerful insights.”
Each circle is limited to 15 participants. Pre-registration is required at this link.
Racial healing circles are a tool and methodology for working towards inclusion and equity.  They are not a solution but a process, designed to put us on the right path, says information on the University of North Carolina Asheville website. 
“The Racial Healing Circle process is designed to go deeper into the heart space. This process encourages us to tell our stories and to listen deeply to the stories of others. This work will enable us to see our humanity and ourselves in others. When this occurs, we build trust and that trust is necessary for the courageous dialogue to take place which will lead to the transformed community we aspire to,” the website says.
Salazar says getting these conversations started and having them allows a space for people to find their voice and strengths on topics that they might have been embarrassed to talk about earlier such as their own implicit bias or racial stereotyping. She says these are difficult, but necessary conversations.
These Healing Circles focus on the ways that race affects people’s lives individually and collectively, Salazar says.
“We learn how to have conversations with each other and the people around us and in turn heal the trauma that racism has perpetuated in our lives,” she says. “One of the major things we emphasize is that we don’t try to change people. We welcome people looking for a place to start healing or wanting to start conversations or systemic changes. We find commonalities through conversation and carry that into our professional and personal lives.”
The monthly meetings with her TRHT family as she refers to Linares and other members of the Community Leadership and Healing Circle participants are an important source of support for her.
“We’re all on our own journey. I know I can talk to them,” she says.
Salazar says she has to consistently remind herself that she doesn’t have all the answers “and I’m always growing and learning about my own biases, because racial healing is always changing. I want to catch those acts of racism and oppression in the systems I participate in or when I go to a hospital and school system and call it out in a way I can see change.”
Although the evaluation indicates that change is happening, Linares says, “This kind of change is going to take decades and generations. The changes that we’re creating are slowly evolving.”
She says the work is continuing to broaden and expand on a national level with initiatives like the Culture of Health Leadership Institute for Racial Healing funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is one of 40 Fellows in the first cohort of the Institute for Racial Healing.
“Now the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other funding entities are investing in leaders across the country that complement the work being done in place-based work funded by the Kellogg Foundation,” Linares says. “We’re really part of this larger movement. What happens on a small scale happens on a large scale. It really is distilled down to how we form relationships with one another rooted in trust and across racial identities. It’s that sacred humanity.”

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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.