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150-year Racial Equality Plan

We remember a phone call many years ago from Bob Carey, the longtime President at the Produce Marketing Association. He had invited the Pundit — though long before the digital age when all our industry writing was appearing in PRODUCE BUSINESS — to attend a PMA Board meeting each year, a privilege that continued for many years. Once, however, we had an illness and Bob gave permission for us to send Ken Whitacre, publisher/editorial director, in our place.

It was only hours after the meeting concluded that Bob called… Ken and I weren’t yet 30 years old, and he asked “Where did you ever find someone like Ken? He is exceptional. You are really lucky.”

It is a question this Pundit has often asked himself. Ken and the Pundit met as students at Cornell and, one day, while working at the Hunts Point Market, this incipient Pundit called Ken, who was working on his master’s degree at Columbia, and asked if he would like to go on an adventure.

Thus PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine was born… and, in time, other magazines, websites, trade shows, conferences, share groups and much more.

Ken spoke about some of the journey he has traveled as he memorialized this Pundit’s mother in a piece you can read here.

Coming from Kentucky, Ken has seen racism in a different way than this Pundit. He wrote of some of his thoughts here:

By Ken Whitacre

June 19th, 1865. That is the day — a little more than 155 years ago — when Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the last slaves in the United states of America.

I was totally unaware of this date, and its celebration, until just this year, when news of celebrations prompted me to do some internet searching for some meaning behind our current racial unrest. How have we come to this period of racial tension, seemingly so far removed in time from the scourge of slavery?

Just as it took 150 years for Americans to get to this period, I believe this problem will not be solved in our lifetimes… Though there certainly are things we can do today, and are doing, to work through specific problems, eliminating racism entirely will take many generations to remove cultural prejudices from our gene pool.

My father was a racist. Growing up in a poor town, in the “projects”, put my family in a racially mixed group of apartments. Though there were attempts to segregate blacks from whites in the projects (the blacks mainly lived in the Booker T Washington block of apartments and the whites lived in the surrounding blocks), you couldn’t prevent blacks and whites from intermingling — unless one came to MY apartment.

It was there one afternoon that my father demanded I remove one of my black friends from the apartment when I brought him home to play after school. I was humiliated to be taken into the utility room of the apartment and told to get rid of him on the spot.

It was there I consciously made the decision to rebel and vow that I would never be like him. Secretly, I developed many black friends and hung out at that THEIR apartments, even dating a few in secret.

Today, these memories flood my mind as I see cases of racial divide brought in front of me. I want to do something, but know the problem cannot be solved simply with protests or by government decrees. It has to start within the roots of all generations of people living today, but it will take many generations after to completely eradicate this problem.

I am reminded of a movement that was started about 25 years ago in Sri Lanka. It is the 500-year Peace Plan, which was consummated after 500 years of bloodshed brought on by colonialism and civil war. The rationale behind this plan was that it took 500 years to get to where Sri Lanka was, despite many efforts to solve the problems, so it is likely to take 500 years to totally come to peace. Their goal is to make Sri Lanka “the image of Paradise on Earth” — a country without poverty, both economic and spiritual.

What may seem preposterous on the surface makes sense when you think about the amount of time social injustice takes to resolve. Afterall, how many years do you think it will take for Palestine and Israel to fully be at peace? How many years will it take for India and Pakistan to work out their differences? Just pick another part of the world where you shake your head that entrenched problems still go on after centuries.

It took nearly 150 years after our Constitution was enacted before women got the right to vote… And though the historical math is fuzzy, the Bible teaches that it took hundreds of years before the Israelites were free from Egypt and it took the passing of more generations for them to shed the customs of Egyptian rule after they were free.

Even today, the memories of Jews being burned in the Holocaust 80-plus years ago are still alive in some survivors… and anti-Semitism still exists today.

So, the idea of Sri Lanka having a plan to end war in 500 years doesn’t seem so preposterous to me.

Here is how they plan to do it:

· Transform the consciousness of war
· Mobilize grassroots efforts to end the war
· Redirect the conversation about war and peace — redefine the war
· Revive mutual respect and trust among all Sri Lankans.
· Break the stalemate in thinking that leads to continual war
· Coordinate, network and form linkages with all parties
· Participate in peace talks
· Change the climate of war to a climate of peace.
· Conduct healing and reconciliation campaigns
· Work with all victims of the war, including the combatants, their families, civilians, children and others.
· Link the peace process to overall village development

Just insert “racism” in place of “war” and think more locally. Sri Lanka has 22 million people. This population size is less than 7% of our country’s population. Perhaps each urban city in the US could have its own Racial Equality Plan.

With a few redactions, here is how the Sri Lankans have scheduled their 500-year Peace Plan:

· Actively resist all acts of violence, no matter who perpetrates it, and no matter what the stated reason.
· Call for all parties to cease violence right now, with no preconditions, limits or terms.
· Introduce and discuss the Peace Plan with all parts of the organization (managers, coordinators, independent unit heads, staff, workers and volunteers).
· Conduct a variety of peace activities throughout the country, including Peace Meditations, amity camps, community dialogs, exchange programs, inter-religious gatherings and others. All activities designed to bring Sri Lankans together and to remove the causes of violence.
· Remove all images that glorify war, killing and violence.

· A cease-fire called between the warring parties.
· Start cross-cultural dialogs at the village level on ethnicity, religion and class issues within Sri Lanka society.
· Develop economic strategy.
· All war-related violence ends.
· Peace treaties between warring factions signed.
· Development Plan started.
· Start programs to help people disabled by war (including physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual disabilities).
· Start to repatriate and resettle all Sri Lankans who are living in refugee camps, including all internal refugees.
· Start rehabilitation of all former combatants.
· Start re-integration and healing of all combatants.

· Development Plan in full operation.
· Sri Lanka no longer in top ten countries with highest suicide rates.
· All poverty indicators in each zone go down by 10%.
· Former armed youth together become active participants in a nationwide constructive village re-awakening programme.
· Rehabilitation of buildings and rural areas completed.
· Former combatants successfully re-integrated into civilian populations.

· Complete resettlement of all displaced persons (internal and external) into permanent homes in Sri Lanka.

· War is forgotten, except in history lessons.
· Sri Lanka has the lowest suicide rate in the world.
· Sri Lanka has the lowest poverty rate in the world.
· Sri Lanka is a model for other countries for sustainable development.

· Sri Lanka becomes the first country to totally eliminate poverty – both economic and spiritual.
· Sri Lanka becomes main destination for ‘spiritual tourists’ looking to experience peace and serenity.
· ‘Sri Lanka’ becomes a metaphor for a peaceful, poverty-free environment.

· Global climate warming may cause changes to the Sri Lankan environment and geography. However, because of the history of working together over hundreds of years, these changes will not be disasters.
· In 500 years, people might be living on other planets; however, Sri Lanka will remain their image of Paradise on Earth.

Can you imagine a similar plan to end racial equality — and achieve the many other benefits Sri Lanka is shooting for — after only 150 years? It takes courage and creativity. It takes leadership. But most of all, it takes time and patience. We don’t have to wait until the next June 19th. Today would be a good day to start.


Ken may well be right. The problem is what if the truth – in this case, how long it takes to change and heal — is not acceptable? The 500 Year Peace Plan in Sri Lanka is inspiring, but we hope the “can-do” American spirit will give us a chance to move ahead more quickly!

In these moments of great difficulty, it is worth remembering an op-ed piece that Stephen Ambrose and his son Hugh wrote The Times-Picayune. They recounted a small stretch of history that was enshrined in a speech given by Nick Mueller, the President and CEO of the institution that would come to be called The National World War II Museum. The topic of the speech: The American Spirit: What Does It Mean?

On Dec. 8, 1941, a large group of Navajo Indians saddled their horses, loaded their rifles and rode off their reservation to the nearest Army recruiting center. They told the surprised recruiting officer that they were ready not just to enlist, but to start fighting that very day. Their country had been attacked. They would go to war.

Stephen and Hugh used this incident to offer a telling illustration of the American Spirit — how it manifests itself, what it means:

These Native Americans had not been treated well by their government, by American society at large. Their culture and their language had been under attack, marginalized, discriminated against, for many years. Their opportunities in education and work were few.

But even these Navajo in their hardscrabble existence had a sense of the American ideal, the promise of individual rights, of opportunity for a good life as pursued first by our Puritan forebears, then by this country’s Founding Fathers — and as spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

In 1941 these Native Americans knew this promise, this ideal — and their country too now — was under attack. So they joined millions of other Americans to fight Japan and Germany in far-away places.

In fact, the Navajo Code Talkers became a legendary weapon in our WWII military arsenal, for they were able to speak openly over the radio in the field — confident that the enemy would never crack their language.

The Navajo reflected the common sentiment of the day: “We’re all in this together.”

And their selfless acts spoke to the enduring American Spirit, the bright connecting thread in the fabric of our Democracy.

It is important to note, as we count our shortcomings as a nation, that we are comparing ourselves to our own ideals. The article closes by recounting President Eisenhower’s farewell address as President in 1961:

“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity…

“That the scourges of poverty, disease, and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

We suspect that 150 years, 500 years or 5,000 years, if we are lucky and clever enough to last that long as a people, we will still live in the earnest pursuit of being fairer and treating people better. Indeed, the last line of the Sri Lankan 500-year plan turns our planet and people into a kind of dream: “In 500 years, people might be living on other planets; however, Sri Lanka will remain their image of Paradise on Earth.”

Here is hoping this may be true of all the earth and of all humanity.


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