Jan. 21, 2016 4:31 pm

‘The Letters’ project is tackling racism by sharing experiences

The national letter-writing campaign will enable people to share their personal experiences with profiling and discrimination.

Mission Incorporated CEO Lawanda Horton (right) with Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin, during the "Letters to Trayvon" event last year.

(Courtesy photo)

Racism is not an isolated problem.

That’s why Lawanda Horton is launching “The Letters — a national letter-writing campaign through which people can share their personal experiences with profiling and discrimination, or a time when they saw someone else being targeted. 

“Writing these letters will be cathartic, giving people the opportunity to share their stories,” Horton said. “And it will be eye-opening — people will see how common the experiences are across cultures.”

Horton is the CEO of Mission Incorporated, which does consulting for small businesses and nonprofits. Twice a year she uses her skills to organize a project to promote a social good. Last year, the winter project was Letters to Trayvon,” in which people wrote letters to support black men and boys.

“We were going to do a project to support women and girls this year,” she said, “but with all the black men and boys still being shot, we can’t move on.”

The first step to solving the problem of racism, Horton thinks, is to get people to talk about their experiences with it. “We need to expose racism, show the deniers that [the incidents that make headlines] aren’t isolated incidents,” she said. “We need to share experiences so everyone can see their commonality.”

"We need to share experiences so everyone can see their commonality."
Lawanda Horton

Horton will be collecting letters through Feb. 29 at theletters2016@gmail.com and posting them on a dedicated Tumblr. Horton’s goal is to receive letters from people from all races and walks of life. The letters will be interspersed with artwork — music clips, visual art, poetry — to provide alternative means for people to express themselves. 

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Once the letters and artwork have been posted, the next phase of the project will begin: sharing the Tumblr with those with the most power to enact change. 

“The link will be sent to legislators via email,” Horton said, “then we’ll spend the rest of 2016 following up with them, getting their reactions, asking about policy coming down the pike” to address systemic racism.

Although the project is based in Philadelphia, it is being promoted through a variety of channels to ensure participation by people from across the country. Emphasizing in-person, face-to-face participation, organizers are working with local elected officials to find schools and community groups, including those in neighborhoods and locales without significant minority populations.

Horton hopes to hear from young people especially, so The Letters project will be reaching out to both K-12 schools and colleges to get both teachers and students involved, perhaps as a class project. February, as Black History Month, is a natural time to promote these events, Horton said. 

She sees The Letters project as a form of community building.

“People from opposite sides of the street, from different neighborhoods, will be coming to this central location and saying what they have to say,” she explained. The project can be a way to create “a dialogue that happens without yelling. If you want to look at [The Letters] and yell in your home, that’s fine, but at least both sides will have had a chance to say their piece.”


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