Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley lands $150K grant to expand work

  • Vanessa Otero PHOTO COURTESY OF HEALING RACISM INSTITUTE OF PIONEER VALLEY

Staff Writer 
Published: 6/11/2021 10:26:30 AM

SPRINGFIELD — The Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley (HRIPV), an organization that provides anti-racism seminars, will receive a $150,000 grant over the next three years to help expand its services. 

The grant will allow HRIPV to more frequently provide its seminars, which were highly praised by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM), a charitable organization that awarded the grant and supports entities throughout Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. 

Vanessa Otero, the director of the HRIPV, said in an interview that the seminars “provide an opportunity to create a shared language and to learn from other experiences, and the importance of listening.”

The seminars also allow the opportunity for participants to feel a little uncomfortable in a “courageous space, but also a safe space,” she said.  

“We are grateful that folks choose with us to enter this space where some people don’t dare go for fear of saying the wrong thing, or exposing themselves, or learning things about themselves they have not admitted to this entire time,” Otero said. 

Otero referred to a favorite quote of hers by Ibram X. Kendi, the founder of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and celebrated author on anti-racism. 

“One of the best things Ibram X. Kendi said is anti-racism is a verb, and practice, and it initiates an action and a thought process,” Otero said. “With the understanding that it’s a lifelong goal and practice.”

The foundation’s first grant installment of $50,000 will occur in July and the funds will guarantee revenue stability for HRIPV in order to sustain the organization’s growing demands.

HRIPV has a $1 million goal for its capital drive over the next three years, with $600,000 already secured, according to Otero.  

“We need to make sure we have the capacity personnel and facilitators to reach our goals and sustain ourselves to make sure that our conversations around healing racism continue and there aren’t any pauses,” said Otero. The organization will hold seminars on a monthly basis starting in July. 

HRIPV, founded in 2012, stated that it has engaged over 1,000 individuals and 200 organizations across nearly 20 sectors through its two-day seminars in the Pioneer Valley and in Greater Boston, according to the group. 

“Sectors vary, and folks come in humbly, and with a curiosity and striving to learn,” Otero said. Some examples include public institutions such as school and community colleges, but also financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, according to Otero. 

Also “private organizations and companies that are really thinking about (anti-racism) earnestly,” she said. 

At the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the two-day seminars by the institute are part of every new employee’s onboarding and orientation, according to Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the CFWM. 

“We’ve seen the impact that training has on reducing racism and bringing awareness to inequity,” said Zobel, who has participated in the seminar herself. 

“I thought I was on a journey, as a white person, to do something about breaking down systems of oppression,” Zobel said of going into the seminar. “What that experience (the seminar) did is reframe the fact that I had a lot more work to do and I was really at the beginning of a journey.” 

She continued, “It provided a historical context and work on an individual perspective. The other thing is it connected me to members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community, and other white members, all making this commitment together and that was transformative." 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com


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