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NPR's Michele Norris Talks About The Race Card Project at MCC

Jim Day

Award-winning NPR Host and special correspondent Michele Norris visited Rochester on Monday.

Norris delivered the keynote at MCC’s annual Alice Holloway Young Power of Diversity Series. Part of her message included the unearthed secrets she learned about her family legacy and their attitudes about race.

"I called the book the Grace of Silence," Norris says.
"There's a little twist here that I need to explain because as much as there is grace in silence there is power in understanding. And it was only through the words and the learning of stories and the listening to stories that I was able to gain that understanding."

Norris also discussed The Race Card Project. It's a national conversation that started in 2010, which invited people to submit 6 word sentences about their thoughts on race. It quickly grew from postcards to social media with tens of thousands of people sharing their views about race in six-words.

"There's something going on that we're not hearing,” says Norris.

The impetus of the project was the historic campaign and election of President Barack Obama. Norris says many of the news reports leading up to the 2008 Presidential election said "America is coming into a post-racial status." Norris grew curious of this statement and wanted to know the public’s thoughts on race.

“It's not that Americans are obsessed with race, but we're having an animated conversation about race and that would be understandable. Not just because a family of color was moving into the White House, but America is changing the page demographically."

While on this pursuit to hear how others talked about race, Norris was interrupted when her own family began having "historic indigestion" as she says. "Stories started bubbling up. They were talking about a different America."

One of the discoveries the journalist learned while passing the fried chicken at the kitchen table was that her father was shot by a white police officer in Birmingham, Alabama in 1946. Then, she found out her grandmother worked as a traveling Aunt Jemima in Minnesota. Although, Norris says the information was reeling at the time, it gave her perspective and a greater appreciation for where America is today.

"It has allowed me to understand this country that I love so much in a very particular way,” Norris says. “It has helped me understand my family in a very meaningful way. And it has allowed me to tap into conversations that you know are out there but are usually suppressive, they are usually way under the surface."

Norris says she never wanted to solely report on the topic of race. She didn’t want to pigeon hole her career; she wanted a full portfolio with politics, religion, and education. Now, 3 decades later, Norris finds herself talking about the very topic she avoided for so long: race.

Credit Jim Day / WXXI

“I couldn’t be happier.”

Norris’ six word sentence: “There’s more work to be done.”

Hundreds of MCC students, faculty and staff submitted their statements to the national host.

Attendees were encouraged to write a six word sentence about race.