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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS Race can be a tough issue to tackle. But Monday night, the city of New Orleans launched a new program aimed at starting a dialogue and taking action.

'If we can come to trust each other we can do amazing and powerful things,' said Susan Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

The city's new 'Welcome Table' initiative's goal is to bring a diverse group of people together to have honest discussions about race.

Monday night, more than 100 people of different races attended a meeting at New Hope Baptist Church in Central City to find out more.

'The model creates a safe, structured, civil and respectful space for people to come into,' said deputy mayor Judy Morse.

The program is a partnership with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, housed at the University of Mississippi. The model is already in place in 16 different Mississippi cities.

It's a three-phase process in which small groups spend time getting to know each other, identify a community need and work to take action.

'They've done everything from community gardens to lowering teen pregnancy rate to getting a bill passed that mandates teaching civil rights and human rights history in Mississippi classrooms,' said Glisson.

In New Orleans, groups can apply for part of a $1.2 million Kellogg Foundation grant to get started. But some say the initiative is too little, too late, and wonder if it will really work. At times, the discussion grew tense.

'We talk too much, and not enough action comes out,' said Rev. Joe Recasner, a lifelong 9th Ward resident. 'African Americans who are vested in this city, came back after Katrina, can't get no job, can't speak with the mayor, can't get nothing done in this city... You bring us to this house of worship to have a discussion on racism in this city, we ought to be on our knees praying to God that you hear us.'

'I've always thought to reconcile a relationship is to bring it back to what it once was. How can you reconcile what was never there?' asked another member of the crowd.

But others say the program is an important first step to acknowledge barriers and break them down.

'At least we have the opportunity now to speak. Let's take advantage of the opportunity,' said New Orleans resident Mary Lagarde.

The initiative will take place in four different neighborhoods -- Central City, St. Roch, Little Woods and Algiers.

There will be another information session at St. Roch Community Church Friday at 6 p.m.

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