Maxine Crump is the founder, president, and CEO of Dialogue on Race Louisiana. She led the design of its core program, the Dialogue on Race Series.
Her career includes working in radio and television broadcasts, public relations and media development. She became the first female DJ at WXOK AM, first Black DJ at WFMF FM radio, and later the first Black reporter at WAFB TV. As an alumna of LSU, she was the first African American to live in the on-campus women’s housing. In 2015, she delivered a TEDxLSU talk entitled, “Why not talk about race?”
She has led the Dialogue on Race Louisiana from its beginning in 2021. Her work for leading the organization and advancing its core program is an educational process for understanding racism.
She has received more than a dozen awards from various organizations honoring her for her work around race, such as the American Advertising Federation of Baton Rouge Chapter Mosaic Champion Award 2020 and the Girl Scouts Louisiana East, Four Pillars Award 2021. In early 2016, she learned she was a descendant of enslaved people owned and sold to Louisiana in an 1838 sale by the Jesuits of Georgetown University. This is how she came to be born in Louisiana.
Tell us about the program. Who can participate, and how do you sign up?
The core program of Dialogue On Race Louisiana is the Dialogue On Race Original Series, which is designed as a way of talking about race that can lead to understanding and informed actions toward change.
Anyone can participate if they can use a website or use a phone to call and ask about it. Anyone can join.
What is the structure of the dialogues?
It's a small group conversation — I have found that the maximum number that works best is 15 people.
We meet for two hours weekly for six sessions and format it so that the conversation will have a specific completion. A lot of times, conversations are ended with "We could say more" or "We're out of time." This is designed so that it will be a complete conversation.
The six sessions are designed to help people understand institutional racism because the language around race has been a flawed story — and so much of it is false and leaves it on the shoulders of people who have been grappling and wrestling and arguing over these conversations for many years.
You hear people say, "We've been talking for a long time and nothing has happened." Well, it's the kind of talk. This series is designed to give the talking a specific path to go on.
Each session builds a narrative for the next, and it's focused on what racism is — a systemic setup that began at the founding of the country and has been empowered through institutions.
Are there certain topics that the sessions cover?
There is a history that connects to the reason this conversation is being had. You have to look at history to know where you are and to build from there. So the first session begins with understanding terms, history and answering questions from the pre-material that participants receive in orientation.
We cover the understanding of Whiteness because that’s what racism was built to do — to protect the status of Whiteness.
During the sessions, we describe a lot of the problems, but we also ask, “Do you see anything changing? What have you seen that makes you hopeful that change can happen?”
Then we ask, “Since racism is still operating, what would you like to see done?” and “What can you see yourself doing to be a part of the change?”
We understand that people wonder if talking is going to do any good. So during the last session we ask, “What kind of talk can lead to meaningful action and beneficial change?”
What kind of feedback do you receive, and what is the impact for the people who are involved?
I would go even further on that — what impact does it have on institutions as well?
One of the things that we’re hearing in Dialogue now is “I came in thinking it was something that I was going to try to talk about, but I felt like I was going to be afraid to speak up for fear of being argued with, hurting someone’s feelings, or saying something wrong that’s commonly hurtful.”
Then they say, “But I don’t feel that way in this conversation, and I look forward to coming to every session because the conversation could be open and honest and I appreciated hearing other people’s experiences and thoughts.
This conversation isn’t about trying to change people at all. It’s education. Because when people know different, they do different.
Institutions are becoming involved because they recognize the need to look at change within their institution — not just their staff members but for clients and the community that they are located in.
You’ve been a lot of “firsts” in Baton Rouge and in general. What is your message to inspire others?
What I’ve recognized is that I had courage that was just normal to me. I didn’t not know that was called courage — what I was doing — so now that I know that it is, be willing to do what you believe in. Even if people tell you it’s not okay or challenge you doing it.
If in your core you believe that you’re doing right — it not going to feel comfortable when people tell you it’s wrong or when people tell you you don’t need to do that — seek first to stay with your purpose in life and you will have a more joyous life than if you take the safe way out and let people’s warnings distract you.
It’s worth being a little uncomfortable to do what you really believe in your core is your calling and it feels right to do it. If it’s for the good of others involved, I just think that it’s a real rewarding life to live that way.
The narrative is, “Oh you’re never going to be able to end racism because you’ll never change people’s hearts and minds.” Well, that’s the false narrative because racism is not a hearts and minds issue. It’s a systemic setup and how this country and its institutions operate. That’s what needs to be changed. Then hearts and minds follow.