When I view all the committed, passionate volunteers who choose to attend each nationwide race relations dialogues I lead with World Café settings, it is a profound sight to behold and I am very humbled. I created and have now held 24 race relations dialogue sessions over the past year with hundreds of participants in the cities of Portland Oregon, Vancouver WA, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Northhampton MA, Washington DC, and Columbia, SC. Many more cities are scheduled for the rest of 2017. Volunteers have been from all races, ethnicities, religions, and age groups. Many are coming together, most for the first time for this type of event, having a dialogue they have never had before with race.
Sure, there is a little nervousness or trepidation as would be expected with attempting something of this relevance, given the past and now current climate in our country. Added to this experience is an anomaly. I am a white male, conservative Baby Boomer who has over 20 years of professional diversity experience in high profile settings. No one has tried this in the federal government before and it has been a personally rewarding experience for others and for me. I felt the time had come to move beyond saying we need a conversation on race to starting one. People in this country need this conversation and truly want to start it but so many have told me after the sessions, they just did not know where to start.
What everyone experiences in these sessions should be reflective of all Americans who want to work toward solutions versus merely supporting divisions. Those who want to have a dialogue to start the conversation and work toward common ground. Everyone in the arena with me is respected for their views even if others’ views are miles apart from the other volunteers in the room. Having the close intimacy and recognition of genuine visual cues in the process which is explained below is valuable to reducing tension and increasing awareness of each other. It is so far removed from non-disruptive town hall settings we see today with incivility taking over with only a few not allowing others to speak or respond to protesting complaints.
In my dialogue sessions, there is no sitting on your hands, refusal to participate, hurling insults or refusal to listen as is the case with social media. The World Café setting I use gives participants a genuine opportunity to articulate their views on a given race relations question that I pose and work as a group for twenty minutes. Each table then reports out after 20 minutes what the group discussed. Four – six tables of 4-5 people are typically the size and there are 3 20 minute questions. After the first and then again after the second question, everyone at their tables move to a completely different table to gain perspectives from most the other participants in the room.
It is utterly amazing how much people really want to talk about race relations. By creating a hospitable environment (which the World Café setting provides), respect reigns. People share their experience and listen to others for understanding, reflection and further dialogue. Only in this way with the elimination of resistance, blame, and disruption can we truly find common ground to work with. Several hundred have so far chosen to make a difference with this dialogue and more than a thousand are signing up to do so in future cities across the country.
What begins from a single dialogue with committed volunteer with vision; more will want to be a part of the conversation; the vision is to become an unparalleled, powerful employee and community experience. Together, we can improve race relations with genuine action, commitment, and caring. Choose to be with those of us in the arena achieving common ground through awareness and respect, finding workable solutions, and a way forward.