Race Dialogues at ICSG

This past October, over 60 people from the Interfaith Center and the broader community gathered to engage in an Uncomfortable Conversation, a conversation about race, guided by Robin Stephens from the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Black Caucus. This conversation inspired some significant awareness about the challenges and opportunities of this kind of conversation, especially considering the current atmosphere in our nation.

In order to continue these efforts, I gathered a team of racially diverse women passionate about the need for and potential impact of honest conversation among people of different races. Edie Lewis, a former Social Work professor at the University of Michigan, Maymette Dolberry, a Pastor at the Brown Church in Ypsilanti, and Patricia Fero, a Social Worker and therapist, joined me in creating the race dialogue event that was conducted in November of last year. This was a more intimate conversation with deep listening and intimate sharing, done in the style of a fish bowl. The group numbered just over 20 and included people who identify as white, black or African American, multiracial, and Asian.

Out of this event, we formed 3 small groups which have since met a number of times in one another’s homes. In an effort to reduce the impacts of segregation, we are meeting in each other’s living rooms and kitchens and patios, discussing issues of race with supportive ground rules and guiding questions. For many, these have proven to be powerful conversations that are also bringing clearer awareness to where we are stuck and where we have much to learn. Here are some reflections from participants, all kept anonymous for the sake of confidentiality.

“I was a little apprehensive and realized that I was going to disclose my most intimate feelings about racism to a group of ladies that I knew nothing about. To my surprise, I felt very safe and felt my comments were genuinely accepted.”

“I am grateful for this group and look forward to more meaningful conversations…I look forward to learning and being challenged to see more clearly the racial injustice in this country and how I have been a part of it. I want to do better.”

“The bottom line is I can do more. I have a responsibility to do more.   I think if everyone sat down like we did, they would feel the same.  How could they not?”

We are continuing the work of race dialogues through quarterly large group gatherings at ICSG that are open to the public. We will be forming additional small groups out of these events for those who are interested. Our next quarterly gathering is scheduled for Sunday, February 4th from 1-2:30 in the ICSG sanctuary. You do not need to be part of a small group or join one in order to participate in the quarterly events, though those in small groups will be in attendance. Feel free to bring anyone you think might be interested.

This is one small, but significant way we can begin to bridge divides and create understanding. One step at a time, one person at a time, we can work to create a different future. Looking forward to continuing to share this journey with you.


4 thoughts on “Race Dialogues at ICSG”

  1. Eager to participate. I work with social justice groups in Washtenaw: FORJ, DRC Peacekeepers, Race & Economic Justice of ICPJ, Challenging Racism of the UUAA, and LWV. I believe that intimate conversations need to occur side by side with political action.

  2. I attended the last dialogue and I understand that the full group will meet quarterly.
    I had a thought concerning the interactions of the smaller groups. It’s something I have used and it seems to have merit.
    One of the dynamics we forget is not so much how we feel emotionally but the actuality of body sense that can trigger emotion and thoughts.. It is an interesting place to start if people are genuine and honest about dialogue.
    So sitting together we breathe and go to the body. Am I tight? Do I feel heavy? Expansive, Cold. Warm. Is the mind racing, numb, frozen, or sticking? The mind also can be described in sensate as opposed to emotionally based terms.
    Based in Zen, Shaman, and Wicca techniques this has proven interesting. The idea being that the body gives learned responses that are quickly turned into feeling statements and thoughts.
    But thought and emotion overrides the body sense that triggers the feelings.
    Language is only effective so far in changing the heart.
    So we start dialogue by addressing sensation and start dialogue about how we change the sensate response.
    This has proven to open up hearts on an intimate level. May this be helpful or at least trigger some direction in heart communication.
    Puts a different spin on the question “How do you feel?”
    I am looking forward to the next meeting.
    thank you for your time.
    Be well

    1. Great suggestion, I could see that adding a great mindful element and offering a deeper environment for sharing. Thanks for your input!

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