Viewpoint

Let’s talk about the issues that divide us

A church youth group from Douthan, Ala.,  prays in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine blacks were allegedly murdered on June 17 by  white supremacist Dylann Roof.
A church youth group from Douthan, Ala., prays in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine blacks were allegedly murdered on June 17 by white supremacist Dylann Roof. GETTY

The funerals of the Charleston 9 are over. The Confederate flag is down. The trial of Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick is underway in Charlotte. And it seems that every day there is more to confront. How do we keep from being overwhelmed and exhausted? How do we move forward together amidst circumstances filled with the potential to divide?

The non-profit Community Building Initiative (CBI) wants to help you take the first step. We have developed two free discussion guides, available at www.cbicharlotte.org, about two momentous events that have and are impacting our region.

The first – Can We Talk about The Ferrell/Kerrick Story? – is designed to encourage real conversations around the trial.

The guide offers tips on how to have a meaningful dialogue, gain greater understanding, and consider ways to respond. The guide is intended for use by intact groups – your runners’ group, your moms’ morning out club, your congregation, your workplace.

The second – Talking about Charleston – is designed to support conversations about the tragedy of Charleston and what is in our personal and community “ground” around race.

Since these can be challenging conversations, CBI recommends that existing or intact groups use the guides. People who already have a connection are apt to reach a point where they can speak more authentically about what’s in their hearts, minds and experience, and benefit more directly from the exchange.

We also urge employers to hold these discussions in their workplaces. These conversations call forth personal perspectives and experiences that might not seem directly related to work. But we know that employees bring the tragedy of Charleston, the issues being raised by the Ferrell/Kerrick story, or what is happening in other cities with them into the workplace.

Workplace conversations improve the chance that we as a society will work together for change. Imagine if employee teams in banks or health care or schools, for example, gained a deeper understanding of the realities facing people with whom they connect every day – and then allow this awareness to inform the work they do and their daily interactions. Such conversations are vital anywhere people have an opportunity or a responsibility to be more actively engaged in our diverse community.

But, why talk at all? Why not just act? We believe when you know more, you do more and you do better. You create a stronger foundation for informed, sustainable action. What comes after the conversations is for you to decide. It could be changes in organizational policies, in opportunities to challenge the implicit biases that we all carry or simply in how we relate to each other every day.

The issues surely won’t end when the Kerrick trial concludes or when Charleston is coupled with other such tragedies. But as we head into a long and protracted election season, perhaps we will consider intervening personally and publicly, and avoid demonizing people who think differently than we do. We can shun the concept of others “taking over our country.”

Let’s talk. Let’s listen. Let’s respond. It is something we can do.

Dianne English is executive director of Community Building Initiative, a non-profit that helps build a more inclusive and equitable community.

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