(originally posted March 6th, 2005)

A couple of years ago, I participated in a program called Community Wide Dialogue here in the Syracuse, NY area. The services are conducted by the InterReligious Council of CNY, and what they do is bring a group of people together of many different races and social classes and have them meet for a period of six consecutive weeks to discuss the issues of racism and to help each other see what the other side is thinking and feeling, and what each side goes through in surviving each day. I remember the sessions I went to, with two ladies proctoring the classes, as being pretty illuminating for most people.

At least it started out that way. The first session I went to had 14 people there, with an interesting racial mix. There were 7 people of color there, and not all black. There were 7 white people there as well, but one had adopted children of other races and another, who it turned out I knew, had a mentally disabled daughter. Talk about odd timing and meeting; she was the mother of one of my best friends in high school.

The first session was a general dialogue on race and religion, and as it went along you could see that some people were uncomfortable with it. And the people who seemed to have the most difficulty were older; by that, I mean even as “young” as early 30’s. The younger participants did okay with it; maybe things had changed some as time has gone on.

As it went on, each session took on a more specific tone. And as that happened, people started to drop out. The fifth week seemed to take the steam out of many people, and I hate to say this but they were all white. There was a lesson where we all had to stand aligned with each other. Then the proctor would mention a type of incident. If you fit that incident, you took a step forward; if not, you stayed where you were. There were 10 questions. At the end, all the minorities were either at the front or near the front of the room; only one white person, who was Jewish, had taken even a few steps. The idea was to show the gap between people based on real life situations; I thought it was powerful.

It was powerful. The last session only had 4 people there, all black. It seems reality was a bit too intense for some people, and that’s too bad. My friend’s mother had only lasted to the 3rd class; I never got the chance to talk to her about it unfortunately. We held the last session, but the truth is that if you only have people that all agree on something there really isn’t a conversation anymore. I thought this was powerful, though, and I only hope they do this across the country.

Locally, I know they don’t only conduct these services in the Syracuse area, though. I know for sure that both Monroe and Cayuga County do these same types of get togethers, though I don’t know how well they work since there are fewer minorities to go around in those counties. If you’re ever asked to participate, consider it an honor and go learn how the other side feels, no matter which side you’re on. And if all else fails, remember that I also do diversity training.
 

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