Join us in the “courageous yet often clumsy and uncomfortable” conversation on race as we dispel stereotypes, suspend judgements and throw away assumptions at the table. Through dinner gatherings, pilgrimages and group events, CTTT-RVA creates community in a whole new way. History alone can be presented in a way that continues to hurt and divide. Part of re-exploring history is understanding the impact of events on the people then and now and developing relationships with people who have been the “other.”
An integral aspect of our approach is connecting. Connecting can happen first through connecting with one’s own story. If someone hasn’t reflected on their own story, they don’t have a story to share, and interaction can only occur on a superficial level. Being able to excavate ones’ own story and examine it is an important first step. One needs to move beyond “that’s the way it was” or “that’s just the way it is” thinking. What has been the impact of living in a society that was developed through labor exploited by people who were enslaved without sufficient efforts to make the situation right? What is it like to be associated with the oppressors if your family was or wasn’t here during the time of enslavement? What is it like to be associated with the “oppressed” if your family was or wasn’t here during the time of enslavement? What has this meant for you if don’t self-identify as African American or European American? Are there other historical and current injustices that have affected your life? How did you learn about race and racial divisions? How has that affected your life and how you see people?
When sufficient reflection has gone into one’s story, there is more possibility of being understood by others and for people to find a common sense of humanity even if their lives and histories are different. To help with understanding, it is critical that everyone tell their stories and not assume that some people have stories to share and others do not. If people don’t tell their stories, there isn’t the possibility of a mutual relationship. It’s also important that an environment is created that supports listening. If people don’t listen, it’s not possible for them to hear the other side of the story and to learn about what happened and its impact.
The kind of reflection and listening required, especially when the issues are emotional, difficult and history has been mis-taught or covered up, there is a need for dialogue processes. It’s rare for people to reflect deeply on issues that have been avoided and for people to listen to each other respectfully without fear of being interrupted, belittled, condemned, or discounted. It’s critical to create processes for story-telling and connecting that get people out of their usual patterns of communication. After all, it’s new patterns in society that we’re trying to create.
Through the process of sharing stories about slavery, its legacies and aftermaths, we can create a “collective” story. In order to create a collective identity as a nation, we need to include the history of all of the groups that make up the nation. When one groups’ role is highlighted more than others, it perpetuates disconnection between the groups and gives people an inaccurate view of history upon which to base future decisions. Many countries have created truth telling processes after wars in order to get an accurate view of what happened and create a basis for how to talk about and understand what happened. This can’t happen without a process to bring the different stories out and to help people hear each other’s stories.
Through listening to each other, people can develop authentic, healthy relationships that can provide a solid basis for planning activities that bridge communities and address issues of concern. In order to address the legacies and aftermaths of historical events, there is a need for collective action. Trying to make amends for the past should not happen without the input of those who have been most affected, and working at changing structures can ultimately only happen with those who are maintaining those structures.
Making Connections Practices:
An important step in connecting is self-reflection. Giving oneself the time and space to think about our own experience, compare it to others, articulate the impact of events on our life is a necessary step in connecting with others. Reaching out to someone on the “other” side with the intention of learning new information and understanding another’s experience is another important practice. Reaching out can happen on a personal basis as well as getting involved in an activity that intentionally brings people who have different backgrounds together. It requires courage and often some discomfort at the beginning as is usually the case with a new and unknown experience. Listening is something many people take for granted, assuming it happens naturally. This is often not the case. Listening skills need to be developed that teach one how to hear someone else without internal judgment and the inclination to interrupt important storytelling with observations, other topics or ones own issues. If someone doesn’t have good listening skills, someone else will be reluctant to expose their story, especially if it is difficult, and in order to deal with historical harms, room must be created for the difficult stories. Creating processes for dialogue between individuals and in groups is a skill set that enables storytelling on a wider basis. Learning formats for dialogue, such as a circle process, timed sharing, or storytelling panels that represent different perspectives are a few of the processes one can learn that facilitate storytelling. Interviewing with prepared questions is another way to initiate storytelling that leads to connecting. The information gathered in the interviews can then be presented with other interviews that hold different stories and perspectives. These can be presented in a written format, quotes can be displayed with photographs or a number of other creative options. The key will then be to have a diverse group read the presentation of interviews and respond with their own stories and impressions. It is also possible to engage people in collective writing projects, plays and films. Sometimes people are not ready to share stories with someone from the “other” side in the room. These stories can be gathered separately and shared with the other group through reading and hearing their stories on film. Eventually for connection to happen, the groups will need to come together. Films and plays depicting different sides of stories related to history that already exist can be viewed by diverse audiences with opportunities for people to tell their own stories. These tools can help people reflect on their own stories and then dialogue processes can be created that help people feel safe telling their own stories. Activities that work towards a common purpose can also help people connect. For some people, doing something together rather than just talking is a more powerful and effective way to connect.