Community Conversation Actions in Full Focus

As part of my dissertation I tracked various Community Conversation events across the country and studying data that comes out of the meetings.  As I attended and engaged in deliberative dialogues I interviewed participants and reported on my observations.

While the national narrative purports that Americans are more divided than ever before in 2021,  MAP launched the Red & Blue Dialogues: to create a space for conversations among diverse community members with a spectrum of different perspectives. Along with members of our local State Future Caucuses, a Red & Blue dialogue took place near Milwaukee, Wisconsin last year that helped bridge the divide by discussing the issues most important to young people across the country.

More communities are hosting conversations to engage residents in making meaningful connections across dividing lines.

My research identified three examples of barrier-breaking activities happening across the country. These stories illustrate the breadth of issues that community-led discussions are helping to address.

 

Elgin, IL 

(based on reporting from The Daily Herald)

In Elgin, Illinois, local police held their first community-conversation, focused on teens, to learn what is working, what they want officers to know about them, and how to strengthen the police-community relationship. During the conversation, the police chief, Jeff Swoboda, recognized that his officers are working to get better, and that “the only way we can do that is by listening to all of you."

After engaging in discussion with the teenagers, officers were surprised to learn that teens felt ignored by other outreach efforts. Commander Al Young elaborated by saying, "It was almost shocking to hear that the kids were saying stuff like, 'We just really like being heard, because we never get to have interaction with police.' It's true, most of our interaction is with the younger kids and the adults. I understand they felt they were being left out."

According to Chief Swoboda, “The department plans to remedy that by creating a teen youth committee which can offer suggestions and feedback on an ongoing basis.

 

Cape Girardeau, MO (based on reporting from The Southeast Missourian)

In Cape Girardeau, community conversations are being used to help overcome racism and oppression. According to Renita Green, pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the series is designed for white residents who want the chance to "identify how we cause and contribute to oppression and harm for non-white people." Ten conversations will be held over the next 10 weeks and feature topics like “Equality vs. Equity,” “Diverse Organizations,” “Why there is no White History Month,” and “What does it mean to be an American.”

 

Anderson, South Carolina (based on a guest column from Greenville Online)

The United Way of Anderson County, South Carolina is leveraging its standing as a community convener to bring together residents and experts for a series of conversations about mental health, addiction, lack of conflict resolution skills, and gangs.

The conversations are an opportunity, according to Executive Director Carol Burdette, “to hear what citizens believe are the steps to changing the stories we read and hear in the media.” Burdette emphasizes that these conversations are on topics that are often difficult to discuss, but “are the starting point to later move to action to create a community free of crime and violence.”