| Program: || Community in Contact, Bridgeport, CT |
| Contact(s): || Ernest H. Jones, Director: (203) 334-1121 |
| Purpose: || To stimulate interracial dialogue among local churches |
Since November 1995, the Council of Churches for Greater Bridgeport, Conn., has operated Community in Contact, a program that brings people from the community together to engage in interracial dialogue. Several years earlier, following the Sheff v. O'Neill school segregation case in 1995, Connecticut residents were wrestling with how to handle the impact the court case would have on their communities. (In Sheff v. O'Neill, plaintiffs wanted a desegregation plan that would join the inner-city school district of Hartford with its surrounding suburbs. In July 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that the state must remedy the racial and ethnic segregation and directed the state legislature to design a plan to ensure equal educational opportunities.) The council had sponsored seminars for local religious leaders on the issue of educational disadvantages that result from racism. For these seminars, the council created Community in Contact.
Community in Contact engages individuals, churches and the community in discussions that lead to and foster understanding and relationships out of diversity. The program provides a means for trust building that crosses racial, religious and municipal barriers. Participants engage in dialogue using the Study Circles method of discussion. (The Study Circles Research Center has been highlighted by the Race Initiative as a Promising Practice.) People sign up to meet for approximately two hours per week over a five-week period. Groups are composed of 8 to 15 participants including one group facilitator. These groups are highly participatory and democratic. Participants increase their awareness of other people's race-related experiences, gain skills in identifying harmful attitudes and perceptions, improve their capacity to communicate positively regarding multicultural attitudes and behavior, and eventually improve their own communication skills.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
At this stage, Community in Contact has found that it was essential to establish relationships based on honest interracial dialogue and trust before embarking on collaborative service projects. In addition, the organizers advise the importance of engaging community members who may normally be left out of interracial dialogues.