Below are some basic questions and possible answers to help you think
about organizing a dialogue on race. They are meant to be a starting
place. Answering these questions will help you better understand the
purpose and potential of your effort. You may wish to use the worksheet
following these lists to sketch a profile of your own community More
detailed steps follow these "brainstorming" questions.
Think about your community.
What's going on in our community that a dialogue on race could
- There are people of different racial groups in my
neighborhood that I would like to know better.
- There is a race-related issue in my community that people
need to talk about.
- People of different races live and work on opposite sides
- There are young people from diverse racial and ethnic
groups who could benefit from sharing their experiences.
- I would like to get the community to come together to
tackle a common problem.
- The time is ripe for change, people are ready to do
- The "face" of the community is changing, and people need
to acknowledge and understand the changes in a more constructive light.
Think about your goals.
If there were a dialogue on race here, what would
be its goals?
- To improve our neighborhood by building bridges across racial lines.
- To build new relationships.
- To bring people together who do not typically talk to one another.
- To bring our kids together to reduce the chance of violence.
- To influence attitudes of local law enforcement.
- To better understand other cultures.
- To open up new economic possibilities.
- To create bonds between organizations that do not usually
- To work on a community project together, such as building a
- To build partnerships across jurisdictional lines.
Think about who should be included.
Who should be in the dialogue?
- My neighbors.
- Members of my and other religious communities.
- The school community-parents, teachers, administrators,
- Police and community members.
- Business owners.
- Elected officials and community leaders.
Think about what format to use.
What type of discussion should we have?
- A few small groups meeting once or twice.
- A large public meeting with panelists and questions from the audience.
- A series of small groups from across the community meeting for six
weeks or more, concluding with a large meeting.
- A year-long commitment among a group of key community leaders to
study, reflect on, and discuss race relations.
- School projects aimed at understanding cultural
differences, concluding with a multicultural potluck dinner.
- Study groups meeting from racially diverse congregations,
concluding with a joint worship service.
Worksheet to Create Your Own
1. What's going on in our community that a dialogue on race would address?
2. If there were a dialogue on race here, what would be its goals?
3. Who should be in the dialogue?
4. What format should we use?
Now make some choices.
You don't have to be an expert to have an honest conversation about
race. But as someone who is considering organizing a dialogue, you do
have several choices ranging from the very simple to the somewhat
complex. At the simple end, you can gather together a small group of
friends, neighbors, or schoolmates to talk informally about race. This
approach can be a constructive beginning, but will likely not produce
much long-term community or institutional change. Another option is to
pair existing community groups for a dialogue on race. This approach can
have a larger effect on the community, depending on the groups involved.
You could also create new groups from your community and bring them
together for conversations on race aimed at community change. Whatever
your approach, for a lasting impact on the larger community, it is a good
idea to think about how you will sustain the project before you begin.
Dialogue may start at many levels and in many ways. While the guidance
provided below can be adapted for the small "ad-hoc" gathering, it is
generally intended for a larger effort (see figure
below). The resource
directory in Appendix C is a good place to locate help in organizing a
dialogue on race. You should now be ready to tackle the following questions.
1. Who should be involved?
Form a planning group. If you are organizing an informal dialogue with
friends, neighbors, or co-workers, for example, then the
planning group may consist of just you and one or two others. However,
if you are planning a more ambitious effort, then you will want to have a
planning group of six or eight people who represent different
backgrounds, professions, and viewpoints. Once you've assembled the
group together, discuss your approach. You will need to spend enough
time together to build a level of trust. This group will be the nucleus
that drives the process and should "model" the kind of relationships and
openness that you hope to see in the overall effort. Meeting in each
other's homes can be a great way to get to know one another.
Look for other groups with which to partner. Having good partners is
important for long-term success. Look for people who are already working
to improve race relations and who have experiences to share. Good
partners may be able to provide useful information and organizational
resources. You will greatly increase your outreach to the community as
well. Groups from different racial, ethnic, or religious communities can
make good partners and offer networking possibilities. Such groups may
include religious leaders, law enforcement, small business owners,
elected officials, and various nonprofit organizations.
2. What's Happening in My
Think about the needs of your community. Take an inventory What
problems do you see in the community that are related to race and
ethnicity? What are the critical issues? If things are really going to
change, who needs to be part of the dialogue? Who are the individuals or
groups not talking to each other? What role do language barriers play in
groups not talking to each other? Are there people who should be allies,
who may be doing similar work, but who are competing rather than working
together? What are some of the consequences of racial divisions?
3. What do you want to
Develop a vision for your community. What is special about your
community? What do the different neighborhoods or groups offer that is
unique? Are there particular issues that need to be heard? Remember,
difficulties faced honestly can become assets. And the most unlikely
people may hold the key to far-reaching success.
Establish short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Racial
may not happen overnight, but it is important to set some attainable
goals that the group can work towards together. Look for "hinge issues"
around which coalitions may form-education, housing, public
transportation, and safety, for example. Where possible, create task
forces to study specific needs and to work on concrete action plans.
This approach will keep key business and civic leaders at the table.
4. How many dialogues should
take place and for how long?
Again, the answer to this question depends on what you want to
accomplish. Dialogues can go from one session of two hours to a series
of sessions lasting indefinitely For example, if your goal is simply to
get people you know to come together and have a conversation about race,
you may only want to do one session, perhaps in your home following a
social event or community function. At the other end of the spectrum, if
your goal is to create institutional change in your community, you may
want to launch a series of dialogues involving broad community
representation. Such an effort will require partnering with other groups
in the community and seeking out support services.
5. What additional planning
issues might you consider?
Recruit participants. To ensure the right balance for your group
(s), you may need to consider the following: First, "Which voices need to be
included?" Answering that question will ensure the racial, ethnic, and
religious diversity necessary for successful dialogues. Then, "Who is
missing?" That answer will steer you towards others who need to be
involved. Other people to contact are those in uninvolved or
unaffiliated groups who, while a visible part of the community, may be
harder to reach through traditional means. Generate
interest by doing the following:
- ask civic leaders and other influential members of the
community to help rally the public;
- identify the appropriate media for the audience you are
trying to reach-consider placing an announcement in a small local weekly
or monthly newspaper, on a community bulletin board, or even on an
electronic community bulletin board;
- use bilingual communications;
- post an announcement in grocery stores in the community;
- invite yourself to various group meetings in the
community to get the word out; and
- approach local chapters of national organizations.
Consider logistics issues. These may include:
- where to have the dialogue;
- whether any funds need to be raised; and
- mailing lists-often obtainable from other groups.
6. How do I/we conduct the
The critical components include welcoming participants and having them
introduce themselves; setting out the dialogue's purpose;
establishing ground rules; promoting discussion through thoughtful
questions, visual media, or other materials; and periodically summarizing
and evaluating the dialogue (see Section 3, "Conducting an Effective
Community Dialogue on Race").
7. How well did we do?
Document and evaluate the project. Keep a record of the individuals
groups who take part in the dialogues and of how well the discussions
go. Include such things as number of participants, group composition
(multiracial, youth, church, community, etc.), main topics discussed, how
productive the discussions were, how they might have been improved, and
other thoughts. This will allow you to see how attitudes and perceptions
have changed and whether changes need to be made in the dialogue format.
Emphasize that what participants share during the dialogue will not be
attributed to them in any official record or document.
Have participants evaluate the dialogue. Depending on their goals,
group will evaluate the dialogue, whether a single session or a series,
after it is over. Evaluations can be written and/or expressed verbally.
You may wish to distribute a short evaluation form to elicit participant
feedback and to measure the impact of the dialogue. Such a form might
include questions such as the following:
- Why did you join the group?
- What were your expectations?
- Were you comfortable participating in the discussion?
- Did the dialogue give you new insights about how to
improve race relations?
- Was the dialogue climate positive and respectful?
- Did you find the dialogue to be a valuable experience overall?
- How might it have been improved?
- Would you like to participate in a future session?
- Did the experience motivate you to act differently?
- What additional comments do you have?
8. What's the next step?
Hold an annual public event to celebrate achievements, evaluate
effectiveness, and invite new participants.
Expand the team. As the dialogues develop, include
all major areas (politics, different faiths, education, business, media,
etc.). With them, you may want to create a statement about your
community, its history, the challenges it faces today, and your
collective vision for the future.