Posted in Communicating for Social Change, Dialogue

A Model for Dialogues About Race

Conversations about race in the United States can be fraught with emotions – anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, shame, and more. At the same time, the possibility that new understandings and new meanings will emerge makes those conversations worth the risk. I remember how much I appreciated it last year when my new friend, “F,” pointed to the white skin on my arm and the brown skin on hers, and said, “If we are to be friends, we have to talk about this.” And we did. And we do. And I am certain it has helped us build trust, deepened our friendship, and increased our understandings of the circumstances of each others’ lives.  That is an example of a one-on-one conversation, but communities can have these conversations, too.

I read about one model for dialogues about race in The Atlantic today. Reverend Sylvester “Tee” Turner directs the reconciliation programs for Hope in the Cities, in Richmond, Virginia. Reverend Turner described how the dialogues about race work:

First of all, we felt it was important that we had dialogues that extended beyond a two-hour gathering, because we found that, what we call “one-offs” really don’t get the job done. We start with very simple stuff, because in the process of real racial healing, the key to it is creating a safe space to talk about these difficult situations. So we would start with things that were very personal about your family, your grandparents. Did you talk about race in your home? When did you know that race was an issue? And then we would go into deeper and deeper conversation. The simple questions were designed to create deeper dialogue. But what we found was that after the third session, there was a safety net created from bringing people together, showing them their commonalities, and then dealing with some of the divides that exist. We can move to talking about housing, and we could move toward talking about school segregation and other things, but we had to build a container of trust so that the deeper issues could be addressed. It doesn’t mean that there were never any blow-ups. Too often, we go into racial dialogues with the opposition being a person and not an issue. Healing is about building a safety net to deal with these challenging issues, and we’ve had conservatives and liberals in the same room. Too often you can’t get those individuals, and you end up speaking to the choir. Racial healing is not just about the choir, it’s about the community.

What a great model for communicating across differences! Hope in the Cities offers workshops and training on dialogue design and facilitation. To learn more, go to Initiatives of Change / Hope in the Cities.

Campbell, A. F. (2016, Sept. 7). How to get Americans to talk about race. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

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