CCR’s ‘Conversation on Race’ Fosters Dialogue, Steps for Action

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The following is from the Community Coalition on Race:

About 70 people joined an impromptu Conversation on Race at Oheb Shalom Congregation Tuesday night that the Community Coalition on Race hosted in response to recent racist and anti-Semitic images that were posted on social media and incidents of racist comments made by students in South Orange and Maplewood. Just two weeks ago, The Coalition gathered over 200 residents for the annual Conversations on Race with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, retired Spelman president, as the speaker.

The Coalition on Race convened this gathering after hearing a high degree of frustration in the community over the lack of progress on racial understanding and over the failure to be responsive to the concerns and experiences of people of different racial and religious backgrounds, as well as a need to learn how to talk about race with deeper understanding and without fear.

These events are used to spark ideas for future action, to face head-on new concerns or ongoing race-related issues in the towns, and to bring more people into active dialogue and learning about the cycles of racism that we continue to face—even here where residents are fiercely proud of SOMA’s diversity. Many are deeply frustrated at the slow pace of progress in racial equity, shared leadership, and even in having a basic understanding of and respect for the community’s racial, ethnic, religious, and family arrays.

Rabbi Cooper opened the evening by reminding attendees about the importance of these kinds of community gatherings and having serious conversations to address the painful issues before us. He thanked the Community Coalition on Race for its ongoing work.

Executive Director Nancy Gagnier asked the attendees to see the schools’ incidents as a larger community issue and that adults, families, leaders, business owners need to be deeply engaged in creating change, without fear, with growing courage to speak up against the biases we see, with the willingness to learn about the more insidious forms racism takes, and with the honesty to face our privileges.

Attendees talked in small groups for about an hour in an effort to generate ideas for actions to be taken by multiple community constituents—from the schools, to parents, to community support organizations like the Coalition on Race. Some ideas included more frequent conversations; learning opportunities that allow people to be more deeply engaged in anti-bias understanding and cultural difference; sensitivity training in the schools; finding ways to engage more people–not just the “usual suspects” who attend Coalition events, but also newer and younger members of the community.

Furthermore, post-event evaluations featured the following themes, which the coalition is taking into consideration for future programing:

· SOMA is diverse, but also segregated in many ways.

· We need more young people in the conversation.

· We need more structured discussions and deeper learning opportunities.

· White people need more training and education to become racially sensitive

· We need a study session on cultural appropriation vs. appreciation.

Over the years at annual Conversations on Race and at various workshops like Talking to Children about Race, the CCR has provided reading lists, links to blogs and videos, and links to articles and websites for further learning. Click on the link below for some of those resources:

Resources for understanding race, racism, equity, integration, inclusion, and privilege

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