In April 1968, I was a junior studying history at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. On the spring evening of April 4th, we learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been fatally shot in Memphis. Dr. King was in Memphis to lead a march with the sanitation workers (garbage collectors) in an effort to gain them better wages and benefits.
That April night, Pittsburgh started burning — from the Hill District, the predominately African-American neighborhood; to downtown, the central business district and site of major banks, retails stores and general commerce. Pittsburgh was on fire!
Homes and businesses on the Hill were destroyed and the fires spread to downtown. Duquesne was just a few blocks from the fires, the violence and the chaos. Long pent-up anger and hostility exploded. Fear permeated the core of the city. The days and weeks following caused many of us to ask the question: Will this chaos be a permanent presence? No!
As an officer of our University’s Student Congress, I began conversations with fellow students and my faculty members, in particular Dr. Margaret Milliones, an African-American sociologist.
We reached out to our neighbors on the Hill, downtown business leaders and residents of East Liberty. We organized a race-relations weekend at Duquesne. Our efforts brought together members of both “town” and “gown” for a black/white dialogue. Dr. King’s last book before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, was the centerpiece of our conversations. In his book, Dr. King offers political and economic steps toward creating a “Beloved Community” where all enjoy the nation’s abundance.
Almost 50 years later, I still believe that “Beloved Community” is possible.
This new year is a critical one for us as a nation. I wake up every day more determined than ever to give my energies and my best efforts to building the “Beloved Community.”
Will you join me? The God-inspired Courageous Conversations movement in Georgetown is our attempt to create that community where ALL means ALL!
— Dr. Ron Swain
Convener, Courageous Conversations GTX
Thank you for joining with us in this God-inspired movement, we are calling “Courageous Conversations about Race.” This movement in Georgetown is young, about two years old, and we are working to establish our footing. Courageous Conversations is a process or method of engaging in respectful, civil dialogue about difficult issues. It is a means to an end.
The end is our vision of a beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.
As the convener of this interfaith, multi-ethnic, multi-racial group, I view one of my primary responsibilities is to keep us focused on the ‘big picture.’ I believe, as a movement, we are battling against RACISM, and not against our fellow human beings.
Obviously, that is a complicated matter, because it is human beings who keep RACISM alive and perpetuate its injustices, both individually and institutionally. Thus, the movement seeks to help individuals confront their bias, prejudices and unjust behavior. At the same time, the movement must confront the institutional policies, practices, laws, traditions that create and maintain the systems of oppression, where one race is protected as superior and other races are treated as inferior.
I believe that the faith communities in Georgetown have a major role to play in battling RACISM, both individually and institutionally.
The Courageous Conversations movement is grounded in the idea, that ALL human beings are created as ‘God’s beloved children’ and that ALL are to live together in a “Beloved Community” where the core values of human decency and human respect will not tolerate violence, abuse, poverty, and injustice of any kind. In the Beloved Community, racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. Can we imagine such a community?
The Courageous Conversations movement is guided by the six principles of nonviolence that Dr. Martin Luther King described in his book, Stride Toward Freedom. These principles are rooted in the concept of agape (love), the spontaneous, unselfish, creative force that one human being has for another. It is the love that the Great Commandment describes, ‘love God…and love your neighbor… as you love yourself.’
If you believe in these ideas and want to learn more, we invite you to join us in the process of “Courageous Conversations” as we seek to create the “Beloved Community.”
Ron Swain, CCGTX Convener
For over two years an interfaith and inter-racial group in Georgetown has been engaging in “Courageous Conversations” about race.
In our efforts to create the kind of “Beloved Community” Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, we have been working on several initiatives to advance racial reconciliation, address institutional and systemic racism, and to promote education and health care equity, economic justice, public safety and affordable housing.
One initiative is an application to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) to have a historical marker placed next to the Confederate monument standing on the south side of the Williamson County Courthouse.
We believe this 1916 monument reflects the era of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy that we no longer endorse in this county. Our application for the marker beside the Confederate monument seeks to explain the historical context of this monument and to affirm that this symbol of racism from the past stands in contradiction to our values today.
For this application to move forward, the Williamson County Commissioners Court will need to sign a permission form to allow the State of Texas to install such a marker on the Courthouse grounds.
While the Williamson County Courthouse grounds has numerous historical markers and statues, we have encountered widespread resistance in the county and within the Commissioners Court to placing such a marker next to the Confederate monument.
We are soliciting as much support as we can from citizen groups, faith communities, businesses and individuals who believe this symbol of racism needs to be balanced with historical truth. For our position on the statue, please click here.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court has agreed to discuss our request their Nov. 15 meeting at the Williamson County Courthouse building on the square in downtown Georgetown. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m.
Please consider attending this meeting and wear your CCGTX t-shirt or white to show your support . And, please contact County Judge Dan Gattis and your County Commissioner to show supporter and encourage them to approve. Click here for a sample letter to send to Commissioners Court members.
To read the very informative, well-researched application seeking THC’s approval to install a historical marker next to the Confederate monument, please click here.
With appreciation for your consideration of speaking out on racial reconciliation efforts,
Lou Snead, Chair
The Cultural and Historical Advocacy Team
of Courageous Conversations Georgetown
Our vision for Georgetown is to become a ‘beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.’ The ‘beloved community’ concept is based on the definition from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy, which:
“was not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. Instead he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence. No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. And all conflicts in The Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.”
In our previous planning meetings, the group has identified areas for deeper focus. The first four areas align with the Georgetown City of Excellence four cornerstones: Education, Public Safety, Healthcare and Economic Development. Then we added Transportation and Housing. Given the interests and needs that have emerged, we are adding Communications, Cultural & Historical Advocacy and Membership Development. These are called Learning/Action Groups and will use Dr. King’s Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change as a methodology.
The first step in the Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change is Information Gathering. Each Learning/Action Group and will use a set of preliminary questions to guide their work. Each Group will become a key resource for the Courageous Conversations Movement and recommend actions that the larger group may decide to take.
In addition to the Learning/Action Groups, a Core Group will serve as an executive body and be initially composed of individuals who have been engaged from outset (Barbara Brightwell, George Brightwell, Katherine Kerr, Lou Snead, Inell Claypool, Lamar Claypool and Ron Swain). Mary Calixtro has recently joined the Core Group and organizational development and change management specialist Georgianne Hewett will serve as a key resource to the Core Group. Other leaders of each Learning/Action Group will serve on the Core Group.
Learning/Action Groups will meet as often as needed to do their work. Following are the Learning/Action Groups and their leaders: The Courageous Conversations Planning Group meets monthly.
The Core Group will address organizational and structural issues and grapple with how we move forward, including whether we form as a Texas nonprofit organization, a 501(c)3.
Public Safety – Lamar Claypool
Healthcare – Barbara Brightwell
Communications – Katherine Kerr
Education – Stephanie Blanck
Membership Development – Inell Claypool
Economic Development – TBD (Interested? Please email LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com)
Cultural & Historical Advocacy – Lou Snead
Transportation – TBD (Interested? Please email LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com)
Housing – Walt Doering
Thank you for your commitment to creating Georgetown as a beloved community of excellence and compassion.
As a Courageous Conversation Participant, if you are interested in joining to a Learning/Action Group, please contact the leader of the group to let them know.
Grace and Peace,
Courageous Conversations Convener
We deeply appreciate the work that many of you have continued to do individually and collectively to create a more “beloved community” in this wonderful home we call Georgetown.
On June 18, the Courageous Conversations Planning Group had a booth at the 64th Juneteenth Celebration hosted by the Georgetown Cultural Citizen Memorial Association at the Community Center in San Gabriel Park.
We were grateful to participate in a celebration of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 which occurred more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. At the time federal troops had to occupy Texas to free enslaved people there were an estimated 250,000 African Americans in Texas including over 900 in Williamson County.
Proceeds from the event will be used to support maintenance and renovation of the historic Shotgun House Museum and the Willie Hall Center, two centers of historic significance to African Americans in Williamson County.
Members of our group have attended Georgetown City Council meetings and workshops to speak out on affordable housing and public transportation. Members also have attended the Georgetown ISD board meeting to discuss a proposal to become a District of Innovation because of questions about its impact on the education of our children and the work of our teachers. These members have been inspired by the idea that we have the potential to address institutional racism and to advocate for policies, procedures, regulations and decisions that will lift up those in our community who feel marginalized and unheard.
Members of the Courageous Conversations Planning Group continue to explore additional opportunities for additional education and action. We welcome your suggestions at LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com.
Courageous Conversations Planning Group Convener
Nearly 50 Georgetown residents recently completed One Human Race, a three-part workshop designed to educate people about racism and its devastating impact.
The workshop, developed by the Union of Black Episcopalians Myra McDaniel Chapter at St. James Episcopal Church in Austin, was brought to Georgetown by the Courageous Conversations Planning Group. The workshop was held at First United Methodist Church the second, third and fourth Saturdays in May.
“After the overwhelming response to the Georgetown Reads book discussion and the Courageous Conversations series in February, Black History Month, we wanted to bring another opportunity for engagement to Georgetown to help people address racism,” said Ron Swain, convener of the Courageous Conversations Planning Group. “There is clearly a thirst for the information people are learning, many for the first time, of the deep roots of racism in our country and state. There is also a deep-seated desire to ensure that Georgetown is a ‘beloved community” where everyone is valued, respected and accepted.’ ”
The Courageous Conversations Planning Group is working on activities for the coming months, including additional workshops, book discussions and information sharing.
The Georgetown Courageous Conversations Planning Group is an interracial, multicultural and multiethnic group of individuals from various faith communities working to facilitate respectful, civil conversations about race.
For more information about the Courageous Conversations Planning Group and to get on the email distribution list, please email LetsTalk@CourageousConvoGTX.com.
For information about other workshops offered by One Human Race in Austin, click here.
Dr. Ron Swain explains in this guest column published in the Williamson County Sun what we’re about.