Amid the racial turmoil and violence following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a group of individuals from various faith communities in Georgetown began meeting to explore the possibilities of engaging in civil, respectful dialogue about the difficult issue of race.
Over several months of meetings and research, we landed on what we call Courageous Conversations about race. We studied several dialogue methods and community building strategies.
One dialogue method that captured our attention is The Red Bench, a program of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT). “The Red Bench is an on-going dialogue program designed to address the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. “
iACT granted our Courageous Conversations group permission to use The Red Bench method, including their dialogue script, the talking stone and their Conversations Agreement. Let me share the ‘Guidelines for a Great Conversation’ from the Conversations Agreement:
Open-mindedness: listen to and respect all points of view
Acceptance: suspend judgment as best you can
Curiosity: seek to understand rather than persuade; we are not here to “fix one another”
Discovery: question old assumptions, look for new insights
Sincerity: speak your truth, from your heart, about what has personal meaning to you
Brevity: go for honesty and depth but don’s go on and on
On May 30, 2017, I joined a group at the Unity Church of the Hills in Austin for a Red Bench conversation on the topic: Courage.
What a wonderful experience! I was greeted in the parking lot by a trustee of the Unity Church who at one time lived in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, where Chrystle and I lived most of our married life.
After dinner, the four rounds of the conversation began. First, we introduced ourselves and told what motivated us to attend. Next, we shared definitions of courage. A list of quotations about courage prompted intense personal stories of courage displayed and of courage avoided. It became quite clear and was a major ‘takeaway’ for me, that courage is a matter of self-awareness, but perhaps more importantly, a willingness to take action in light of that awareness.
The Courageous Conversations movement in Georgetown has a vision of creating “A beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.”
Yes, we aim to raise personal and community awareness of the racism and its impact on all of us. More importantly, we aim to take action in light of that awareness. Our actions are based on the philosophy and principles of non-violence, which is grounded in agape (compassionate love for humankind) as described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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. If this ‘beloved community’ is to become a reality in Georgetown, can we begin by having a courageous conversation?
I invite you to join us for our next assembly on July 15 when we talk about “Working on Race and Privilege.”
Courageous Conversations Convener