Cities Sponsor Community Dialogues to Improve Race Relations

By Armstrong, Shannelle R. | Nation's Cities Weekly, March 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Cities Sponsor Community Dialogues to Improve Race Relations


Armstrong, Shannelle R., Nation's Cities Weekly


Elected officials, community leaders, the clergy, and citizens have begun to collaborate and use dialogue groups as a way of helping to ease the racial divisions in cities across the country.

Los Angeles Hosts 'Day of Dialogue'

When Los Angeles held its first "Day of Dialogue" to ease racial tension through community discussions thousands of residents gathered to discuss and tell stones of how racism has affected their lives. Television and radio provided extensive coverage making it possible for people all over the country to see what could happen when leaders are determined to make dialogue a priority.

The brainchild of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the motion to hold a city-wide Day of Dialogue was unanimously passed by the Los Angeles City Council. 'The purpose of this day is to recognize the ever-widening racial divide in this City and to try to address some of the underlying reasons and concerns one citizen to another " stated Councilman Ridley-Thomas.

With the assistance of trained facilitators from the Study Circles Resource Center in Pomfret, Connecticut, thousands of people participated in discussion groups held in one hundred locations including churches synagogues, schools and workplaces throughout the city of Los Angeles.

Lima, Ohio Enters Continues Study Circles

It was during a period of increased racial tension immediately following the Rodney King verdict that community leaders in the city of Lima Ohio began to explore how to create ongoing opportunities for candid discussions of race relations. Mayor David Berger took the initiative to convene a meeting with city clergy the Ohio State University at Lima, the media and the SCRC, which led to a major campaign to address racial divisions. Using the SCRC discussion manual "Can't We all Just Get Along?" thousands of Lima residents have participated in on-going, frank, discussions to examine different views experiences and insights.

By helping participants establish relationships within their communities study circles have reinforced the fabric of the Lima community. The groups have provided volunteers for tutoring recreational activities for young adults and workers for the City's soup kitchens. A Study Circles Council, composed of church coalitions, elected officials, community groups, and business organizations was formed to coordinate the groups and funnel ideas from citizens to city and county government.

Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed Lima participants before and after the study circles and found a shift in attitudes toward greater acceptance of other racial and ethnic groups. "Participants come out of the discussions fundamentally changed'' Mayor Berger stated. "This city will never be the same."

In 1995 Lima became the first city to use study circles against crime and violence. By expanding the groups to include the police department and other law enforcement agencies the community has developed stronger neighborhood initiatives to combat crime.

National Conversation on Race, Ethnicity and Culture

The National Conference (formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews) initiated a "National Conversation on Race Ethnicity and Culture" in July 1995 to help communities discuss the status of race and ethnicity in America. …

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Cities Sponsor Community Dialogues to Improve Race Relations
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