Last month, as part of its Community Education series, Leadership Medina County invited people to come together and discuss the issue of race. The Title: Are you Color Blind? A Conversation on Race in Medina County. The presentation was facilitated by Dr. Tameka Taylor of Compass Consulting Services.
Race? Were they crazy? Could you get more divisive? Hold onto your hats, folks, ‘cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Dr. Taylor opened the program by telling the audience her stated objective. She was going to equip everyone with tools for handling critical conversations and strategies for talking through tough issues when the stakes are high.
At this point I noticed that the knives from the breakfast were still on the tables. Was that wise? We were going to be talking about race! Tempers would flare! Emotions would get the better of people! Clear the knives!
Dr. Taylor pointed out that critical conversations happen to us everyday. In each situation, we have the choice of either avoiding them, handling them poorly, or facing them and handling them well. It sounded simple enough. Fine. Bring on the conversations about race!
But she didn’t. Instead, she continued to prime her audience with more useful techniques and strategies to promote what should be the ultimate goal in any critical conversation: mutual respect and purpose. She encouraged speaking persuasively and not abrasively. She shared four powerful listening skills for dealing with others who “blow up or clam up.” She reminded us of the ABC’s:
Agree–find the points on which you agree
Build–identify areas where you can build on what’s being said
Compare–compare the differences instead saying the other person is wrong
The ABC’s reminded me of kindergarten. In fact, this whole program reminded me of kindergarten. We all learned to listen, share, and discuss instead of argue. How did we, as adults, lose all those valuable lessons that we learned when we were five?
Dr. Taylor’s final comments revolved around turning critical conversations into action and results. At the successful culmination of any critical conversation, she pointed out, everyone should walk away knowing who is doing what by when. The deliverables should be clear and a follow up time should be set. Most importantly, everyone should be held accountable.
We clapped and Executive Director, Colleen Rice, got up and explained that Dr. Taylor would be facilitating a conversation between the audience and four racially diverse panelists:
Pedro Barnes ‘11, J.Dog Junk Removal & Hauling (representing Hispanic ethnicity)
Michaele Tisevich Reynolds, South Metro Human Services (a caucasian woman married to an African American man)
Reverend Cornell Carter, MSBC Akron (an African American man)
Mayor Ron Falconi, Mayor of Brunswick (representing Filipino ethnicity)
Look out! This is the race part! Run for the hills before it gets ugly! No, wait. We just spent the last hour and a half learning critical conversation skills and techniques. We were armed with a toolbox of ideas for dealing with difficult topics. Still, I discreetly slid my butter knife under a napkin just in case.
Dr. Taylor posed questions to the panel about their experiences within our community and their perceptions about race relations in general. Each one shared stories about individual challenges and successes, their thoughts on the polarization our country still experiences today, and their hopes for the future.
The audience, for its part, was well-behaved and asked insightful and topical questions. But I began to wonder: were the panelists just preaching to the choir? It’s no secret that there are people in our county who harbor racial bias. In fact, Dr. Taylor told us we all had some degree of racial bias. The question is, like most learned bad behaviors, how do we deal with it?
Reverend Carter pointed out that when we act on our biases, it is typically hurtful to someone. Our goal should be to acknowledge our biases and arrest the bad behavior that stems from them. For those who were in need of a more concrete analogy, Mr. Barnes was there for them: “It’s like eating broccoli. You learn to accept it.” Wouldn’t the world be a little healthier if we all embraced broccoli?
And so we talked, and listened, and practiced our skills. As a racially mixed group, we had no trouble interacting and delving into the topic of race. It was encouraging and enlightening. But what about the rest of Medina County? It doesn’t take a recent poll to see that Medina County is not a diverse community. If you need the numbers, only 7% of our population does not identify as caucasian. It’s possible that you could argue, “What’s the problem? We have a great community already. Who needs to worry about diversity?”
The problem is, we want to stay great. Great people come from all races, religions, and backgrounds. If we don’t work to consciously put forth a message outside of Medina County that we seek to be an inclusive community, we will miss out on the opportunity to work and interact with a myriad of talented people just because they might seem different.
Does that mean we are all going to suddenly join hands and sing Kumbaya? Of course not. People will still have disagreements. But, as Dr. Taylor suggested, we should always aim to move our disagreements toward dialogue so that we can build relationships with each other on a solid platform of shared meaning and understanding. As Mayor Falconi reminded us, “You can have a disagreement without hating a person.”
“The conversation cannot stop here,” Dr. Taylor instructed everyone. “Solving racial issues is a marathon, not a sprint. Only by conversations can we move the ball forward.”
How will you help move the ball forward?