Racism, Race Relations and Racial Healing
An African American retired factory worker and a white
police officer described their encounter to the 500
people assembled for Community Wide Dialogue's Facing
Racism Together action breakfast. The African American
man watched as a white police officer arrested an African
American teenage boy. Distrustful of the police, the
man walked over to ensure that the boy was being treated
properly. As he approached, the man and the officer
recognized each other from the dialogue circle in which
they both participated. Instead of a tense confrontation,
the trust and respect that they developed in the circle
allowed them to defuse the tension through calm discussion.
The two men told the audience that they saw each other
as friends rather than adversaries. Their mutual respect
also helped to calm the younger man who was under arrest.
trusting relationships with people from different backgrounds
is difficult. Most Central New Yorkers live, work, go
to school and pray with people who look like them. For
example, in the 1995-96 school year, student enrollment
in the North Syracuse School District was over 90% white,
while student enrollment at the Dr. King Elementary
School in Syracuse was less than 10% white. Even in
areas that are interracial, trust is hard to build,
as illustrated by the voluntary segregation at lunchtime
visible in any Syracuse high school.
New Yorkers are not alone in this separation. In 1998,
the President's Initiative on Race released its report
on the state of race relations in the United States.
It stated that "Americans - whites, minorities,
and people of color - hold differing views of race,
seeing racial progress so differently that an outsider
could easily believe that whites and most minorities
and people of color see the world through different
lenses". The report goes on to say that "one
of the best tools for finding common ground and developing
new understanding among people of different races is
dialogue....Dialogues...help refute stereotypes and
provide opportunities for people to share their individual
experiences and views, which may be different from others
because of their race". The report further recommends
"more opportunities for these types of sustained
dialogues are necessary to build a foundation for racial
Wide Dialogue on Racism, Race Relations and Racial Healing
[CWD] provides Central New York with precisely the dialogue
opportunities that the President's Initiative prescribes.
Since the program kick off in late 1997, more than 1,000
people have joined dialogue circles.
helps the Central New York community build trust and
increase understanding necessary for finding common
ground, developing relationships across racial divides,
and working together towards action. The program provides
a safe and effective process for participants to talk
about and work on issues of racism and race relations
with people from different racial, ethnic, religious,
socioeconomic, and ideological backgrounds.
The InterReligious Council of Central New York (IRC)
developed CWD with the help of the Rosamond Gifford
Charitable Corporation, the Study Circles Resource Center
of Pomfret, CT, and a collaboration of leaders from
local business, religious, social service, academic
and grass roots organizations. Much time and energy
have gone into building trust among the community partners
that were assembled as an advisory board for this program.
It has been a slow process. The growth in trust and
commitment among these community and business leaders
parallels the understanding that the CWD process facilitates
across racial and socioeconomic lines.
the heart of the CWD process is the dialogue circle.
A dialogue circle consists of 12 to 15 people of different
genders, races, religions, ages, and socio-economic
backgrounds. The circle meets for six consecutive weeks
for two-hour sessions. Two racially diverse facilitators
and a discussion guide provide the structure for dialogue.
The process builds trust through exercises that emphasize
common ground, then leads to honest discussions of issues
that affect this community. Participants learn how to
be allies and how to work together to address racism.
Many circles continue to meet past their minimum time
commitment. Some have taken on action steps; others
move to each other's home to continue strengthening
the new relationships.
staff works hard to make each dialogue circle 50% people
of color and 50% European Americans/white. Participation
in the 81 dialogue circles has been approximately 36%
African American/black, 44% European American/white,
8% Latino/Hispanic, 2% Asian American, 3% Native American,
and a small percentage of other ethnicities. Also, participants
were 60% female and represented over 30 zip codes from
across Central New York. Youth circles have also been
held with the use of a separate youth discussion guide.
Other outcomes have included:
Syracuse Mayor has committed to having the police
department work with CWD to bring more police officers
into the dialogue. The Deputy Chief has joined the
completed a dialogue circle together, a group of Syracuse
University students have started a new multicultural
organization to combat racism and racial segregation
to work together to improve the neighborhood between
the North Area Neighborhood Association (primarily
European American) and the Southeast Asian community
broke down repeatedly due to distrust and prejudice.
Representatives from both groups were persuaded to
participate in dialogue circle together. A strong
tie has formed between the two groups, and they have
since collaborated on several successful projects.
with the Chamber of Commerce, a committee has formed
to improve the numbers of people of color on non-profit
and corporate boards of directors.
the community begins to see results of the program,
funding has become more diversified. Grants have recently
been received from the United Way of CNY, The CNY
Community Foundation, The Gifford Foundation, and
Niagara Mohawk Foundation.