A new tool to support adult learners in facilitating conversations about race
As you might imagine, a middle school classroom is often in turmoil: 20+ students, one adult, hormones raging, social dynamics that can shift in an instant and family values that collide across issues. In my classroom, this created myriad teachable moments as valuable as the literacy learning that was perhaps more observable. Every day we talked it out. My students practiced two skills: active listening and respectful discussion. Core to both is learning to give grace. As educators in a democracy, we know that civil discourse is not a nice to have, but a must do. And our nation agrees: learning standards across K-12 topics and states require teachers to develop speaking and listening skills. So, why is it that as adults we struggle so much with civil discourse, especially around the topic of race?
While there is no specific answer to that thorny question in this post, there is an exciting, new, and free tool available to any community, big or small, interested in creating the space for healthy discussion around topics of race. In 2016, Richland Library in South Carolina started the Let's Talk Race program to spark courageous conversations about race in their community. As Melanie Huggins, Executive Director of Richland Library explains, “Creating brave spaces for people to put down their defenses and try on new perspectives is the way we’ll build a more just, equitable and fair society.”
Since that time, the library has invited the community to join staff-facilitated conversations about race. Each conversation is anchored by a compelling topic like systemic racism, multiracial relationships, talking to kids about race, etc., and library staff members from across the organization work to foster a safe and inclusive space for the community to participate.
The program has been so successful that the Library was quickly overrun with requests to have their staff design and facilitate Let’s Talk Race conversations for local museums, other libraries across the country, private companies, non-profit organizations, and on and on. In short order, bandwidth became a blocker to scaling Let’s Talk Race. Last year, Wondrus partnered with Advancing with Purpose to help the Richland Library team solve the bandwidth problem by creating an on-demand digital resource that offers anybody anywhere a pathway to engaging in courageous conversations about race.
“Creating brave spaces for people to put down their defenses and try on new perspectives is the way we’ll build a more just, equitable and fair society.” - Melanie Huggins, Executive Director of Richland Library
With their years of experience facilitating Let’s Talk Race conversations in diverse contexts, the Richland team offered invaluable insights on the tricky parts of establishing a Let’s Talk Race program as well as how to support each unique conversation. The result is a robust toolkit that can be used by organizations large and small to support authentic discussions about race. The Richland team’s wisdom is baked into each aspect of the guide, so anybody who leads a courageous conversation should feel like a Richland Library Let’s Talk Race specialist is by their side. The tool includes:
Self-assessment and readiness checklists
Advice for getting the program off the ground and building buy-in from key stakeholders
Self-paced modules designed to prepare you for facilitating conversations
Conversation guides to support 90-120 minute conversations on a range of topics connected to race
A curated library of resources and suggested readings
We are so proud to have played a part in helping the Richland Library team capture the “lightning in a bottle” of their Let’s Talk Race program in order to share it with others everywhere. Please check it out and ask yourself, “How might I bring courageous conversations about race to the communities I am a part of?"