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Want to Help Heal Racial Inequity? Start With These 5 Questions

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: reach out to a local leader to ask how their organization is addressing racial justice and equity – and how you can help.

July 2020 Action: Talk to a Local Leader About Race & Equity

As protests for racial justice and equity continue across the nation, how is our own community leading change? To move beyond the status quo, citizens need to be at the forefront of calling for progress. And to become an effective force for transformation in our own neighborhoods, the first step is listening to understand.

This month, reach out to ask one local leader how their organization is taking action to address racism in this moment of crisis and opportunity.

5 questions to spur action & gain insight

Asking local leaders what they are doing to address racism demonstrates a desire for action in the the community, while giving you valuable insights on how to serve as a more effective advocate. Here are five questions to help start the conversation:

  1. What is your organization’s stance on racial justice and equity, and the current protests?
  2. How has this been communicated to the public and discussed with your team?
  3. How is your organization taking steps to support people of color in our community during this difficult time?
  4. How are people of color represented in leadership roles at your organization?
  5. What action can I take to help your organization move this issue forward?

Making connections to influence change

Race is entwined through all aspects of our society. And leaders across all sectors can play a role in influencing change – from educating and legislating, to innovating and networking.

Consider reaching out to a leader in a sector where you can offer valuable insights, or where you feel passionate about the opportunity to make progress. Leaders who are positioned to influence change can include:

  • Chief of Police
  • Mayor or Town Supervisor
  • State representative
  • School or university administrator  
  • Local business leader
  • Pastor or faith leader

Reaching out to board chairs and board members can help ensure your communication is considered at an organizational level.

And, don’t forget the critical piece of asking for the opportunity to connect and talk personally about your inquiry. One-on-one conversation is the best path to find common ground and opportunities to take action. Be prepared to learn about other perspectives and experiences, and to ask questions to clarify rather than assuming you know the other person’s intentions.

No matter who you are or where you live, your voice and participation is vital to help heal racial tension and inequities. Let’s start by reaching out – and listening to understand – in our own communities.

Black Lives Matter: 5 Tips For Holding Better Conversations on Racial Justice

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: commit to holding a conversation on the importance of making progress toward racial justice.

June 2020 Action: Hold a Conversation on Racial Justice

In this watershed moment for modern civil rights, support for the Black Lives Matter movement has reached new levels and opened up an opportunity for lasting change. Achieving such change will require many engaged citizens – especially white allies – to boldly acknowledge the need for progress, and bring light not heat to the national exploration of a common path forward.

This month, commit to taking action by holding at least one conversation about racial justice with a friend, neighbor or family member. Much of the work of holding a productive discussion happens before we start talking. Here are five quick tips to help prepare you for a better conversation.

1.) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Our country’s painful history of racial injustice and varying world views we all bring to the table can make conversations on race emotionally fraught. Fear of “saying something wrong” also dissuades many from engaging in conversations on race. Be prepared for moments of discomfort, and stay committed to the importance of continuing to talk about the issues.

2.) Prepare by doing your own work.

We all bring personal experiences and opinions to conversations on race. Take some time to reflect and identify your own biases, and how your assumptions have been shaped by education and personal experiences. Explore, too, how these experiences may vary for people of color. Get started with the Race and Ethnicity series from our partner, Living Room Conversations.

3.) Reframe your end goal.

One essential key to holding a more productive conversation? Let go of the end goal of winning an argument. Instead, focus on making progress toward solutions. Seek areas of common ground using a “let’s work it out” attitude.

4.) Listen to understand.

Each person brings unique concerns, hopes and fears to conversations on race. Some may fear the police; others may fear defunding the police. Some may be focused on social justice; others on law and order. Active listening to understand motivations and intentions – and to show that you hear and acknowledge those concerns – is the first step to create an opportunity for solutions to be considered.

5.) Seek common ground, but don’t compromise principles.

Be prepared to be flexible in your conversations and work to find an approach that addresses the concerns of all parties. But don’t feel obligated to go along with something that violates your principles. Finding common ground isn’t about “being nice” or losing values. It’s about holding conversations that lead to understanding.

Individual Action is Needed to Improve Race Relations in America. I Should Know.

In this piece written for Newsweek, Common Ground Committee panelist and podcast guest Dr. Brian Williams talks about why he has committed to stepping out of his comfort zone to talk about race, and the first step we all must take to help heal racial injustices.


by Brian Williams, M.D.

In numb silence, I watched footage of protests in Minneapolis escalating to violence. Another Black man dead, another cop on video, and a city ablaze. Mentally replaying a prior tragedy, I was worried because I have a perspective on the death of George Floyd unlike anyone else. 

Just four years ago, there were nationwide protests against police brutality after the death of Philandro Castile, less than six miles from where Mr. Floyd was killed. The protest in Dallas, TX, on July 7, 2016 turned deadly. I am the trauma surgeon who cared for seven of the twelve ambushed police officers. It was the only time in my career I crumbled to the floor crying about strangers I could not save. The shooter was Black. I am Black. His targets, my patients, were cops. 

At a press conference days later, my public display of empathy for the murdered officers struck a nerve. Some called me a traitor to my race. A retired police chief said I should not be allowed to treat white people. Both saw the same video clip but came to disparate conclusions about my role as a Black man in that tragedy. 

Over the next year I struggled with that role. I wanted to regain a sense of normalcy. At the same time I felt I could do more. One opportunity came when the Mayor of Dallas appointed me to become Chair of the Citizens Police Review Board.

Education Brings Impact

As Chair of the Board, I learned about 21st Century Policing and community outreach. About police procedures and civil rights. About politics and public safety. And how some communities celebrated the police as protectors while others, a few miles away, reviled them as killers. But my most important lesson was about people – those who wore the uniform and those who did not. 

A turning point for me came when I spoke at a Common Ground Committee event about race, violence and medicine. I didn’t go in to change people’s minds, just to share my experience and hopefully inspire some to action. I remember sitting down in that intimate setting, in a room full of attentive white people with eyes locked on me, wondering how it would go. I received very thoughtful questions. Some people came up to me after the event, and even had tears in their eyes. I realized I could have an impact. 

In order to have impact, I chose to step out of my zone of comfort and safety to speak out. I focus on my singular goal: eliminating systemic racism and its deadly consequences. It is not a zero-sum game. It is about service to humanity. In order to move forward, we need to understand each other. That requires the courage to share our experiences, biases, and expectations. 

As cities enter another week of protests, I again field questions. I understand the anger and frustration because it dwells within me, continually bubbling to the surface. So I answer, without reservation, that I know exactly how they feel. Yet I remain hopeful that we may be at the tipping point I expected in 1991, when Rodney King was beaten by police.

The collective outcry of individual Americans makes the response this time feel different. Across the board, from the left and the right, individuals condemn the actions of the police officers who caused George Floyd’s death. President Trump said “it was a terrible thing. It should never have happened”, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it as “a murder right before our eyes”. Chiefs of police across the country, from Minneapolis to Honolulu, have explicitly said that this was wrong and should not have happened. All four officers involved have now been arrested and charged.

Finding Common Ground

But there also needs to be a change at the cultural level, and for that to happen individuals must listen to others’ experiences. I’m the only Black person in my neighborhood, so if I’m going to walk in my neighborhood I always take my dog, a golden doodle. I’m intentional about this. I assume a Black man walking a dog is less threatening than a Black man walking alone.

In We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, Peter Levine demonstrated that 3.5% of a population must take action to achieve social change. In America, that means between 11 and 12 million of us must act. Listening is not enough. We need action.

Once we understand the experiences of those who are not like us, we must work to build a culture in which all police officers do what an officer did in Seattle on May 30th: force other officers to stop violent arrest tactics, like putting their knee on a person’s neck. Likewise, while anger is understandable, many rightfully angry protesters still stood in the way of violence and looting, like the young men in this viral TikTok video.

Start by listening, introspection, and education to understand your biases about race. Then take action. Even small acts can have tremendous impact. Extraordinary times require action from ordinary people. Anyone can make a difference, and that person can be you.

Dr. Brian Williams is the immediate past-Chair of the City of Dallas Citizens Police Review Board and an Associate Professor of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the University of Chicago.

 

– This article was published in Newsweek on June 15, 2020.