Community members weigh in on Dialogue on Race action ideas

Action plan to be revealed in January

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Each of the four work groups had a designated area within the space where they hung large sheets of poster paper detailing each of the ideas for action the study groups developed.

Maggie Servais | Cavalier Daily

More than 60 members members of the Charlottesville community met at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Monday night to vote on ideas developed during meetings held the past three months for the city’s Dialogue on Race. The votes will be tallied and evaluated then put into a “Roadmap for Action” to be revealed Jan. 22, 2018.

The Dialogue on Race was initiated in 2009 to discuss race issues in Charlottesville and address them through a variety of collaborative community efforts. The first discussion groups or “study circles” met in 2010 — a total of 48 study circles met two hours a week for six weeks with nearly 700 participants. Ideas developed during the sessions were placed into four categories called “Work Groups” focusing on education, social and cultural, economic and government concerns.

Dialogue on Race facilitator Rabia Povich found the talks revealed more diversity in the community than one sees at face value.

“I think when we get to know each other there’s actually more diversity than appears,” Povich said. “We have people who have different ethnic backgrounds and different cultural experiences growing up, but what we were able to touch in on is the commonality of humanity … I think the dialogues have been great, I think the ideas are positive and I see the community engaged.”

The conversations facilitated through the Dialogue on Race have led to the creation of the City of Promise, the Chamber Business Diversity Council, the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Human Rights and other programs.

Despite the progress the Dialogue on Race has made, the initiative lacks representation from diverse racial groups. The event Monday evening was attended predominantly by white members of the community. Charlene Green, manager of the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights, addressed the lack of diversity in the crowd by pointing out how white people need to be proactive.

“It is not the job of people of color to educate white people about racism,” Green said.

Kathy Spaar, a Dialogue on Race facilitator, also acknowledged the role she believes the white community should play in handling racism. 

“It’s important for white people to do their own work,” Spaar said. “It’s not up to the black citizens of this city to educate us, we have to do the work and … I’m so excited that they’re going to take these same action points to the different communities, I think we’ll get a better sense from some of the communities that weren’t represented here tonight.”

Starting in September, study groups met once a month for three months. The first session focused on “Understanding Me and Others,” the second was about “Connecting the Dots” and the last emphasized “Moving to Action.”

Monday’s event was the culmination of the ideas put forth in the study sessions and the next step toward putting those ideas into action. 

Each of the four work groups had a designated area where they hung large sheets of poster paper, detailing each of the ideas for action the study groups developed over the course of the dialogues. Community members were each given a sheet of red circle stickers and instructed to place a maximum of three stickers on their top action ideas for each of the work groups.

Charlottesville resident Rachel Bagby said a friend that was a facilitator encouraged her to attend the event and express her vote. She reflected on how most of the groups and goals approached race issues on a general level, rather than focusing on the white nationalist events on Aug. 11 and 12.

“They’re focusing on more generally what would improve the whole relations, it’s not just focused on what happened this summer,” Bagby said. “It’s focused on what’s the truth about how we’re living together and what would help on various levels … I’m particularly noticing how in several of the places they’re saying have more training about … how people relate across various races.”

Sign-up sheets were also available in each of the working group areas for people to fill in their contact information if interested in joining a group for next year’s round of dialogue beginning in late March. Bagby said she thinks the amount of people who sign up will the be most telling.

“Expressing an opinion is one thing … but are people really engaged in saying ‘I’m taking on this responsibility to take things forward?’” Bagby said. 

A fifth work group entitled “Recovery” was added this year to specifically address the events of Aug. 11 and 12. Green managed that section of the voting where community members were given a printed list of “Community Responses to August 12” to read over and encouraged to ask questions before telling Green the initiatives they wished to vote for.

“Standing here and listening to the conversations around how people feel like this community needs to recover just from the summer and what they need to prepare for, folks want to be involved and they want to make sure as many people as possible are also involved so that their voices don’t get left out,” Green said.

Povich also addressed how the events of the summer affected the tone and focus of the talks this year.

“I think the community is hungry to talk about race,” Povich said. “It’s been in our face in a negative sense and really I think most of the community wants to heal the divisions around race and build a holistic community.”

The ideas in the recovery work group were divided into subtopics such as city government, clergy, community awareness, education and legal concerns. There was also a section for the University which voiced concerns such as “focus on registration of UVA students to get them involved in local elections,” “encourage the next UVA president,” alumni and donors “to make minority rights concerns a priority” and “encourage UVA to be as honest about racial issues as Monticello.”

Other work groups incorporated the University in their action plans as well. One of the idea sheets for the economic group addressed the issue of gentrification in Charlottesville and how University students’ demands for housing and increasing development are pushing rent rates up and local residents out. 

One of the action ideas for the work group on government seeks to develop a “better working relationship among city, county and UVA police departments.” Part of this would include creating one local standard for data collection regarding stop and frisks by race, arguing there is “no accountability if data isn’t even collected.”

The red dots accumulated throughout the evening as community members pondered the concepts and spoke with one another on the issues. The next step will be sharing the ideas with minority communities in early January.

“I’m looking forward to getting feedback from some of the communities of color who couldn’t participate to make sure that they feel like, even though they weren’t here tonight, that somebody’s listening,” Green said.

The final plan of action will be announced Jan. 22.

“I’m looking forward to action happening,” Green said. “That’s the signature piece of the Dialogue on Race. We come together and we talk, but then we get down to business and make things happen.”

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