THE BIG CONVERSATION
Findings from the Big Conversation VI:
A Communitywide Civil Conversation on Dismantling Racism
An Executive Summary
The annual Big Conversation series is sponsored by Middleham and St. Peter’s Parish in Lusby and provides an opportunity for communitywide civil conversation on topics of concern. This year’s sixth Big Conversation was on dismantling racism. It was offered in three parts:
- A book study on six Sundays in October and November discussing “Living into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” by Catherine Meeks, with over 60 participating.
- On December 3, 100 people met to view and discuss the movie “13th”. The film explored race, justice, mass incarceration, and the new “Jim Crow”.
- On January 14, over 200 people met to focus on dismantling racism in our own community - hearing from community leaders, sharing our stories in small groups, identifying ways we can move forward and learning about what is happening now to build bridges.
The following is a summary of what was heard and learned in each of those parts:
Sharing our stories and listening to others – The six sessions of the book study provided the attendees the opportunity to share their stories regarding racism and to intentionally listen to others. Many affirmed that they learned a great deal and truly expressed that “they didn’t know” about aspects of racism.
Developing trust – Through the study, and especially in the later sessions, attendees – Black and White – developed a level of trust, allowing for authentic engagement around issues of race.
Working together – With Catherine Meeks’ guidance, attendees grew to understand the importance of working together – Black and White – on projects of mutual interest and concern.
Wanting more - The Sunday sessions ended with participants expressing the desire to continue the conversation, many stating that they rarely had an opportunity to discuss racism with the “other” and wanting to learn more.
About the topic – This documentary film sets out in graphic detail how racial disparities in the criminal justice system have served to continue suppression of African Americans through the present day, especially men, in the same way that “Jim Crow” laws and policies did after the Civil War.
The data is overwhelming – Most of the audience had no idea that although the U.S. has just 5% of the world's population, 25 percent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. A highly disproportionate number incarcerated in the U.S. are African American males.
Big business influence – on setting the laws and operating prisons to the extreme detriment of Blacks and Black men. Laws around penalties for drug use need to be changed and equitable.
Uncovering the facts. Hearing these stories and understanding the data is critical to dismantling racism.
The January 14th Big Conversation:
Racism never went away. It continues to exist. Issues of racism in our communities are real and current – not in the past.
Need for the truth. There is a need for a full and accurate history of slavery and racism - a fact-based history in Calvert and Southern Maryland – for students and adults. We want to acknowledge and honor Black leaders of the past and present.
Education. There is a need for more education on racism for both children and adults, and it is important to start early.
Taking responsibility. We all should take personal and organized action when racism occurs– not be silent. Don’t tolerate racism from friends or enemies.
Leadership is critical - Leadership needs to be inclusive, moral and motivated, and have the courage to address racism. Informed voting is one way to create change.
There are continuing racial disparities in Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties – Including continuing disparities– in schools, law enforcement, justice, affordable housing, media, health and business to name a few. How can we address this?
We need to come together and work together more. How can we come together? SMILE and the Middleham and St. Peter’s food drop are good examples.
Churches have an important role. People of faith have a particular responsibility to oppose and dismantle racism. Church is a good place to start the discussion.
Creating Opportunities for honest exchange. Create small diverse group opportunities where people can share their stories and be listened to without judgement and work together to benefit the community.
Whites need to talk to one another racism – There needs to be an honest consideration of White privilege. It is too easy to not be aware of racism as a White person. Black people experience racism – small and large – nearly every day of their lives. Racism is familiar, but awareness of White privilege is not.
Activism – both personal and organizational. There is too much talk and not enough action. Individually we should train ourselves to speak out against bias and racism and seek out opportunities for engagement to do so.
We need better communication, especially about initiatives going on. We should be doing a much better job of sharing what is happening in the county and Southern Maryland to dismantle racism. What is happening in the school system is a good example. A clearinghouse would be good.
The Bridges list – The packet “Building Bridges” was shared at the January 14th session. It is a start at listing Southern Maryland resources for dismantling racism. We should work together to expand it.
This Big Conversation VI is sponsored by Middleham & St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in partnership with Calvert NAACP, St. Mary’s NAACP, Calvert Library, the Community Mediation Centers of Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties, the College of Southern Maryland, and the Concerned Black Women of Calvert Co.