“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968).
It is only after engaging one another peaceably through both dialogue and action that we are able to begin breaking away from ideas which ultimately prevent us from working together for the good of humanity. –Excerpted from my Vision & Values Statement.
This is the second post of a 7 part series in which I expand on some of my responses to questions from a recent news interview I had about my experiences with working to build more inclusive communities as a student at Oakland University and beyond.
Can you describe your involvement with the Intergroup Dialogue/ Social Change Agents Program?
The Intergroup Dialogue/Social Change Agents program is a social justice and conflict resolution group that works with high school students in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area. I work with a team of dedicated facilitators in addition to working with students, staff and administration within the school. I have also been able to use my facilitation skills with college students and community members as well.
As a facilitator within the Social Change Agents program, I contribute to creating spaces that are safe for students to engage in respectful dialogue across differences. The reason why we come together is to help students to be able to improve their ability to manage conflicts non-violently (refraining from physical or emotional violence) , to establish and strengthen relationships with people who they might perceive as being different from themselves, and to get an increased understanding of broader social issues that can fuel tensions and prejudice between groups.
A deeply held value of people, relationships, interconnectedness, collaboration, conflict resolution, healing, and reconciliation are just a few elements that I believe are foundational to this process.
Engaging in dialogue is highly participatory, experiential, and thought-provoking; encouraging community-building and collaboration.
We share our personal experiences with experiencing conflict, privilege, and oppression through the lens of our own social identities like race, religion, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, ability status, and other ways in which we identify socially.
Participants learn about stereotypes and the effects they can have on groups, how our experiences within our social identities can inform our development, and how privilege and marginalization can show up in society. It can also be challenging on a personal level as a wide range of emotions and experiences occur during the process of examining ourselves in relation to others.
We delve into the broader issues, but we also examine our personal belief systems and teach communication skills that we can all use in our everyday lives when working to resolve conflicts with people we don’t know, as well as with those who are closest to us.
My work in teaching skills for facilitating dialogue for conflict resolution and social justice has allowed me to be able to build trust with participants by creating a safe environment where they can share openly and honestly, to promote justice through education and facilitating consciousness raising activities that encourage critical thought and personal growth, and to teach peace through using methods of nonviolent communication that can be helpful when negotiating conflicts. I’ve found that using these skills has enabled me to be able to work collaboratively with others to move from ideas to actions that work to build more inclusive communities.
It is very important to mention that this work is not solely focused on helping “others” identify ways they can negotiate conflicts. There is a great deal of internal exploration involved, and I am just as involved and connected to the process as the any other participant who engages in dialogue.
The understanding that learning is a lifelong process, the importance of continuing to develop self and other awareness, and the amount of personal work required continues to impact my development as an aspiring humanitarian.
Grace & Peace,
Relando Thompkins, MSW
Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian by Relando Thompkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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