Facilitators provide ‘building blocks’ for dialogues on race, other topics

  • The first installment of “Dialogues Across Differences: A Community Conversation” was held virtually on Monday. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2022 7:18:22 PM
Modified: 11/29/2022 7:18:07 PM

GREENFIELD — In the first of three sessions on how to have community conversations on race, gender, class and equity, facilitators focused first on ensuring participants had the necessary “building blocks” for having a dialogue.

In future sessions, co-facilitator Tanisha Arena, who is executive director of Arise for Social Justice in Springfield, said participants will begin to practice engaging in dialogues on real issues using the skills shared with them on Monday.

“We use the skills to have dialogues between Black Student Union police on campuses, between (Emergency Room) physicians who have to tell people that their family members are dying of COVID when the family doesn’t believe COVID is real; we have these dialogues to help people whose family members are bombing each other in Israel and on the Gaza strip,” co-facilitator JAC Patrissi, an internationally known trauma clinician and author, told participants. “We know if we can have those dialogues, we can have dialogues in Greenfield.”

The next two installments in the city’s series, called “Dialogues Across Differences: A Community Conversation,” will be held virtually from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, Dec. 5 and Dec. 19.

The series comes as the community grapples with conversations around race and racism, particularly in the wake of the Hampshire County Superior Court jury verdict that found that Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against former Officer Patrick Buchanan when he was denied a promotion in 2014. Buchanan was the department’s only Black officer at the time.

In Monday’s session, facilitators outlined 10 global teachings on dialogue, from Paulo Freire’s emphasis on respect and acknowledging one’s use of power and information, to Marsha Linehan’s guidance for when to stop trying to engage in dialogue.

Arena shared the importance of finding your “field of peace,” or something that keeps you calm, during difficult conversations.

“It can be your pup or your kitty, or your grandbaby,” she said. “Think about what makes you in a calm state.”

Arena and Patrissi ended the first session with what they called the pattern, or four steps, for dialogue across differences: embracing, or accepting, what the other believes to be true; separating the idea from the person; adding information or facts that appear to be missing; and finally, forming facilitative questions.

“We learn to form facilitative questions after the other person has been valued,” Patrissi explained.

The four steps were carried out by Arena and Patrissi using “I don’t see color” as an example of potential dialogue. By the end of their brief, scripted dialogue, a facilitative question arose.

“How can we deeply respect all people’s humanity and also acknowledge the experience of race?”

The final two sessions can be accessed online at bit.ly/GfieldDialogues.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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