Learning How to Create Safe Space for Discussions about Race

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Saturday, November 9, 2013
An intimate group of parents, educators, and community activists sat in a sunny classroom on the Learning Corridor’s campus to learn how to create and promote effective dialogue about race and identity in their respective communities. The workshop, entitled Creating and Enriching Spaces for Multiethnic Community Dialogue and Making Room for Community Conversations about Race, was facilitated by Pamela Pinnock of D.C.’s own Busboys and Poets.

Excerpt from Pinnock's suggested reading list to promote dialogue about race.
Excerpt from Pinnock’s suggested reading list to promote dialogue about race.

Pinnock opened the workshop giving a brief description of Busboys and Poets’¬†rich history. The restaurant which boasts a “Peace and Struggle” wall was named in honor of Langston Hughes, also known as the busboy poet.¬†Initially opened in 2005 by an Iraqi born immigrant, the restaurant was intended to be a space where “art, culture, and politics collide”. For two hours on the first Sunday of every month, Busboys and Poets hosts A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk On Race) in the Langston Room. The monthly event gathers strangers from all walks of life into a safe space equip with ground rules to exchange ideas about race and current events. Pinnock says that there are key components to hosting productive conversations on the sensitive subjects of race and its intersectionality with gender, class, nationality, and sexual orientation. She listed four components to community dialogue success:

1. Safe space
2. Ground rules
3. Someone knowledgeable to moderate discussion
4. A format that allows EVERYONE to participate

Pinnock stressed the importance of a neutral space, mutual respect, and reservation of judgement. For recurring events, like the A.C.T.O.R discussion series, she said that consistency of date and time is crucial to the success of the talks. She endorsed partnerships with other organizations as a great way to diversify discussion participants and topics. Pinnock cited a host of approaches that would work beyond the restaurant model and translate well into everyday settings. After her presentation and a brisk round of Q&A, the attendees seemed confident and prepared to bring the Busboys and Poets method of conversing across lines back to their campuses and communities.

The workshop was a part of the “Where Integration Meets Innovation” school diversity conference hosted by One Nation Indivisible. The event was free and open to the public.

Conference Panel Day Two
A broad view of conference panelists. Photo credit: Karen Taylor.