Barrington preparing 'A Year of Courageous Conversations'
An initiative will launch in Barrington next month to bring people together to learn how to have discussions on issues surrounding race, privilege, bias and other difficult topics.
One of the organizers of "A Year of Courageous Conversations," the Rev. Zina Jacque, said she's found many have lost the capacity to respectfully disagree. Getting people in a room -- and not using social media or other masks -- is a way to foster understanding, said Jacque, pastor of Community Church of Barrington.
"How do we benefit from the wisdom and the thinking of a broad community if we are willing only to have conversations with like minds?" Jacque said. "So the gift of a community like this is that broad spectrum, but because of the fear of difference or the fear of offending, we've lost the willingness to have those cross-communications. And I think that's what this (series) will teach us how to do."
Another organizer, Jessica Swoyer Green of Barrington Hills, said the series will "explore and investigate what listening looks like." The idea is to be courageous in listening, not just conversation, she said.
"Because while we can talk about a lot of topics that are scary to go into, I think what is actually the most scary thing for human beings right now in this climate is to take winning off the table in an argument, to be able to receive somebody's opinion or somebody's concerns or thoughts without feeling defensive," said Green, an active member of the Chicago-area philanthropic community and a vice president of the Duchossois Family Foundation.
Kicking off the pilot program on May 23 will be a sold-out appearance in the 700-seat Barrington High School auditorium by Krista Tippett, who received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2014. Tippett hosts National Public Radio's "On Being," which explores questions at the center of human life, and is curator of the Civil Conversations Project.
Ahead of Tippett's appearance, a dozen copies of her best-selling "Becoming Wise" will be available for loan as part of a Barrington Area Library event May 9. Jacque and librarians Sam Adams-Lanham and Hayley Schommer will host a discussion on the book.
"A Year of Courageous Conversations" will resume in earnest with Arin Reeves in September, in the first of 10 monthly gatherings featuring nationally known guest experts at Barrington's White House on Main Street. Reeves, president and managing partner of Chicago consulting firm Nextions, is a leading researcher, author and adviser in the fields of leadership and inclusion.
The sessions will begin with topics such as fear, bias, curiosity, mindfulness and listening. The gatherings in 2020 will address diversity, privilege, prejudice, geography, economics and equity.
Booked for January is best-selling author Robin DiAngelo, who gives presentations on whiteness, white fragility, race relations and racial justice. She also addresses what makes racism difficult for white people to see.
Claire Nelson, a former Barrington resident who founded the nonprofit Urban Consulate and now lives in New Orleans, is assisting in "A Year of Courageous Conversations." A winner of the Knight Cities Challenge, Urban Consulate has hosted similar gatherings in New Orleans, Detroit and Philadelphia.
"When we first talked about doing this, we were a little nervous about would people be interested, how many people would show up, could we fill Barrington High School for Krista?" Nelson said. "We didn't know how many Barringtonians are NPR listeners or would think that was liberal hogwash. We weren't quite sure. But the response (has been) just so many people saying, 'We need this.'"
Jacque acknowledged one of the challenges for the series may be getting enough diverse viewpoints into a room.
"This will only blossom and grow and be its most meaningful if, around those tables, we have varied, disparate points of view," she said.
Nelson said she expects a limit of 100 participants on the White House's second level for the Wednesday evening series. Registration will begin May 23 at courageousconversations.us.