Cultural diversity and intergroup relations are at the heart of the most pressing community concerns. But as important as diversity issues are, community members may be reticent to talk about them. It's often only after a crisis that people realize "we have a problem here, and we should be working together on it." Even then, it's hard for people to know where and how to begin.
Your challenge as a study circle organizer will be to show people the way to begin. You will be working to welcome and include people from every part of the community. It will be important to show people that the study circles will be safe places where they can share their ideas, listen to others, and work together to make a difference on the issues that affect their lives.
There are a number of ways you can use this guide to build study circles. Think about what will work in your specific situation:
Organize study circles on an issue of general concern to the community. Consider what will draw broad participation from all sectors and groups. Use all or parts of Toward A More Perfect Union and the materials in this AMPU Guide to address the diversity issues that underlie the specific issue your program will address.
Example: In Long Beach, CA, the Peace Among the People Initiative is bringing together people from Hispanic, Anglo, and Cambodian backgrounds for study circles on violence, which is of critical concern to all parts of the community. In these study circles (some of which are bilingual) many people will have their first opportunity to meet with fellow community members, discover common concerns, and begin to work together. Idea: In such a program, groups could use sessions 1 and 2 of this guide before addressing the specific issues of violence they are facing.
Organize study circles on race relations and racism. Often racial and ethnic tension is of paramount concern in the community, and so study circle organizers may want to begin with the more specific issue of race. In the process, other diversity issues frequently arise; some of Toward A More Perfect Union and materials from this Guide could be incorporated into those discussions. Or Toward A More Perfect Union in its entirety could be used at a second stage set of discussions to follow up the study circles on race.
Organize study circles on the immigrant experience and what it means to be an American. Especially in communities where recent immigrants are settling, this may be a critical issue to a broad cross-section of people.
Example: In Somerville, MA, the Somerville Human Rights Commission and Tufts University sponsored a study circle program called Somerville Conversations on Ethnic Identity, and Immigrant Experience, and What it Means to Be an American. Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, other sponsors included the Somerville Haitian Coalition, Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, Centro Presente, the Disability Commission, and the Somerville Interfaith Group.
Organize diverse study circles within particular sectors -- for example, within the faith community, or among schools. On a smaller scale than a study circle program that aims to include all parts of the community, these programs can consider the issues faced by particular institutions. After experiencing participatory discussion, some of the participants may become the leaders that carry the conversations to other sectors of the community.
Example: When congregations from different faith traditions and ethnic backgrounds pair with each other for dialogue, they have a chance to form new relationships, grapple with public issues, and build community. Participants have the opportunity to explore how their faith informs their perspectives. Idea: By using Toward A More Perfect Union in an Age of Diversity, people could explore religious diversity in the community.
Idea: Frequently, schools are racially and ethnically segregated. Even within "integrated" schools there is not a lot of interaction between groups. Either through school pairing or through study circles within a school, students could have the chance to explore their diversity and consider how to create a school community that works for everyone.
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