Toward a More Perfect Union
in an Age of Diversity

AMPU Study Circle Session FOUR:

Making a Difference:

What Can We Do to Build a Stronger Community
in an Age of Diversity?


Introduction: The Aim of This Session

I have a feeling that we're all waiting for something to happen, for some divine intervention that will sit us all down at one table -- each race, each class, each faction -- and somehow we'll legislate, negotiate, mediate, and make everything all right.

There's this assumption that we're missing some essential ingredient, but in fact all the ingredients are here. It's as if we are in a kitchen and have all the components to make the bread laid out, and we're looking from bowl to bowl unable to make that leap of imagination to mix this with that and put it in the oven and eat it.

We're waiting for other people to do it, and that's totally antithetical to our can-do, will-do, know-how, make-shift, made-up country.

-- Allan Gurganus

We have talked and thought about how we describe ourselves, about how we come together or stand apart, and what it means to be an American. What can we do with the information and insight we've gained over the course of these conversations? How will we make that leap of imagination that Allan Gurganus talks about and work together to forge a common life that sustains all of us?

Session Four Discussion-Starters

There are more questions here than you will have time to address. Choose a few that you think will be most interesting to your group.

I. Working on the Issues that Face Us

  1. What have you heard and learned during these discussions that has surprised you? What will have the largest impact on your attitudes? on your actions in the community?

  2. What events in our local history have had an impact on how people work together, or avoid working together?

  3. If there are tensions in our community that relate to difference, what efforts are currently underway to address these tensions? How can we build on those efforts? How can we expand them?

II. Moving to Next Steps

What next steps can we take to make a difference? Of the various ideas listed in this session, which seem the most promising? What groups and individuals in this community or outside might support us as we act on these ideas?

  1. What can I do as an individual?

  2. What can we do in our homes and neighborhoods?

    Our community's children likely will grow up in a diverse world. How can you prepare them to get along with people of different backgrounds? Here are some ideas:

    • Encourage local merchants to carry toys and books for children that reflect and respect differences among people.

    • Avoid stereotyping, and teach your children to be concerned with the content of a person's character.

    • When groups mark special occasions or celebrate holidays, find out what the celebration is about. What do Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa, Easter, and Ramadan mean to the people who observe them? Talk with your children about the meaning of the holidays.

    • Welcome new neighbors, and seek out opportunities to meet newcomers in the community. Reach out especially if they are people from a different background than yours.

    • Before you barbecue, ask yourself what national American holidays mean -- July 4th, Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and more. What are these holidays commemorating? In an age as diverse as ours, are these days important for something besides leisure time? Ask others what they think.

    • Have an open block party in your neighborhood. Ask guests to bring a favorite traditional ethnic dish from their family's heritages.

    • Start a neighborhood "community service project" that includes young people from all backgrounds.

  3. What can we do in our community to create a common life?


  1. With the whole group, view Section 4 of the video Toward a More Perfect Union.

  2. Spend some time as a group looking at the issues on the AMPU Guide Web page entitled What kinds of public concerns involve diversity issues?. They represent some public concerns where diversity issues can surface in communities.

    1. Are any issues missing from the list? Add your own. Rank the top five for your community.

    2. Take one of these issues, and describe the typical public debate about it.

      • In what ways does our diversity have an impact on that issue?
      • Have inequalities, or the tensions and mistrust among us, hindered us in moving ahead on this issue?
      • What voices aren't heard in the debate?
      • What have we learned in our conversations so far that would help our community talk about the issue in more constructive ways and begin to deal with it differently?

  3. Have we had a "social contract" in this community? That is, has there been an unwritten code about what our rights and responsibilities as members of this place?

    1. If we were to create our own "social contract" right now, what would we include?

    2. One proposed set of principles, excerpted from a speech by Henry Cisneros, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has been posted in this Web site. Are these principles proposed by Secretary Cisneros a good place to start? Why or why not? Are there others principles that would you propose?

This phrase from the Constitution is so magicial -- "toward a more perfect union."
I mean, it's so beautiful!
Not a perfect union, that's not the promise.
But toward, perpetually --
in our national lives and in our personal lives --e
toward this possibility of perfection.

-- Allan Gurganus

Return to Session Three of the AMPU Study Circle outline

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