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?
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
Take leadership. You don't have to be an elected official, or a well-known
civic leader, to be effective. Approach top community leaders and encourage
them to foster public dialogue. At the same time, begin dialogues in your
own neighborhood as a way to reach out beyond the groups you belong to. Your
initial work to bring people together will give you the experience and
credentials for a larger role in the community.
Talk about community issues whenever you can. Speak up when people take
positions that work against inter-cultural understanding and communication.
Support local businesses that are run by people of diverse backgrounds.
Read about different cultures and traditions. Start with your own and
branch out from there.
Learn about your local history, and use what you have learned to inform
your conversations. Public libraries, historical sites and societies, and
history museums are all good resources. Chapters from books, articles, oral
histories, and visits to museum exhibits can be used to jump-start
conversations. See the resource section
of this Web site for places to turn for help.
Ask yourself what you can do to help bring your skills to the people in
your community. Can you help more people to recognize and take advantage of
Volunteer to help teach new immigrants how to speak or read English.
Tutor students who want to learn a language you know.
Be an informed voter.
Find out about your representatives in government. Are the people in your
community well represented?
As elections near, volunteer to help register people to vote, or work to
get out the vote.
Greet people who are different from you in a friendly way.
Ask yourself some basic questions. Do you know and associate with people
from different backgrounds? Why or why not?
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.
Make study circles an ongoing part of the community, on all sorts of issues. Include community
groups of all kinds as study circle sponsors, so that all community members
will know that they are welcome to take part. Media participation can also
promote widespread involvement: in some places, radio and TV stations run
public service announcements to encourage participation in the study
circles, and newspapers print supportive editorials.
Convene community-wide cultural development planning. This could be an
effective way to channel the energy generated by a successful round of
comunity conversations about cultural identity and diversity. This process
could draw out a range of community members' ideas about how they'd like to
see cultural life change.
Encourage the newspaper to write a series of stories that document the
history of the community. Who has settled in the
community, and why? How have groups related to each other? Some newspapers
have done extensive series on current-day relations between races and ethnic
Start a community arts project. That is, use the arts and media as ways
for people to express themsleves and their own cultural identities.
Community arts projects can take many forms: photo-text exhibits, video and
audio "speak outs," murals and other pieces of public art. In some
communities, short plays have been "discussion starters" for community
If there are ongoing tensions between groups in the community, leaders
from these groups can form an alliance to discuss ways of working together.
One example of this is in New York, where African-American and
Korean-American leaders formed the Black/Korean Mediation Project.
Teach young people about diversity by helping them learn about the art
that comes out of different traditions. For example, the Baltimore Learning
Network, run by community volunteers, coordinates projects that link the
schools to the city's cultural institutions.
Sponsor cultural outings for multicultural groups of students, where the
groups can visit sites that help them learn about each other's backgrounds.
Sponsor projects where community members from all backgrounds will have
opportunities to work together and break down patterns of segregation. For
example, organize park clean-ups in areas that are usually segregated.
Hold a film festival that highlights diversity issues. One example of this
took place in Glen Ridge, NJ, as a result of a study circle program on race
Encourage and support civic leaders who are out front on the issues of
diversity, who understand the importance of addressing them honestly and
with everyone's involvement.
Create a community leadership program that includes people from all groups
in the community, and that contains skills training in cross-cultural
dialogue, mediation, and cross-cultural problem solving.
Congregations from different faiths and backgrounds can hold joint
services, or work together on community problems.
Are any issues missing from the list? Add your own. Rank the top five for your community.
Take one of these issues, and describe the typical public debate
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?
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?
If we were to create our own "social contract" right now,
what would we include?
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.