This morning as I talked to my SC105 students who are part of the Tomorrow's Teachers Learning Community, we discussed the importance of trying to understand people's different perspectives. I mentioned the time I was talking to a friend who had a very negative opinion about people who were on welfare. I didn't share his opinion about people who used social services and thought he seemed cruel. He thought I was living in some kind of dream world. Then I realized our worlds were very different. He was a police officer and I am a teacher. He saw people who used or abused those services at their worst. I saw people at their best--- non-traditional students who were able to go back to school and keep their families fed and warm while they did it. These students would be able to give their children a better life and later pay into the same services they formerly utilized. I knew I had used energy assistance as a graduate student and I like to think I have returned on that investment as a taxpayer and as an educator. When he saw things my way and I saw things his way, we didn't necessarily agree, but we understood each other. There's power in conversation.
Last fall, Dr. Debbie Lee-DiStefano, Rev. Renita Green and I started meeting weekly for Community Conversations at Cup n Cork downtown in Cape Girardeau. We tried to bring the community together for these conversations because of an incident that showed us the damage that occurs when people don't understand each other's perspectives...and when those that do, remain silent. We wanted people to have the tools they needed to speak out, but the conversations were also an opportunity to hear the other side of the story, from everything to why displaying a sign that says "Back the Blue" could make a person of color feel uncomfortable about entering an establishment, to why representation in the media matters, to why we need to go beyond "pink and blue" when understanding gender identity. We would have a speaker who was an expert in the area being discussed present information, then break into table conversations. People didn't always agree with each other, but they listened to each other. They were brought together. People may not have changed their minds, but, in some way, they were changed.
This semester, we were asked to take the Conversations on the road. After regrouping at Cup n Cork in February, we were in Sikeston at Parengo Coffee in March. In April, we will be at the Starbucks in the University Center. Please join us at 6:30 on Tuesday, April 3. Lets talk about what brings us together and what tears us apart within the Southeast community and most importantly, lets listen to the people we are in community with.