Healing the Heart of America: How to have safe and meaningful conversations (#82)

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Jean Latting
May 23, 2023
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A barrier to racial understanding is the fear of exposing oneself. What if we could find a safe place to have these uncomfortable conversations?

Highlights from this week’s interview

In this interview, Jean and colleagues discuss the outcome of a series of difficult conversations about race that were sponsored by Unity of Houston’s Healing the Heart of America program. The purpose of these deep and revealing conversations was to build trust, examine hard truths about the past and present, and share the lived experiences of those who participated.  

Congregants who participated in this recording about Safe and Meaningful Conversations include Rev. Karen Tudor (Associate Minister Unity of Houston), Cindy Wigglesworth, Diallo Kantambu, Alyce Coffey-Scott, Natasha Sylvester, and Jean Kantambu Latting.

Here are highlights of the discussion. Link to full transcript is at the bottom of these notes.

How do you even get started on these conversations?

Cindy (1:21): This was something that weighed on me after watching the re-emergence of White supremacy, my ignorance, and the glaring need to bite the bullet by having difficult conversations with Blacks. I was thrilled that Diallo offered to lead the group.

Diallo (4:08): I was a little hesitant at first [to serve as facilitator], but knew that if you really listen to people, you get to know them better.

Why did you choose Unity?

Rev. Karen (5:25): Unity as a movement is very progressive-minded and also very inclusive and looking at strengthening its ability to relate to diversity, inclusion, and all of the ways in which educating people and moving forward together socially as well as spiritually is just a part of our DNA. I was very lucky to return to my home church to find a group already engaged in these conversations.

Looking back at Day 1

Alyce (8:04): I wanted to share my experiences as a Black woman in America. The conversations helped people get more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Natasha (9:03): I was so optimistic that the church was taking on this activity. As an immigrant, I had idolized this country and needed to process all the turmoil. And people shared from their hearts.

Rev. Karen (10:22): I was grateful to see long-standing members of this church still engaged in the work throughout my 15-year absence. It was exciting for me to hear their stories. But I didn’t know what they were getting from it.

Cindy (11:35): My recollection is of profound gratitude that people were courageous enough to show up. Without them we could not have had a conversation.

How did you decide to conduct your facilitation?

Diallo (12:13): My mental model was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission out of South Africa. I needed to open up a safe place for people to speak without being attacked. Most interesting was learning how different the experiences were for Blacks and Whites growing up.

Was there a pivotal moment for you?

Alyce (14:26): To be open to share without judgment, for Blacks to really hear the Whites without shame or blame. For Whites to be open with their hearts.

Natasha (16:24): Listening to their stories, understanding their experience, and appreciate differences. When you really listen you can empathize.

Cindy (18:39): We were all surprised at how little the Whites knew, how we grew up privileged in these little bubbles, and realizing we had been lied to. Also realizing I had expected a single “Black perspective,” as if there could be only one.

Rev. Karen (20:46): I learned the generosity in the souls of the Blacks who kept at it year after year. I saw how they tried to protect me from my own anger at realizing I had been lied to, and how much I didn’t know.

Diallo (24:28): A lot of Blacks grow up keeping things to themselves. Blacks know more about Whites than Whites do about Blacks, partly because of the intimacy of working in White homes.

What was your takeaway?

Rev . Karen (26:39): The privilege of hearing stories from people I thought I knew. The rage from Black congregants about their treatment. Realizing how much the Whites did not know.

Alyce (28:39): It was an awesome experience.

Cindy (29:04): I have new and treasured friendships. I learned humility and better listening skills.

Jean (29:49): Seeing how many times Blacks said to Whites “you must have known.” And Whites saying “no, we didn’t know.”

Rev. Karen (31:37): I learned I had been trained not to see. I accepted pat answers to questions. I was trained not to see Blacks. Diallo’s calming presence made it easier to say things we were ashamed of.

Diallo (35:39): It was clear to me that people wanted to talk, they wanted to understand.

Cindy (36:32): I don’t want this just to be about educating Whites. I hope there was healing on the other side. And that I have made a commitment to antiracism.

Alyce (37:00): You should know I told Jean early on that I was tired of educating White folks. Now I’ve come to where it’s okay, I’m okay, and I’m willing.

Jean (38:40): We Blacks came in to tell our stories. Then we wanted to hear the Whites tell their stories.  To those of you who are listening to this, in case you haven't figured it out, it was a wonderful, great, life changing experience for all of us. So, I would like to say to all of you who showed up for this record of what we did, thanks for being here, thanks for sharing your memory of what happened. And to those of you who are listening, thanks for listening.

Healing the Heart of America website

Unity of Houston website

These are exciting and busy times at Leading Consciously. With these blog highlights, we begin our new schedule of publishing every other week. Let us know your thoughts.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Have you had safe – yet uncomfortable – conversations with someone of a different race?
  2. If yes, what made it possible for you to feel safe?
  3. If not, what barriers are you facing? What would you need to feel safe?

Leading Consciously concepts and skills
covered in this blog post:

  • Test negative assumptions
    • Move from the answer into the questions
    • Look for multiple points of view
    • Consciously test negative assumptions
    • Check to see if you are making cultural assumptions
  • Clear emotions
    • Identify with your values, not your emotions
    • Avoid emotional suppression

#BridgeDifferences  #UncomfortableConversations  #ListeningToLearn  #LearningToListen   #SafeConversations   #CanWeTalkAboutRace

Here is the link to the full transcript. We caution you that the transcript does not do the recording justice. The full import of what the congregants had to say must be experienced.

Download Transcript


The views and opinions expressed in this or other blog posts at www.leadingconsciously.com are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Leading Consciously. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

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