Our group was inspired by the Questions of Color interview series conducted by the Dallas Morning News after the killing of five police officers at the peaceful Black Lives Matter march in July 2016. The newspaper interviewed and videotaped diverse Dallas citizens while asking them the same seven questions. People of color and minorities consistently shared very different experiences and responses to the same questions and situations, highlighting the persistent racism in our country today.
The founding members of our group individually attended a community event at the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture where the Dallas Morning News presented their work and several individuals interviewed for the project shared their stories. In the Q&A that followed, many audience members shared personal stories of ongoing racism.
We convened our small, fledgling group of diverse women during the next year to see if we could grow in our understanding of one another and, in this small way, help our community to understand the role each of us plays in perpetuating racism and our power to change it.
We use fiction and non-fiction books about diverse American experiences as vehicles to generate conversation about difficult issues, create a safe space for asking important questions we are normally afraid to verbalize and mostly to increase understanding about racism and white privilege. Although we love reading, and books are our jumping-off point, our focus is relationship-building.
Although we are not affiliated with the Dallas Institute, we are indebted to them for helping us launch by sharing the mailing list of attendees at Questions of Color to give us our first start in reaching others interested in this journey. The Institute has also opened its doors to us on many occasions and its leadership generously shared both wisdom and advice.
Our group is completely member led with everyone serving as an active participant and volunteering for various roles. Twice a year, a small group of volunteers convenes to select our book choices for the next several months. We don’t vote — we thank them for doing it, trust their judgment and start reading. Every month, different volunteers bring snacks (food is a big deal at our meetings), lead the book discussion and share a related poem or reading.
No Answers Here
We’re more seekers and learners than we are authorities. We share and listen to personal experiences. We aren’t so much trying to change someone else’s opinions as we are trying to enlighten ourselves. We feel like the real value is in engaging with one another authentically, gaining genuine insights into the lived experience of others and recognizing our own biases. Seeing and owning our own racism, we feel, is the best way to start making a difference in our own lives and advocating for the systemic change that must happen in institutions across our country.
Because we use books as a vehicle to creating relationship (and not as a literary exercise per se), we often do things outside of book group just for fun. We go bowling (we stink), attend lectures together, go for a hike, meet for dinner and basically are up for anything that someone wants to suggest. As our relationships deepen, we also get together in smaller groups and ones and twos based on particular interests and new friendships.
Because we are about conversation and friendship, we feel it’s important to keep our group relatively small. Although we are not seeking to expand our membership, we are committed to serving as a resource and helping other groups get established. We are not experts, all we can share is what we’ve done so far and anything we’ve learned.
We are happy to share our reading lists (on the website), participation guidelines (below), agendas from all of our meetings and the icebreakers we do each time to keep things active and fun and to keep creating shared experiences.
Our members are also happy to chat with you on the phone, attend a local meeting and serve as a resource in any way that will help you get your own group up and running in your own way. Please reach out to us via email through our Contact tab.
We have also been inspired by The Civil Conversations Project and borrowed from them and other sources to create our Participation Guidelines.
Make attending meetings a priority and strive to come on time with the book completed.
Respect every participant as a valued contributor.
Listen actively and contribute wholeheartedly without monopolizing the conversation.
Respectfully challenge ideas (not people) by candidly sharing your personal experiences and perspective.
Strive for deeper understanding and new insights, not “right” answers.
Assume the best and cut one another some slack: if we say something tone deaf or insensitive, teach without reprimanding.
Hold one another’s personal stories within the group.
Practice the pause. If things get tense or emotional, breathe and reset.
Enjoy getting to know and learning from one another!