Troup County, Georgia, 67 miles southwest of Atlanta, has contracted Initiatives of Change through its Hope in the Cities program to train its residents to have ‘honest conversation’ and work together to build trust. The population of 69,469 is approximately 31.4% African American, 62.5% European American, 9.2% Hispanic and 3.7% Asian.
Led by two former state elected officials, one African American and the other European American, this effort began before the events in neighboring Charleston. The leaders are committed to enhancing relationships and building trust among the citizens and it seems the idea has taken hold. The first event was a one-and-a-half day training which led the participants through a series of activities and reflections and culminated in a face-to-face dialogue between an African American State police officer and a white mayor.
This event, sponsored and hosted by LaGrange College, brought together 30 leaders of LaGrange and Troup County. The president of the NAACP, three mayors, the chief of police, the president of the college, the president of the community action program and others participated.
In one activity, each shared what his or her own group, writ large, had done to contribute to lack of trust and segregation. The responses to these conversations opened up new avenues to building trust. “I never thought I’d ever hear a white person speak so honestly about what his own group has done,” said one African American participant. “I was surprised at how honest and clear our similar concerns were, and what I need to do to build trust,” said a European American.
Hope in the Cities will lead a total of 12 separate trustbuilding trainings for participants in the area over the next 18 months.