Monday, October 9, 2017

A Brave Space not a Safe Space

Durham, NC, made news in August when a Confederate statue outside a courthouse was toppled and a sculpture of Robert E. Lee in Duke University chapel was damaged. Against the background of ongoing national debate about how to deal with the symbols of America’s racial history, Durham hosted a one-day workshop on September 29 to explore Richmond, Virginia’s experience of trustbuilding and community change. The Center for Reconciliation at Duke University Divinity School invited Rob Corcoran, author of Trustbuilding, and Rev. Tee Turner, director of reconciliation programs at Hope in the Cities, to lead the workshop for a group of students, staff, community activists, and members of Trinity Presbyterian Church which hosted the event.  Durham Cares  a local nonprofit that takes a holistic approach to partnering with communities to “cultivate a landscape for Christian Community Development,” co-sponsored the workshop.

The workshop focused on key principles of personal change, healing of historical wounds, and honest dialogue as essential components of an effective community change process. The group wrestled with the challenge of engaging all stakeholders, even those who appear to represent the problem.  “I realize that we can build networks of trust with different views but shared values,” said a participant. “I don’t want to build a team of people who think just like me.” The dialogue did not back away from difficult topics such as the need for each person – regardless of their background – to hold themselves, their communities and institutions accountable for change where it is needed. As one person put it, “We need brave space, not safe space!” 

The Center for Reconciliation aims to “inspire, form, and support leaders, communities, and congregations to live as change agents of reconciliation.” Among its programs, the Center takes students on “pilgrimages of hope” to experience the gospel at work in urban settings of poverty and violence. Several groups have visited Richmond to see the work of Hope in the Cities and to walk the historic Slave Trail. Among the workshop participants were Dr. Dan Struble, Associate Dean for External Relations at Duke Divinity School and Abi Riak, Director of Operations for the Center.   

One person wrote at the close of the workshop, “I was surprised by the amount of radical content.”  Another said, “There really is hope in the journey, and I can make a difference.”  Yet another wrote, “I was deeply moved. I learned the role of personal change and self-awareness in the process of healing, trust and change in the community. I plan to spend a quiet time daily.”