Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Initiatives of Change (IofChas launched a facilitator cohort, a community response team of facilitators, trainers and racial healing practitioners. This cohort is designed to support the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise in Richmond which was launched in 2017 to foster narrative change and relationship building to lay the groundwork for sustained racial equity.  


There is an increasing need and demand for community dialogue,” says Rob Corcoran, Strategic Advisor for Community Trustbuilding with IofCRichmond is facing some significant challenges as it works for racial equity and people realize the need for honest conversation, trust and healing of historical wounds as a basis for real community transformation.”  


The diverse 25-member team represents different professions, generations and socio-economic backgrounds. Most are graduates of the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship (CTF), a long running IofC training program which develops the capacity of community leaders from around the U.S. to become authentic trustbuilders capable of overcoming divisions of race, culture, economics and politics.  


Group facilitation has been described as a process of observation, interpretation, and intervention.  Hugh O’Doherty, who teaches on leadership at Harvards Kennedy School of Government, also leads facilitation training at CTF. He says the task of a facilitator is to be a non-anxious presence and to help the group to move from the comfort zone or status quo to the learning zone without falling into chaos and disequilibrium. This requires a range of skills and aptitudes.   


Ram Bhagat, a trainer skilled in trauma awareness and restorative justice practices, says, The CTF experience highlights the relationship between introspection and community engagement. Taking time for self-observation without judgement is a powerful lever for connecting with like-minded people as well as reaching out to people with opposing viewpoints, which enhances the ability to facilitate from the balcony or inside the crucible. 

Bhagat believes facilitators need to practice deep listening” that goes beyond the surface facts, taking into consideration feelings and underlying values. Yet, it goes even deeper into the heart where empathy resonates.” Bhagat continues, To do this effectively, a facilitator must recognize personal bias, triggers and expectations and then navigate away from these communication barriers without critical self-judgment, using open-ended questions, silence, and mindfulness to connect with the collective wisdom of the group.”    


Already the team has been at work, designing and facilitating workshops, healing circles and dialogues for a variety of organizations: Communities in School site coordinators; Thriving Cities which engages area residents to identify and address priority needs in the citys Southside; the Lewis Ginter Urban Gardener program that teaches how to grow healthy food as well as healthy relationships; Richmonds Office of Community Wealth Building; and the program staff at the Richmond Sheriffs Office. The team usually works in pairs that are diverse in race and gender.  


Osita Iroegbu, a community advocate and co-founder of the African Community Network, believes that effective communication skills and understanding that people communicate differently, both verbally and nonverbally is crucial.” According to Duron Chavis, an urban agricultural advocate and community engagement coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, a facilitator is a navigator to a destination that is only determined by the voices in the room. By encouraging those in the room to listen deeply and actively, the room charts the course toward shared goals and authentic relationships to be built along the way.” Charles Williams, who fosters dialogue at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, adds, For me I cant help but come back to self-awareness and being willing to share your own story.”  


Abigail Ballew, the TRHT Program Officer for Racial Healing, manages the facilitator cohort. She emphasizes the value of facilitators “being in tune with participants, but also being aware of ones own micro reactions to tension, conflict, and being in the hot seat.”  Ballew goes on to highlight that body language, eye movements and tone of voice are all things that can convey a range of responses from trust or offense to openness or hostility.  We need to know at what point we as facilitators are being triggered (annoyed, frustrated, impatient) and develop the ability to self-regulate. To pursue excellence in the practice of self-regulation often requires reflection and quiet time.”  


If you would like to know more about Initiatives of Changes dialogue and training curricula, or if you have a need for skilled facilitation for a community event in Richmond, VA, contact Abigail Ballew