Talking Circles on Race & Racism
The Talking Circles on Race and Racism are frank, facilitated dialogues that give people the opportunity for self-reflection, sharing experiences, and influencing each other’s perspectives and attitudes. MRC brings together 10-16 racially diverse participants over a five week period to discuss their personal experiences with racial identity, race issues and racism.
MRC started the Talking Circles in 2007 to address long-standing community tensions around race, as a way to engage people in open and honest dialogue with each other in a safe space and to begin the process of healing old racial wounds. From February 2007 to 2010, MRC has held twenty-five circles for over 300 participants, and the program continues to grow exponentially to this day. We are currently developing several “Round Two” Talking Circles for people who want to focus the conversation on another level of dealing with healing from racism. We also offer Talking Circles for specific groups like youth and for people of color and have a variety of specific Talking Circles for 2012.
We are always looking for individuals who would like to participate in a Circle. If you’d like to be on the waiting list, please contact Chibo Shinagawa, the Coordinator of Talking Circles at MRC.
To get a real sense of what people are getting out of the circles, please take the time to watch these two ten-minute videos where we interviewed past participants and facilitators on their experiences:
Each Talking Circle group meets for two hours per week for five weekly sessions, sometimes six depending on the level. We provide two facilitators per circle, and we strive to create a safe space for participants to engage fully and honestly by making sure the space is confidential, clean and private. MRC also provides refreshments and snacks. Every circle starts out with the group agreeing on how they will dialogue with each other, such as “speaking your truth,” “using ‘I’ statements,” and “confidentiality.”
Once the agreements are in place, the first session always starts out with the question: How do you identify racially and ethnically? Some of the discussion takes place in the large group, and other times the facilitators have the group break into pairs or triads. As the session progresses, some of the other discussion questions include: How do you know racism when you see it? How do you experience racism? How do you think racism has affected your life? How do you cope with the affects? Do you think you are responsible, in any way, for eliminating racism? What is an ally to you?
MRC worked closely with Laura Branca and Kirby Edmonds from Training for Change Associates to develop the format of the Talking Circles. The program is unique to our area and we have successfully trained thirty-eight facilitators to grow and sustain the program. This program also helps us live up to our mission which is, in part, “to create dialogue around diversity issues.”
Who We Serve
The Talking Circles serve a diverse range of people with different racial identities from urban, suburban and rural environments. Past participants of Talking Circles include: staff and faculty in the Ithaca City School District; Cornell University and Ithaca College college students and staff; local politicians at the city and county level; staff and faculty from Wells College; teachers, staff and board members from New Roots Charter School; City of Ithaca staff, including the Ithaca Police Department; and prison workers, social workers, youth workers and community members of all ages, races and economic backgrounds.
We strive to create a balance of white people and people of color in each circle, as well as taking into consideration gender and economic class in order to ensure that the discussion involves people with many different life experiences. For many of the participants, this program is the first time they spoke candidly on race issues with people of different races. Some groups have taken action, such as a group of Cornell students who compiled a list of campus diversity issues to give to campus administration. Other individuals have formed alliances and are working together on anti-racism projects throughout the community. All past participants are invited to join our discussion list serve. One notable result of the Talking Circles is that the United Against Hate campaign grew out of a discussion on the list serve.
For more information, or to participate in a Talking Circle and/or get on our waiting list, please contact Chibo Shinagawa, Diversity & Inclusion Special Projects Coordinator at (607) 272-2292 ext 191, or email lcs42 [at] cornell.edu