3 Ways To Build Stronger Communities Through Civil Dialogue

Crowd of business people in huddle reaching for globe
Crowd of business people in huddle reaching for globe

When thinking of community-building, there is often one missing link: civil dialogue. Civil dialogue lays the foundation for fostering interconnectedness and building common ground. It also brings people together in order to strategize on how to make a difference while being intentional in leaving the world a better place than how they found it. In my interview on WCCO Radio News and Views with Roshini Rajkumar, I highlighted three practical ways for promoting civil dialogue by beginning with simply starting a conversation, embracing diversity and inclusion, and redefining leadership.

#1: Start a conversation

The purpose of civil dialogue is to bring people together to think, create, and build community. This is a requirement that does not get exhausted enough. We cannot see progress with our communities unless we start having intentional conversations with one another. This is about bridge-building and relationship-building.

During my 2007 trip to South Africa, I was introduced to a concept called "Ubuntu." Ubuntu is a simple but profound notion that a person is a person through others. It defines our shared humanity and common destiny. The very essence of Ubuntu challenges us to come together across difference and unknown barriers in order to lay the foundation for community-building.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as embracing "hospitality, caring about others, and being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. "My passion for justice is informed by the very essence of Ubuntu. Each day, I go the extra mile in the fight for education and criminal justice reform in order to better the lives of generations to come. What are you willing to go the extra mile for? How do you work in partnership with others who share the same passion to go the extra mile together?

When we come together, a certain level of hope for the future starts to develop amongst those participating that may have been void before. A perfect example of this is the Highlander Folk School, a place where leaders came together during the Civil Rights Movement in order to increase civic engagement. Myles Horton, founder of Highlander Folk School discussed why civil dialogue is important when he stated: "get the people together and trust solutions will arise from them." Highlander Folk School was also beneficial in teaching people the skills to needed to become leaders and change agents in their communities. Skills such as: reflective listening, coalition building, and strategic planning were developed. Highlander also created a public space where learning, cultural exchanges, and strategic partnerships could naturally flourish. As the people came together, they developed solutions for some of the most pressing social issues of the 20th Century related to ending de facto segregation, eradicating marginalization, and addressing oppression.

We can draw upon Ubuntu and the Highlander model today to foster relationships and build bridges across difference. These same type of relationships can be built anywhere and everywhere whether it be in professional associations, faith communities, schools, colleges, or any place where people gather. It begins by first looking introspectively and exploring questions like: Who am I? What are my values? What are my hopes for the future? What is in my hands to make a difference in the world?

The next steps is building relationships with others by exploring these questions together: Who are we as a society? What are our values? What are our hopes for the future? What can we build together?

#2: Embrace Diversity & Inclusion as Key Assets

Today, our cultural landscape is rapidly changing. A vibrant multicultural tapestry is being woven across the United States. By 2019, the majority of children nationwide are expected to be children of color. By 2050, the United States will no longer have an ethnic majority. For instance, my home state of Minnesota has one of the fastest growing populations in the Midwest. One of the contributing factors of this demographic shift is the increase in racial/ethnic diversity. These statistics show the importance of changing the cultural landscape and creating opportunities for social and economic growth. Economically, future growth and prosperity is dependent upon maximizing the talents of each individual. In Minnesota, $500 million of state and local tax revenue could be generated with an increase in work participation. This would include increasing the diversity of the local workforce. Socially, diversity is needed to bring together the brightest minds to create solutions to business, economic and social challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Studies show that diversity unlocks the key to innovation since it creates opportunities to create, build, and engage in a robust exchange of ideas. Within my role as a diversity professional and educator, I create learning opportunities for students to develop critical leadership skills by embracing diversity & inclusion as key assets.

#3: Redefine Leadership

Everyone can make a difference by building stronger communities. This is a call to leadership. Leadership in the 21st century must move beyond a title or position to exploring how everyday people can use their influence. I launched the Leadership for Social Justice Project as a call to action. I continue to challenge 10,000 leaders to join me in planting seeds of social change with hope of reaping a harvest of strong communities. For instance, a third grader made a commitment to help others in his classroom with their homework. While, a college student in Tanzania is leading change by promoting effective communication in the political process. A grandmother is planting seeds of social change by serving in community. These are just a few examples of the many ways people around the world are committed to leading change in their communities, no matter their title or position. The purpose of the project is to connect people around the globe with a common goal: to build better communities.

Civil dialogue provides us with opportunities to explore: What can we build together? Together we can build a world of possibilities. Together we can build strong communities and strong families. Together, we can build today for a brighter future.