Thoughts from County Native and Arlington Public Library Director, Diane Kresh
On a brisk and clear September night, men and women, bus drivers and ministers, activists and elected officials, County staff and residents, the young and not so young, gathered in Central Library Auditorium to do what Arlingtonians do best–engage with each about issues that matter. In this case, diversity. Through three lightening rounds of “civics speed-dating,” aided by a conversational process model called World Café (and yes, there was food courtesy of Rio Grande, Larry’s Cookies and others), 3 hours felt like 3 minutes as citizens (and some friends) of Arlington munched and mapped their way through conversations that were at once challenging, illuminating and good-natured. Guided by “Dialogue Etiquette,” Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (at least at one of my tables), table hosts who kept things moving, provocative ice breakers (“a favorite thing to do with your hands”) and food, we talked about borders and barriers–and not just the obvious ones–that keep Arlington from being open and inclusive as a community.
Why Diversity Dialogues? In “Bowling Alone,” Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam warned about the decline of community in America and how people don’t know their neighbors anymore. With an important election coming up, a financial crisis that is still cresting, struggles some of our neighbors are having with the concept of “other” in their communities, and the pace of life itself, there is plenty to talk about. So the Arlington County Board and the Diversity Dialogue Task Force decided to sponsor a series of community conversations with the goal of building connections among people of different cultures, ages, affinity groups, backgrounds, and perspectives and taking positive steps to meet our collective needs better.
If you missed it last night, don’t despair. There are two more Dialogues coming soon and those who were there last night were charged with bringing two more friends to one of the next sessions. So get ready, we’ll be coming for you.
Now the last thing anyone of us needs is yet another commitment: yet another night (or afternoon) out in the community, meeting, greeting, sharing, solving. But how can we afford not to attend? If we don’t, who will? If we don’t model for our young people the importance of knowing and supporting our neighbors, regardless of whether we know them or not, who will? Barriers come in all shapes and sizes and they don’t break down on their own. Think about a time in your own life when you were new, unknown, different and uncomfortable and remember what it felt like to be accepted, welcomed, and embraced. Pretty good, huh?
So in this Season of Inclusion, resolve to:
Make time to make a new friend.
Bring a covered dish to a new neighbor.
Open your heart and your mind.
And come to a diversity dialogue. If nothing else, it’s a cheap date–lots of interesting food (who can resist Larry’s Cookies?), lively conversation and fun with a room full of people you never met. You’ll be glad you came. I was.
Thursday, October 16, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Barrett Elementary School (4401 N. Henderson Road, Arlington 22203)
Sunday, October 26th 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Drew Model School (3500 S. 23rd Street, Arlington 22206)