Speakers from the Multicultural Resource Center spoke at the March 18th meeting of Ithaca RotaryMRC is a community organization in Tompkins County that facilitates discussions and actions related to diversity and equity in our communities.

Audrey Cooper is the Director of MRC and the originator of the talking circles concept.  Liz Fields is the Talking Circles coordinator for MRC.  Today's speakers are Laurie Branca and Kirby Edmonds are the Managing Partners of Training For Change and work with MRC as facilitators for the talking circles.


Laurie spoke first, explaining to the club the origins of the talking circles and how they were developed.  She began by telling the Club about Audrey Cooper calling her to discuss Audrey's vision: A community-wide dialogue about race and racism.  The talking circles were started with a goal and some principles.  The goal was frank, detailed conversations about race.  The principles included inclusiveness, accessibility, comfort and intimacy.  By inclusiveness Audrey and Laurie meant that the circles had to include a spectrum of our society; multiple ages, races, socio-economic levels, political and business backgrounds.  Accessibility meant physically accessible, but also related to the location, including child care if necessary, in order to overcome income and educational barriers.  Comfort & intimacy was important so that participants could speak their own truth. 


After doing much research into the model on which to base the meetings, the MRC came up with their structure. The Talking Circles are dialogue circles, meaning that while optional readings may be handed out or suggested, the meeting is not structured around an assigned reading.  The meetings are held at a downtown location and are free to participants.  They offer childcare.  They are adamant that food be provided--for nutrition, but also for comfort and to provide fellowship.  The circles are approximately 10-15 people in size; making them manageable, rich in voices but intimate so that everyone has the opportunity to share.  The meetings were such a success that they started with a 3 week circle (one 2-hour meeting a week for 3 weeks) and now the circles are 5 weekly 2-hour sessions.


Kirby then spoke about what goes on in a circle and what we learn from them.  He began by saying one would expect people of color and white people to attend for different reasons and to learn different things.  White people come because they want to learn more about race issues and how race affects them. People of color attend because, while they talk amongst themselves about race issues, they very rarely speak to white people about the topic.  At these meetings, people learn that their perspectives on race and racism are really varied.  People define racism differently as well; and have very different experiences of race and racism.


The results of the circles are different as well:  White people come away realizing how much racism really affects them when they may have originally thought that racism only affects people of color.  For people of color the circles cause the conversations to change from "What do YOU have to do to make this go away" to "What can WE do to resolve some of these issues?"