On Saturday, January 19, 2013, over 100 people of all ages and races braved cold, icy conditions to come together in the Blacksburg Community Center with a very specific purpose: to talk about race, racism, and civil rights. While the resulting day’s events in no way achieved the larger civil rights goal of “justice rolling down like waters,” offered by Reverend Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech and imprinted in the black granite wall of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, those who gathered did bring understanding and hope to our community through the simplest of means–conversation.
The Dialogue on Race was the result of years of hard work, grassroots energy, and a long-term collaboration between The Community Group, the Human Relations Council (HRC) of Montgomery County, Virginia, and the Dialogue on Race steering committee.
The HRC, created in 1993 by the Board of Supervisors, and the Community Group, formed by the Reverend John Price and Penny Franklin in 2006, the first African-American to be elected to public office in Montgomery County, laid the foundation for this event. The Community Group’s goal in 2010 was to help unify the African-American community and encourage other black residents to run for public office. The HRC was created to address racial issues as they occurred in 1993 by the Board of Supervisors, and the Community Group. It was formed by the Reverend John Price and Penny Franklin (in 2006, the first African-American to be elected to public office in Montgomery County). But neither group’s focus was on bringing a diverse group of people together to talk. Thus the need for the third group: the Dialogue on Race steering Committee.
From 2010 until early 2012, a small steering committee—Penny Franklin, Andy Morikawa, Dave Britt, Ben Dixon, Jim Dubinsky, Ray Plaza, Wornie Reed, and Latanya Walker—worked to find a model that would accomplish the goal of bringing people together to talk about race and begin to address problems of inequality around education, pay, and employment opportunities. There were a number of false starts — one involving the Department of Justice. This group examined best practices, to include talking with a representive from the city of Lynchburg, where they were holding community conversations on the issue of race.
2011-2012 Four Community Conversations
Finally, the steering committee decided that action was needed, and they would have to find a solution without outside assistance. Between late 2011 and early 2012, with a plan in hand, the key first step in having a wider community dialogue occurred. Before any real work in the larger community could happen, the members of the African-American community in Montgomery County, VA had to talk to one another. In a series of four focus group type meetings between October 2011 and April 2012, a group of 22-25 African Americans met. In dialogues coordinated by the Steering Committee and facilitated by Dr. Wornie Reed, the participants developed a list of racial issues faced by blacks in Montgomery: (1) law enforcement, (2) education, (3) jobs and employment, (4) income gap, (5) white privilege and Jim Crow orientations, and (6) the limited presence of African Americans on boards and commissions. These issues formed the basis for the larger community’s dialogue.
Dr. Reed synthesized the data and brought it back to the rest of the steering committee. Then, between November 2012 and January 2013, the steering committee, often working on Friday evenings, planned the day’s events and began circulating invitations to elected officials, law enforcement officials, and interested citizens.
2013 First Dialogue on Race Summit
The first community event, a Dialogue on Race community summit, was designed to provide an environment that would enable those attending to discuss deeply held concerns, point out issues and problems, and work toward developing solutions. Several of the over 100 people in attendance who have been longtime county residents said, in effect, if they hadn’t seen the turnout themselves, they wouldn’t have believed such an event was possible.
The countywide discussion, aimed at improving race relations, was the result of years of hard work, “grassroots energy,” and long-term commitment of three groups: the Human Relations Council (HRC) of Montgomery County, the Community Group, and the Dialogue on Race steering committee. Most important was the formation of the issue groups designed to translate the positive energy of the day into action-oriented results.
2013 Second Dialogue on Race Event
On Saturday, June 22, 2013, the Dialogue on Race Issue Groups reconvened to follow-up on the progress achieved since the ground breaking Dialogue on Race Summit held at the beginning of the year. The event, Dialogue on Race: Projects Development, was held at the Blacksburg Community Center from 9:00 to 11:30 am.
Reports on Action Underway
The issue groups in Education, Law Enforcement, Jim Crow, Limited Presence, Employment & Income Gappresented progress reports and their plans going forward.
Special Participatory Performance
The Jim Crow group arranged for the cast of behind a stranger’s face to perform select scenes from the 2012 play. The play was created from New River Valley citizens’ stories of interracial (mis)understanding and dialogue. This participatory performance blended theatrical scenes with opportunities for story-sharing, interaction, and deliberation among audience members.
2014 Second Dialogue on Race Summit
On Saturday, January 25, 2014, over 125 people gathered for the second annual summit. We began with presentations from individuals who traveled to Ferguson, MO to gain an understanding of the protest and its consequences. Each issue group presented its progress, and we had a special report from the Law Enforcement group, led by Chief Mark Sisson. One of the wonderful parts of the summit was the performance by Monica and Marcia McIntyre. Watch a video of Monica and Marcia singing “It Soon Come.” Download a program.
2014 Dialogue on Race Summer Summit
The White Privilege group sponsored a picnic and a story-circle event to focus on the difficult conversations around the concept of “white privilege.” We were supported by Bob Leonard and Jon Catherwood-Ginn.
2015 Third Dialogue on Race Summit
2016 Fourth Dialogue on Race Summit
120 community members gathered for the Dialogue on Race 4th Annual Community Summit. Located at the Crosspointe Conference Center in Christiansburg VA, the summit featured progress reports from the five, ongoing issue groups, small group dialogue sessions, and a panel on the Confederate battle flag.
2016 Dialogue on Race Summer Summit
2017 Dialogue on Race Jim Crow/White Privilege Issue Group
2017 Dialogue on Race Summer Summit
Donate to support Dialogue on Race, The Community Group, the New Mountain Climbers endowment at the Community Foundation, or become a member of the New Mountain Climbers Giving Circle with just $100 per year!