FLINT, Michigan -- Four times this month, groups of Flint residents gathered to have “Courageous Conversations,” community dialogues facilitated by a local organization aimed at having constructive discussions about the negative impacts of racism on public health and quality of life.
The conversations were led by Community Roots, a community development organization committed to “authentic engagement and measurable change.” One of the sessions, called “The Vent,” was virtual and the other three were held socially distanced outdoors -- one at Logan Park, one at Dewey Park, and one at Whaley Park.
Sylvester Jones of Community Roots noted that the organization is run by four Flint natives who are all products of Flint Community Schools and have more than 100 years of combined professional experience working for organizations in the city of Flint.
“We want to engage the community in a process of how we get to a point where we can have radical change,” Jones said.
The Vent dialogues were facilitated by Community Roots members, with residents giving answers to questions about what an ideal Flint looks like, what policies that have embedded racism and inequity are a threat to that ideal vision, and how the conversations can be spread to include more voices. Community Roots wrote all of the responses from each session down, is compiling the information, and next steps will involve developing a common language to have broader conversations on the impact of racism.
“We want to come back out and have people return and help us develop a common language to have conversations across racial lines,” Jones told the audience at The Vent in Whaley Park. “The goal is conversations that aren’t charged or create division, but to understand how to communicate and co-create the kind of community we all want to have.”
The Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Fund provided an $8,000 grant to the United Way of Genesee County to support the community conversations. Isaiah Oliver, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, spoke at Whaley Park and discussed how structural inequities continue to impact minority communities.
“If you look at the data, Black and Brown people are dying and are exposed to COVID at a higher rate and are socially vulnerable in ways that others are not,” Oliver told the audience. “So we need to look at what we're going to do in this moment, but also in a post-COVID world to ensure that the systems that are meant to support people actually do it.”
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley spoke at all four of the community dialogues. He noted that this year, the city of Flint has declared racism a public health crisis and declared Juneteenth an official holiday.
“Having these dialogues empowers City Hall,” Neely said. “It gives me ideas to walk away from here with and go back to City Hall and say, ‘how do we implement these things?’”
Along with the Community Foundation and United Way, other sponsors of The Vent sessions were the University of Michigan-Flint Social Work Department, Brownell-Holmes Neighborhood Association, North Flint Neighborhood Action Council, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, Urban Transformation Development, Latinx Technology Center, Flint Neighborhoods United, Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association, and Asbury Community Development Corporation.
For more information about Courageous Conversations on Race, Racism, and Radical Change, contact Willie Smith, Jr. of Community Roots at (810) 221-3722 or [email protected].