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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Sep. 5, 2019 2 weeks ago

Winter Garden workshop series spurs conversation about race

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An upcoming event will focus on how to discuss issues of race in family and private circles.
by: Hannah Swayze News Editor

An upcoming event will give residents a forum to have conversations around race and prejudice.

The Peace and Justice Institute of Valencia College and Oasis Church Winter Garden have partnered to provide a series of events to give locals a place and the tools to talk about these topics titled “RISE: Conversations on Race and Unity.” 

“We believe that everybody has the potential to be a peace and justice practitioner, and we’re raising them up,” Rachel Allen, director of the Peace and Justice Institute, said. “Really, the goal is to raise consciousness and shift consciousness.”

Since February, the two groups have been hosting workshops to discuss topics such as shared humanity, bias, race and privilege. At the events, participants assemble in groups to discuss their experiences regarding these topics in an open space. 

Allen said she has received positive feedback on all four of the previous workshops in Winter Garden. The ballroom always fills up each session, she said. People often linger 30 to 45 minutes after the discussion, as well.

“People are still talking, because it’s a meaningful evening,” Allen said. “It’s worth something, and it’s an investment in ourselves and each other and … is energizing.”

Rudy Darden, a professor at Valencia College and facilitator of the event, said it’s important to have conversations such as these because they already are happening in peoples’ everyday lives, but many have normalized those conversations to be passive and reactive instead of active and intentional. 

“You see … narratives — especially political narratives — around immigrants — coming across the border ... that’s a racial conversation,” Darden said. “We see conversations around the idea that ‘Muslims are terrorists.’ Well, that’s a racial conversation. The idea that black people or people of color in some way or another are dangerous and we need to readjust our criminal justice system. … These are more coded ways to say that race is involved, but we don’t actually make a space to unpack that in a way that’s productive and in a way that is, hopefully, unifying.”

Even though the series is being sponsored by Oasis Church Winter Garden, the workshops provided by the institute are not associated with any specific faith.

“We have had Muslims and Jews and atheists (and) people from various Christian denominations, which has been very good (and) very, very helpful to all of us to hear the diversity of voices,” Allen said.

The workshops are for anyone and everyone. Allen said everybody can benefit from these kinds of conversations, but they do prefer attendees be 14 to 15 years old at the youngest. 

The next installment in the workshop series will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Roper Co-op Ballroom. The event will focus on how to discuss issues of race in family and private circles, focusing on how society normalizes “whiteness” in both white families and families of color. 

“What we’re hoping to have a conversation about is, ‘What does whiteness look like in our lives?’” Darden said. “How have we made it something to ascribe to and then what can we do about that? Is that something that is beneficial for an interconnected and interdependent society? And is that something that we can do something about to build a more healthy society that can thrive and that can flourish?”

 

Hannah Swayze is the News Editor at the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer. She is former staff writer of the Johnson City Press in Johnson City, Tennessee. She is a graduate of East Tennessee State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in media...

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