Forming a More Connected Community - Stamford, CT

Elizabeth Joseph, Associate Director, Community Engagement - Ferguson Library and CT Civic Ambassador
July 23, 2019

Stamford is a city of contrasts and divergences. It is a city in which you will find picturesque New England coastal residences as well as day laborers on highway ramps running toward vehicles in an attempt to earn a day’s wage. Eminent domain, urban revitalization, new immigrants and modernization are changing the dynamics and social fabric of Stamford. It is in this landscape of disparities that we launched a seven session dialogue series titled “Facing Racism in Stamford.”

The preparation for the launch of the dialogue series took over a year.  During the year, a group of committed individuals met to discuss planning and promotion of the event.  The coalition gave itself a name – Stamford’s Everyday Democracy and created a mission:  Stamford’s Everyday Democracy works to address the racial inequities in the city.  We will achieve this through a series of dialogues to identify the inequities and build relationships among neighbors.  We will take actions that lead to shared power and resources that improve our community. Additionally, the group underwent the experiential sessions of the discussion guide to bring us closer and form a more connected community.

The goal of our seven session dialogue series is to gather members of our diverse community to dissect and discuss our ethnic and racial identities, evaluate our community institutions through the lens of race and equity and create change through grassroots efforts. The weekly dialogues are guided by the curriculum created by Everyday Democracy titled Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation. While the conversation on race and racism is the cornerstone of our community gatherings, we also nourish our participants with food and fellowship.  As a cooperative, we aspire to link a series of actions towards change. The first starts at the individual level and then moves towards a deeper and more authentic community engagement.  Finally, individuals direct and impact policy change at the institutional level. 

One of the most significant consequences of the series is the five thriving action teams that emerged from the three dialogue sessions.   The teams include a criminal justice group that has embarked on a mission to understand and facilitate bail bond reform in order to eventually dismantle the practice.  The housing team is investigating affordable housing and its lottery system with the goal of creating more equitable access opportunities.   The healing group is looking to enhance community cohesion through social get-togethers.  Other teams focused on education and data. 

With support from Everyday Democracy, the library recently hosted Action sustainability training to reinforce the work of our action teams.  These teams have formed meaningful relationships with the community, witnessed personal growth through new learning experiences and discovered their dormant leadership potential.

The coalition is now in talks with various partners to confirm its fourth dialogue series location this fall.   Our future locations include the Union Baptist Church, a historic and esteemed black church as well as a middle school located in a diverse neighborhood.

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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.