Involving young people in dialogues and action groups

Carling Sitterley, a participant in the Many Voices – One Community program in Lynchburg, Va., talks about experiences that piqued her interest in racial equity and her ideas for involving young people in dialogues and action groups.

My name is Molly Barrett and I work at Everyday Democracy. For the past 3 years, we have worked with eight communities in the country on a project called Communities Creating Racial Equity. Lynchburg, Virginia is one of the eight communities. Carling Sitterley has agreed to talk with me about her experience as a participant in this project. Carling grew up in Lynchburg. She returned home after four years of college, just in time to take part in Many Voices One Community. She is currently a member of the communications and media action group. Carling, thanks for joining me. Before you took part in Many Voices One Community, what kinds of experiences did you have that piqued your interest in issues of racial equity?

While at was at the College of William and Mary, I was very active in many of the multi-cultural organizations and that’s when I really sort of got involved in racial issues and ever identity issues. I found out how important these issues were to my peers, so I knew that when I came back to Lynchburg, I really wanted to make a difference. I actually have a friend who had gotten involved and really excited about where her action group was heading. Her excitement and my background just got me really excited and I wanted to get involved. So I joined a study circle the next time it was offered.

Had you ever talked to people in that particular way about race?

I had actually. I had taken a couple of courses that touched on identity and background and racial equity. And I had talked to my friends and peers. I was even involved in a documentary to capture peoples’ experiences within the Asian community at William and Mary. So I had all those experiences that were kind of similar to this, but it was still interesting to see why people in Lynchburg itself were involved. It was kind of more diverse especially in age. So I felt I gained a lot of perspective from other people through that experience.

Was it a very different conversation to have with your peers than it was with a mixed age group?

I think it was, because the older generation actually went through the civil rights movement. I think that puts a spin on things regarding race. For me at least, it seemed so far in the past when the civil rights movement occurred and yet for some of the older generation, I think they hold onto those memories and that experience and that struggle very differently than people of my generation. It’s just kind of text book. It’s kind of like hear say. You don’t have an ownership of that experience, of that event. You just know it happened in the past, and today it seems like such different issues. But maybe to someone else it’s still the same struggle.

I’m curious why you chose to take part in the communications and media action group.

When I joined, I think what impact I wanted to make the most was to reach those that just aren’t aware that race is still an issue. I thought that through the media would be the best way to reach them. Now the media is a very encompassing term, and we have to do something that’s achievable for a group of five active members. Right now we’re trying to spread the word about the 2010 census. We’ve decided to partner with the census to get people in underrepresented communities counted.

What kinds of ways can people and communities get more young people like yourself involved in community affairs?

I sometimes ask myself that same question. How do I get more of my peers involved? I think going to them is really the best way, whether it’s going to the high schools, going to the colleges and just one-on-one conversations, getting the word out there.

Now having taken part in this project, what do you think is the key in connecting dialogue to change?

It’s a slow process, but you have to first determine the problem and then slowly chip away at finding the solution. I think our biggest road block today is once we’ve involved citizens in study circles getting them to at least go through the process of even thinking about what problems there are and the solution is to keep them involved. We’ve definitely had a hard time having the man power to tackle some of these problems. I think we just need to continue to stress that these are problems and they need people to make things happen. It’s not just gonna happen on its own. And just try to inspire as many people as we can to stay involved and prioritize these problems.

June 14, 2010

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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.