Using community-driven solutions to address divisive racial issues

Lynchburg, Virgina

Download the handout

Woman speaking in front of Martin Luther King posterIn 2006, racial tensions rose among Lynchburg, Va., residents as a result of the death of Clarence Beard Jr., a black man who died in custody during a struggle with two white police officers. City leaders looked for a way to help residents grapple with issues of racism and racial equity in their increasingly diverse city. To make progress, they knew they needed to work together to address these racial tensions.

With the community's support, the city initiated the Community Dialogue on Race and Racism. To indicate their commitment to inclusion and systemic change, they renamed themselves "Many Voices - One Community" (MVOC). Their efforts have involved more than 2,000 people in dialogues, action forums, and task forces.

Participants gained a new understanding of how racism and racial equity affect them on a daily basis: “I think what struck me most was…all the different ways that we could evade the issue of racism and not want to acknowledge our own involvement,” one participant commented. “I think it unsettles us in a good way. I think it’s both terrifying and at the same time, welcoming.”

The new understanding and relationships that have formed continue to generate action. Action teams meet regularly to plan and implement ideas that emerge from the dialogue groups. Plans are in place to expand the program in the faith community, schools, and local businesses. Their efforts have led to:

  • Improved diversity training in the Lynchburg Police Department, the Criminal Justice Academy, and the City of Lynchburg.
  • Efforts to bring more diversity to the workforce at the police department, and in local businesses and on boards and commissions in the city.
  • The creation of a non-profit organization, Beacon of Hope, that provides support for all students to have access to resources in order to reduce the achievement gap.
  • A Racial Support Group to help resolve institutional racial conflict.
  • Citizen participation has become an established part of Lynchburg city government, used on issues ranging from policing to budgeting to planning.

With all of this, racial incidents and disparities have continued in the community. The leaders of MVOC know there is much work still to do.

So, in the fall of 2013, the dedicated MVOC organizers convened Lynchburg’s first Race, Poverty and Social Justice Conference. Plenaries and workshops provided participants with insights and tools for advancing justice in a variety of community arenas including policing, economic development, the arts and health care. In the conference opening, Everyday Democracy director Martha McCoy described a long-term vision of a just Lynchburg, noting “We need each other. We can’t do it alone. We can’t get to the beloved community by ourselves.”

Read more stories of communities addressing racial equity.


This story is formatted as a one-page printable handout! Use it to inspire community members at your next meeting, or share it with potential funders to show them what's possible.

Download the handout

August 28, 2013

Sign Up for Email Updates!Wasn't that inspiring? Sign up for more stories like this one

Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

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.