By: Mary Hubbard, Assistant Director, Peterborough Town Library
Talking about race respectfully and effectively is a daunting prospect. Last summer at the Peterborough Town Library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I had the opportunity to create a program called “Talking about Race: Staying Curious, Moving Forward and Being Part of the Solution,” which did just that. It was hugely successful and has been repeated at other libraries and community centers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It is a program that can easily be replicated at any library and I encourage you to consider it.
The structure is simple but effective. The most important element is the participation and support of local members of the African American community, who should be compensated for their involvement and time.
In Peterborough, we were very lucky to work with Grace Aldrich and Jim Guy who saw the potential of the program. With them, we crafted a two-part program, which moved participants through an introduction to the African American Experience, to exploration, and hopefully to action. The program was designed using a technique called Liberating Structures (LS). Using tiny shifts in the way groups relate to one another, LS can radically change the way that groups of people of any size interact and work together. (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/home)
The first evening was focused on learning about and understanding what is hidden in plain sight for a vast majority of us. Aldrich and Guy sat facing each other and openly discussed their experiences as African Americans living in our community. The second evening, scheduled a week later, allowed participants time to reflect on what they had learned. This evening was focused around an exercise called 15% Solutions.
Basically, it asks what you as an individual can do right now without more resources or authority than you currently have. It was important to all of us that we not end the program with a sense of powerlessness but rather encourage action.
We serve a community that in the 2010 census was 96% White/Caucasian. This program was very important to present to encourage discussion about race that might not otherwise happen. Not only was the response to this program extremely positive but it spawned a continuing book group dedicated to examining the ramifications of race in the United States. Other library communities have found similar success and so, the conversation begins.
If you would like detailed information about the program, please feel free to email me at Mhubbard@PeterboroughNH.gov.