Race Relations
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In early 2007, a Professional Dimensions luncheon speaker shared the results of the Public Policy Forum’s survey on race relations in the greater Milwaukee community and the critical need for honest dialogue about race as a key step in the area’s economic future. The speech generated a lively discussion and, at the end of the meeting, Gwen Jackson emphatically stated, "Until we start meeting in each other’s living rooms, we will never understand each other.” Energized by the program and Gwen’s comments, a small group of PD members, led by Mary Dowell, Pat Gorence and Gwen, came together to explore the issue of racism and how PD as an organization could take a leadership role in making a sustainable difference in our community. We began by openly sharing our personal views about racism as we established trust in one another. Dr. Kathie Kueht and Debra Crawford served as our facilitators.


Our group had one-on-one conversations with numerous African American women to obtain their insights, perspectives and ideas. We also reached out to several African-American women’s organizations as well. Based on these conversations and our personal reflections, we submitted a proposal to the PD Board in May 2008. Our purpose and goal was to create a productive, meaningful and action-oriented process for a diverse group of women to come together to connect, reflect, and take positive action to address the issue of racism and improve race relations in our community. The Race Relations Initiative – with its focus on Connection, Reflection and Action – was approved by the Board and became an important component of our commitment to diversity.


Dinnertime Dialogues, the Connections Summit and Conversation Circles are key components of the Initiative. Over 100 members and guests have attended one or both Dinnertime Dialogues. The Dialogues provide an opportunity for members and their guests to engage in table conversations, facilitated by table hosts, on the topic of racism and race. Based on comments, the idea of "white privilege” was a new and unsettling concept to some attendees. One person observed that "difficult, honest dialogue can be a catalyst for change” and that we need to these discussions with our own children and families. Tracey Sparrow and Laurel Nelson-Rowe each served as chair of a Dinnertime Dialogue.


The Connections Summit, co-chaired by Dr. Kathie Kueht and Margaret Henningsen, brought together over 125 women of different backgrounds, races and ages to explore what we hold in common, what keeps us apart and how we can work together as women to build a stronger, better community for all of us. Dr. Shakti Butler, a dynamic speaker and an internationally known author on racism, served as the facilitator at this day-long event. Her approach is to invite people to see themselves connected to each other and the world we live in.


The Re-connection Gathering provided an opportunity for participants in the Summit and in the Conversation Circles to reconnect by taking part in roundtable discussions on action issues and plans.


Conversation Circles are a mainstay of the Race Relations Initiative. A small group of women meet for five consecutive weeks in a person’s home or another comfortable, informal location for open, honest discussion on racism assisted by two facilitators. Paula Penebaker and Kathie Kueht developed the initial pilot program with the assistance of Martha Barry. To date, approximately 100 women have participated in the eight Conversation Circles that have been held.  


Participants in the Circles also have shared their stories:


"The P.D. Conversation Circle was a safe place to have real and rich discussions about race relations in Milwaukee. I will always feel a special connection to the women who participated in my Circled based on the journey we shared together.”  By Pat Gorence, 9/2012


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