Many different sides of the U.S. have manifested themselves in the wake of the Orlando shooting. There was solidarity with the victims families, LGBT, Latinx, and Muslim communities while there was new found resolve to attempt to pass gun control legislation. Now with the recent shootings of black men by the police and the sniper attack in Dallas during the BlackLivesMatter protest, unity is needed now more than ever. While many in the country pulled together to support the communities affected by the shooting, there we others in the U.S. who’s goal was to sow the seeds of division and hate. This is the opposite of what we need to do as a country and in our communities but creating diverse and inclusive communities is easier said than done.
Creating a diverse community or engaging in dialogue with other communities means extending a friendly hand and creating a space of inclusion where people can express themselves without fear of being judged. Part of this is creating inclusive language and dialogue that is not judgmental and where people are free to ask questions or to question. Think of it as creating an inviting atmosphere that is not judgmental. Another aspect of building bridges is reaching out to affected communities or to communities that have commonalities yet different. For instance a Christian community hosting a Muslim, Jewish, or Humanist community in doing social work. Another great way to reach out to a community it is to stand in solidarity with them when they are attacked. After the Orlando Shootings the Foundry United Methodist Church in DC hosted a solidarity event where the LGBTQ and Muslim communities were invited to engage in dialogue about the shooting.
Creating dialogue amongst various communities and using inclusive language serves many purposes. Creating inter-community dialogue helps to break down and overcome stereotypes while acquiring a deeper understanding of a community and their problems they face while creating new found friendships. Inclusive language also serves the same purpose as inter-community community dialogue while ensuring that the participants feel welcomed. By working towards inclusiveness and greater understanding you are also creating trust amongst members. When understanding occurs, trust occurs, and trust occurs, unity happens.
As I’ve mentioned earlier creating inter-community and inclusive dialogue is not easy. In fact it can be difficult. Very difficult. One not all communities will be receptive to an invitation to dialogue between two communities and they might not trust the community extending the invitation. Some communities distrust each other due to negative past history and existing tensions. Further people tend to socialize within like minded groups and don’t branch out easily. In the end social groups tend to build walls around themselves. The hard part is breaking down your own walls by creating creating space where others feel included by using inclusive language, dialogue, and reaching out to other groups. Starting the process can be hard but once you get the ball rolling it will become easier.
The easiest way to reach out to others is by using using your existing network of friends, colleagues, and other contacts might have met at events. To build this network attend events being hosted by other similar or non-similar groups that have similar goals in their work. You can look for events in your area on the internet, in your local news paper, community bulletin, your child’s school, or local and area colleges. Try going to a mosque or synagogue open house attend meeting with a local interfaith group or local cultural events. Also help work events with your community where you will come into contact with visitors. You never know who you’ll meet. I suggest using your network because it is easier to reach out to other communities if you know someone personally in the other community. Communities will be more willing to host events with you if you already know one of their members that can vouch for you and your community. If you don’t already have established contacts you can still reach out to leaders of other communities via phone or email and wait for their response. If they are interested ask if they would like to set up a time to meet with you to talk more about what you have in mind, what they want to get out of the event, and learn about each other and respective communities. If all goes well you will have an event and a new contact in your network.
This is how we start to break down walls and build bridges with the communities around us. Building bridges takes a while but slowly those bridges will start to benefit the communities they are by building trust, understanding, and unity. This will create an undivided community and hopefully and undivided country.