(Photo by Flickr user Stephen Melkisethian, used under a Creative Commons license)
Race relations in America are at a disconcerting low in the U.S.’s recent history, and signs of improvement are all but absent. Those tensions, suppressed or otherwise, are being carried into the workplace.
One local group of consultants with social work backgrounds believes they have a viable solution to assuaging those tensions.
Originally a member-run network of trainers and facilitators called Philadelphia Trainers’ Collaborative, Blue Door Group is a training and consulting organization made up of four partners with experience in social work, community building and education.
They offer four primary services:
- Best practices education for trainers and facilitators.
- Customized training and professional development for organizations.
- Strategic planning consulting for organizations.
- Building productive dialogue sessions around social identity and diversity.
According to BDG partners Hillary Blecker and Susanna Gilbertson, diversity dialogue has, unsurprisingly, been a “big piece” of their recent work. By partnering with diversity trainers at Pyramid Consulting Services, BDG adopts a hybrid approach to their work.
“The whole idea behind this work is that we believe on a day-to-day level, we don’t often get to talk about how our racial identity and how racism in our society has an impact on all of us,” Blecker said. “We typically don’t talk about how our social identities on a deeper level really play out in our own lives in the way we interact with other people.”
It’s kind of like group therapy. The dialogue model embraces techniques that push participants to engage themselves and others authentically, revealing any kind of conflict that might exist in the room. But instead of moving away from conflict, which Blecker said happens frequently in diversity work, BDG’s goal is to acknowledge those fears and discover their origin in order to move past them.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll be friends with each other,” Blecker said. “But maybe we can trust each other because we’re telling our truths — even if they’re dirty and ugly. It’s a way to actually avoid violence.”
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"On a day-to-day level, we don’t often get to talk about how our racial identity and how racism in our society has an impact on all of us."
Blecker said BDG has done work with typically white volunteers working in communities of color, often experiencing white guilt. That white guilt can interfere with the quality of their volunteer work.
BDG also provides training and workshops on trauma — something Gilbertson said a large majority of the general population has been subjected to, either directly or indirectly.
“When we talk about the impact of trauma on learning, we’re talking about things like seeing violence when you were growing up or direct effects like childhood sexual abuse,” Gilbertson said, “But we’re also talking about racism, sexism and homophobia.”
A recent BDG trauma training session was for adjunct faculty at a local college, all of whom were sensing social trauma interfering with their students’ ability to learn. After the session, Gilbertson said, the impact of that training for 30-odd professors would ripple out to hundreds, if not thousands, of students experiencing trauma.
Gilbertson and Blecker said all of their services are carried by a common theme: engaging and interactive communication.
“All the work we do uses experiential learning and interactive activities to make sure we can really engage lots of diverse voices in whatever work we’re doing,” Gilbertson said.
If we want to improve race relations in America, we might consider starting on a local level by authentically engaging with one another.-30-
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