Valentina Rojas, Arts Writing Editor
May 11, 2016

Around 70 residents of Brookline attended the “World Cafe” in the Schluntz Auditorium on May 4. The purpose of the event was to create a conversation about race-related issues in Brookline, and discuss what our responsibilities are to solve them. Participants included high school staff, town government members, parents and community members.

The 21st Century Fund in collaboration with the BHS PTO, Steps to Success, METCO, the Brookline Interactive Group and members of high school faculty presented the series “What’s the Big Idea” to kickstart conversations around race in the greater Brookline community. The World Cafe was the third part in their series.

In the World Cafe, tables were set up around the room with a packet at each table. Each page of the packet was headed by a driving question, and the rest of the page was blank. The attendees were divided into groups and given 10 minutes to discuss the question at each table before switching.

These groups then wrote down their main points of conversation on the blank page. John Lang, who hosted the Cafe, stressed the importance of respect and understanding. He said he did not want the conversations to lead to a debate, but rather to create a safe space where everyone could say what was on their mind.

“Listen,” Lang said. “We may hear things that don’t sit well with us. Despite other people’s different values, we have to agree to be our authentic selves. We have to give ourselves the opportunity to hear one another. Ask yourselves ‘Am I going to give myself the opportunity to learn something from someone that I didn’t know before.’ Give yourselves the opportunity to be challenged by other people’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions about us as individuals, and the systems in which we work and how these systems include people.”

The first question was, “Why is diversity and inclusiveness beneficial to a community?” Around the table, people agreed that communities are better and stronger with differing backgrounds. Sophomores Sophie Arnstein and Lena Harris said that knowing people from diverse backgrounds can help disprove stereotypes and break apart ‘single stories.’

“It’s really easy to be ignorant when you’re not forced to interact with people who are different,” Harris said.

The group also agreed that having a more diverse community increases compassion. Having more teachers of color in school, for example, could ensure that every student had a staff member whom they could relate to.

The second question was, “What are some challenges of having racially diverse and inclusive communities?”

The second group acknowledged  the challenge of creating a comfortable environment where people have permission to talk about more challenging race-related topics. One table member believed that it is easy to treat people as separate countries and it can be difficult to know how to approach someone. Group members also believed it can get exhausting to talk to someone in a way that both respects them and gets the point across, and that it is really easy to offend people.

The third question was, “What are the responsibilities of town residents to promote racial diversity and inclusion and to remove biases?”

Headmaster Deborah Holman said that people have to understand resolution can only be achieved through commitment. She said the most important thing is to continue holding events such as the World Cafe and continuing conversations on race, even if things do not always feel harmonious. There was also an agreement that the government can play a role in stimulating inclusiveness in the community and could do a lot more to create visibility and opportunities for engagement. Town residents also have to be informed and ask the right questions.

The fourth question was, “In what ways will you be involved to solve these responsibilities?”

The group agreed it was the responsibility of everyone in the community to bridge polarizations between groups and create inclusiveness. A group member said, “The problem with a highly educated community is that everyone thinks they know everything.”

At the end of the night when everyone came together to discuss the questions, the general consensus was that it was a very successful event, even though there weren’t too many differing opinions. Many also expressed hope for another World Cafe in the future.



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