Talking about it: Two of Racine’s women-led groups plan to hold ‘Courageous Conversations About Race’ | Local News

RACINE — For many, talking about race is uncomfortable. People tend to avoid what makes them uncomfortable.

The Racine Women for Racial Justice doesn’t want it to be that way. The group has developed a program to remove the barriers to effective communication in order to allow a diverse group of women to talk about race.

The American Association of University Women Racine Branch thought that was such a good idea, the group decided to support it.



Scroggins-Powell

Kelly Scroggins-Powell, executive director of RWRJ, said Woman2Woman Courageous Conversations About Race is designed and implemented by women from Racine County for women in Racine County.

The organization presented the program twice in 2020 before the pandemic.

“We know that everything starts with communication,” Scroggins-Powell said. “And if we don’t get the communication portion of relationships, if we don’t take care of that, than everything else is going to be an uphill battle.”

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The next Woman2Woman Courageous Conversations About Race will take place on Saturday, June 4 from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. A virtual presentation will take place on Thursday, June 9 from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm

expansion

Kelly Scroggins-Powell, executive director of Racine Women for Racial Justice, said that in addition to the upcoming two events, the organization plans to make the program available to corporations and businesses as part of their training package.

To register for the June 4 event: eventbrite.com/e/woman-2-woman-courageous-conversations-about-race-tickets-332485141007

Getting AAUW involved

More than two years ago, members of the AAUW Racine Branch began expanding its program to include education on issues of racial justice and equity.



Margaret Tungseth

Tungseth

Margaret Tungseth, the previous president of the organization, formed a committee in 2020 to discuss what an organization such as AAUW — which has a majority white membership locally — could do to promote more racial equity.

“We decided, based on various advice, that first we had to change ourselves and understand racial differences,” she said.

They read books and discussed the issues. Tungseth sought out and attended training on issues of racial equity.

Additionally, AAUW Racine sought out local organizations to support that would be compatible with the mission of the AAUW, which is gender equity for women. It was through this process that AAUW found RWRJ.

“I was impressed with what they were doing,” Tungseth said. She added that she went to trainings offered by the RWRJ and also participated in book readings. “I just had a good feeling about the group, and I thought maybe we could do something to support them.”

Background

When RWRJ first began to organize in 2019, Scroggins-Powell said it was evident there was a communication problem between women of diverse backgrounds.

“Prior to 2020, prior to the George Floyd murder, conversations about race were extremely difficult and probably even more difficult than they are now,” she said.

This was evident on the RWRJ Facebook page, which began as a way for members to communicate.

Women in the group had many questions but it was sometimes difficult for women of color to answer those questions, in part because it required them to relive their own personal racialized trauma.

Additionally, conversations were sometimes contentious. White women had questions, she explained, but when black women attempted to answer the questions, they were often met with disagreement and contention; it often came from, according to Scroggins-Powell, white women not seeing themselves as having more privilege in American society than women of color.

Ultimately, white women shut down and black women felt unheard.

“As an organization, we realized we had to create space for women from diverse backgrounds, diverse lived experiences, and diverse socio-economic backgrounds to come together and do the difficult task of talking about one of the most difficult topics in history, especially American history,” she said.

Scroggins-Powell said the root of the problem is that the American people rarely want to discuss race.

According to a 2019 survey from Pew Research Center, 27% of black Americans say they talk about race “often” with friends and family; no other race answered “often” more than 15% of the time. Likewise, white Americans responded that they discuss race with family and friends “rarely” 38% of the time, the highest percentage among the races surveyed. Black Americans answered rarely 24% of the time, Hispanic Americans answered “rarely” 32% of the time and Asian Americans 29% of the time.

“We have denied there is a race issue. And, as a result, we continue to have racialized experiences that are true only to people of color,” she continued.

format

To eliminate the barriers that kept women from effectively talking to one another about race, RWRJ created Woman2Woman Courageous Conversations About Race.

The program began with about five women from the group who developed the program using techniques they learned from training, from books, and from research conducted by those studying issues of racial equity because the committee felt it was important the program be data driven.

Scroggins-Powell and others from RWRJ were trained at the Racial Equity Institute, which helped inform the program.

The conversations take place in facilitated small groups, in panel discussions, and through personal storytelling.

Scroggins-Powell said the program centers the voices of black women — without apology. She said one of the goals of the program is to “move people away from what they believe and what they think to what is real, what is true and what is factual.”

feedback

RWRJ has facilitated the Woman2Woman Courageous Conversations About Race twice before and the feedback has been pretty positive.

Participants were asked to rate the ease and comfort of engaging in conversations with women who did not necessarily look like them. White women rated their experience of engaging with women of color and vice versa.

“Our participants rated everything from the actual opening engagement activities that broke the ice and helped them to be comfortable, to the closing portion of event that gave participants real tools and real strategies to incorporate everything they learned in that session in their personal lives, their professional lives, in their faith, at their churches, and in the community,” Scroggins-Powell said.

On that scale, there were less than 1% who described the experience as uncomfortable and less than 1% felt the experience was not valuable to them, according to RWRJ.

“So 99% of women thought this was a very effective way to break down barriers, a very effective way to engage, and the level of comfort due to the format eased their discomfort and fears,” Scroggins-Powell said, adding that participants walked away with a greater understanding of the need to center the voices of women of color.

Additionally, participants walked away with tools and strategies for action they could take in order to make the community a bit more equitable, she added.

Work

Many white people are raised with the idea that they should not be racist, that they should not use the N-word, and they should perhaps have some diversity in their friend circle by including a person of color.

Scroggins-Powell said that is really not enough. The training RWRJ and other groups offer “really opens up a dialogue that helps white people examine all of their interactions with people of color and helps them to understand that we live in a racialized society.”

She continued and said through conversations people begin to see their communities in a different way and begin to understand that racism isn’t something far away or long ago, but is built into the systems and institutions of the community.

Tungseth added, “It’s clear white people have to do the work also. In fact, it’s our work to do, too, just as much as people of color.”

Here’s what Racine Public Library is going to look like after its $1.8M renovation this year

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations

A planned new entrance to the Racine Public Library from Lake Avenue is shown here.


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

2022 Racine Public Library renovations


Courtesy of the Racine Public Library, Product Architecture + Design

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