Courageous Conversations Invites Community to Stand in Another’s Shoes

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The second year of Barrington’s Courageous Conversations presented by Urban Consulate and Barrington’s White House opened with strong attendance and powerful messages from three guest speakers. More than 130 people participated in the September session via Zoom after being invited to contemplate “Standing in Another’s Shoes“. Community Church of Barrington Pastor, Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque along with Courageous Conversations’ Jessica Swoyer Green hosted interviews with Todd Deatherage of Washington D.C.-based Telos GroupTonika Johnson of Chicago’s Folded Map Project and Dr. Cynthia Armendariz-Maxwell, principal at District 220’s Sunny Hill Elementary School in Carpentersville. All three shared personal accounts of how standing in another’s shoes has helped them build bridges where they have been broken. They also shared actionable steps we can take in our own lives to better understand the lived experiences of others.

Though physical distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID have forced Courageous Conversations online from their original, in-person format at Barrington’s White House, the number of participants continues to grow. Increasing involvement and new voices are strengthening their call to create more inclusion and belonging in our communities. Virtual sessions are allowing more people to join the conversations from around the country, with upcoming sessions on Parenting for Inclusion (October), Becoming America (November) and Healing Our Communities (December) promising to build even more momentum in the months ahead.

September’s guest speakers offered their own personal accounts of building bridges between people who are divided – or maybe just disconnected. The examples they shared called us to consider barriers which exist between people in our own lives. They challenged us to consider how those barriers may be identified and removed to create more welcoming communities. Here are three of many valuable messages they shared…

1. Don’t Be Afraid to “Fold the Map”

The artist and photographer behind Chicago’s Folded Map™ Project, Tonika Johnson identified barriers impacting her life from a young age. When she was just 13, she began to see significant disparities between Chicago’s neighborhoods during the 15-mile commute between her home in the city’s Englewood neighborhood and her high school in a predominantly white community on the city’s North Side.

To highlight these differences, as an adult Tonika decided to ‘fold the map’ and compare matching street addresses just miles apart on north and south sides of the city. She began introducing two “address pairs” or residents who live at the corresponding addresses. She takes photographs and videos of the “address pairs” meeting and captures images of their homes and communities. Her work evolved into a first-of-its-kind, multi-media exhibition that illuminates how Chicago’s history of segregation impacts its neighborhoods. “When I started Folded Map™ I was assuming that people on the north side just didn’t care. I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. What was revealed to me through this project was that so many people truly care but don’t know how to help beyond volunteering. They don’t know how to build connections beyond the geographic and racial divide.”

Tonika also learned that experiencing discomfort is part of the process of breaking down barriers. “When you are listening to someone else’s lived experiences and you’ve maybe benefitted from this inequity that you are discussing, there is an emotional process that occurs. People get uncomfortable when they start to feel guilt or when they feel like they have consistently been the victim. It’s going to be difficult. You’re going to have to choose words carefully and think more and really listen.”

2. Step Out of Your Own Story

Telos Group co-founder, Todd Deatherage leads groups developing peacemaking skills through travel exchange experiences in cultures of conflict including Israel/Palestine and the U.S. South. Todd says, when trying to better understand conflict, sometimes stepping out of your own story allows you to see it more clearly. “Listening to another human and trying to understand, not listening to debate and argue, is the first step. It builds empathy. It humanizes the other person in making them feel heard and giving them a whole new sense of agency.”

Todd also says there is much to learn from observing peacemakers in action. “It is really transformative when you meet people who you’d think might be filled with a desire for revenge but, instead, are on a path toward reconciliation. They’re focused on working as agents to help both sides understand the other side’s story. When you get to know your enemy, that is the beginning of the end of conflict. Putting a human face on someone who is your enemy is the path to reconciliation.”

3. Identify Invisible Barriers

Sunny Hill Elementary School Principal, Dr. Cynthia Armendariz-Maxwell says her father set a powerful example for Standing in Another’s Shoes. “I remember when my father worked with with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the struggle for migrant Mexican farm workers’ access to dignity and a living wage.” Dr. Armendariz-Maxwell says throughout her entire childhood they never had grapes or lettuce in their home out of solidarity for those working to combat the exploitation of farm workers. “50 years later I still struggle with invisible barriers between people. I am committed to removing barriers and helping overcome barriers and take down barriers by working together toward equity in our community.”

As principal, Dr. Armendariz-Maxwell says she’s passionate about removing barriers to closing the achievement gap for her students and families at Barrington 220’s Sunny Hill Elementary School, the single district school with a majority student population of color and low income. “When we all put our minds and hearts together in purposeful, thought provoking conversation we will create new and powerful ways to build a more courageous community.”

If you missed September’s Courageous Conversation, here are the questions they posed during breakout sessions with attendees for your consideration.

  • Where are the invisible fences, walls, or barriers in your community?
  • Why are those barriers there? How did they come to be? Why do they remain?
  • Where is there the most diversity in your community? Think of a space or place where you are most likely to see a mix of people. Why do you think that is?
  • When you think about your community, who might feel like they don’t fully belong?
  • What are the levers that need adjusting (in organizations, institutions, spaces) so that everyone belongs?

They’ve also captured a video of the session for anyone who’d like to review or watch for the first time.

All are welcome to join the upcoming virtual sessions of Courageous Conversations from 7-9 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month. The topic for the next session coming up on Wednesday, October 14th is Parenting for Inclusion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020 – 7:00-9:00 PM (VIRTUAL)

How do we become racially & culturally conscious families? How can we best use our intergenerational voices to support inclusion and equity in our schools?Join Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque and Jessica Swoyer Green as they welcome special guest speakers Courtney E. Martin, author of The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream and The Examined Family, along with Grant Elliott, co-founder of Be The Change Barrington. There will be breakout dialogue to follow.

Click here to register.

Open to all age 15+ the Courageous Conversations are happening virtually and advance registration is required to receive the Zoom link. The price is $15 per person and they are making a limited number of free tickets available. (Email here to inquire.) Before the sessions be sure to watch this short orientation video.

In addition to Parenting for Inclusion (October), topics for the next sessions include Becoming America (November) and Healing Our Communities (December). Click here to reserve your spot today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020 – 7:00-9:00 PM (VIRTUAL)

We just had a presidential election. How do we reimagine our social contract and civic trust? Join Courageous Community for their monthly (virtual!) edition of Courageous Conversations hosted by Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque and Jessica Swoyer Green with special guest speaker Eric Liu, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen University which works to build a culture of powerful and responsible citizenship in the United States. He is also the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program where he started the Better Arguments Project. Liu is the author of several books, including Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility and Democracy, The True Patriot, The Gardens of Democracy, and You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. We welcome Eric from his home in Seattle, followed by breakout dialogue.

Click here to register today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020 – 7:00-9:00 PM (VIRTUAL)

This has been a time of great change, trauma and truth-telling, illuminating fractures in our civic life that require healing and repair. How do we practice that in community? Join Courageous Community for their monthly (virtual!) edition of Courageous Conversations hosted by Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque and Jessica Swoyer Green with special guest speaker Michael O’Bryan, founder and CEO of Humanature. O’Bryan is a practitioner and researcher in the fields of community development, organizational culture, and human wellbeing, with more than a decade working directly with resilient yet underserved populations, including veterans, adults in recovery, returning citizens, and families experiencing homelessness. We welcome Michael from his home in Philadelphia, followed by breakout dialogue.

Click here to register today.

The Courageous Conversations series is presented by Urban Consulate with Barrington’s White House and made possible by your ticket purchase plus generous support from Jessica & Dominic Green, Kim Duchossois, Sue & Rich Padula, Barrington Area Community Foundation, and BMO Wealth Management. To learn more, visit

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