Race relations program starts with in-person intro meeting
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (August 21, 2020) — Common Ground: Lansing Edition launched Thursday, August 21, with most of the participants gathering in-person to meet their partners, introduce themselves to the group, and learn some best practices for their monthly meetings.
Common Ground is a program organized by the Lansing Human Relations Commission (HRC), which gave its final approval of the program on August 13. During the launch event, which was held in the Village courtroom, Melanie Jongsma, who first brought the idea for Common Ground before the HRC and has participated in a similar program at her church, walked participants through what is expected of them.
Program purpose and structure
During the meeting, the 44 participants were paired with their partners, some of whom were unable to be present at the meeting or were watching via a live video stream. Each person is paired with someone from a different ethnic background. Each month for the next year, program participants will schedule a time to meet with their partner and use questions sent by Jongsma to generate conversation and explore differences and similarities.
“The whole purpose of the program is to create a framework for these relationships to happen,” Jongsma told participants on Thursday. “Most of the program happens with you and your partner wherever you want to meet, whenever you want to meet. Those conversations are what Common Ground is all about.”
Jongsma laid out guidelines for participants to do the program well, including the importance of honesty, balancing when to listen and when to talk, and understanding that there isn’t a “wrong” and “right” to every difference. She also asked participants to remember that their partner’s attitudes and beliefs do not reflect those of their entire race.
After the program was explained, participants introduced themselves to the group and indicated the person with whom they were partnering. In addition to the individual pairings, a handful of couples were paired with other couples.
Jongsma used program participant Cam Sanchez’s name in an example of what the goal of the program is. “I think a lot of racism happens when you think of people as a group,” she said. “But when you are across the table from someone and you’re talking to Cam, and Cam is black and he’s saying things that are surprising to you, that’s how racism gets dismantled. It’s not ‘black people,’ it’s Cam. It’s all of us in this room, and I think by understanding each other, when you see things on the news—which are in broad strokes—you can see them through a different lens.”
Village Trustee Lionel Valencia, who is a participant in the program and oversaw its rollout as former HRC chairman, explained that Common Ground is a pilot program, and feedback from participants’ experiences this year will impact how the program unfolds in future years. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get more people to do this here in Lansing? It really would,” he said. “It’s something that hopefully, years from now, we’ll go ‘I remember when we started that program. We do it now all the time. We just do it continually in Lansing.’ That’s the goal. So, be proud of what you’re doing. I think this is an awesome program and I think you should be proud you’re a part of it.”
As the meeting ended, participants were encouraged to schedule their first meeting, which is supposed to be completed in August. One pair—Tiffany Wells and Missy Krygsheld—met immediately because they didn’t want the month to get away from them. They sat on a bench outside the police station and went through the Month 1 questions together.
A video of the launch event is available on the Lansing Journal’s Facebook page.
- Race relations program Common Ground nears launch (August 18, 2020)