Together Lexington, a new group of community leaders in Fayette County, has enlisted the Facilitation Center at Eastern Kentucky University to support Courageous Conversations, an effort to build trust and goodwill among all Lexington citizens.
The EKU Facilitation Center frequently aids groups in “creative problem-solving, funneling ideas into action, and conquering tough topics and challenges, and is highly respected and highly sought by regional, national and international organizations,” said Karen Russell, director of the center.
The series of 12 Courageous Conversations, which began in January and continues through April, focuses on topics such as race relations, gentrification, police/crime, drugs, housing and homelessness, and LGBT inclusion. According to Carla Blanton, project manager for Together Lexington, the group wants to “encourage meaningful discussion and awareness among all members of our community to get residents talking, thinking and listening to each other.” For dates, times and locations, visit togetherlexington.com/conversations.
The title for the series stems from a session members of Commerce Lexington attended at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (“Mother Emanuel”) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, site of a horrific mass shooting in 2015 that killed nine parishioners.
“That conversation highlighted that the entire Charleston community had demonstrated amazing compassion, forgiveness and love because of the spirit of its people and because the community had built a level of trust – trust that began by talking and listening,” Blanton said. “The participants on that trip to Charleston agreed that they wanted to invest in similar conversations in Lexington.”
“Selecting a facilitator for these conversations who could ensure that all segments of Lexington could come together, share and understand each other was a critical task,” Russell added.
Dr. Roger Cleveland, an associate professor in EKU’s College of Education, also serves as a co-facilitator for the sessions. A Lexington resident, Cleveland received the Individual Champion of Diversity Award from Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County last fall. The Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame member is widely sought for his expertise in such education-related areas as diversity, instructional equity, cultural competency, closing achievement gaps, learning styles, transforming school culture, and school improvement planning. In 2013, he received the P.G. Peeples Equity and Excellence Achievement Award from the Fayette County Equity Council for his work in improving local schools.
According to Blanton, the initial sessions and facilitation have been a tremendous success.
“Their expertise and advice have resulted in meaningful, honest and courageous discussions about difficult topics and how the community can move forward in a positive and productive way,” Blanton said.
In addition to providing facilitation services for meetings, the EKU Facilitation Center assists clients nationwide and throughout the University community with strategic planning, job analysis and various forms of training. The center has developed key relationships with state agencies, colleges and universities, as well as non-profit and for-profit businesses and organizations. For more information, visit www.facilitation.eku.edu.