Introduction Letter to Our CONNECT Toolkit
We recently undertook a small experiment.
In late 2016, we brought 15 people together to try something that was as simple as it was radical: talking about race with strangers.
We weren’t entirely new to this. Cheryl has devoted her life and career to social justice, including founding Minyan of Thinkers, a group that convenes young Jewish people around pressing issues within their community, grounding the discussion in the study of a scholarly text.
Lionel works in public policy communications and wrote and thought frequently about race during his time as a journalist.
Cheryl is a white, Jewish woman. Lionel is a black, Christian man. Between public discussions about police-involved shootings and stories from the presidential campaign, racism in America in 2016 seemed blunt and weaponized in a way we both knew only from history books. So when we asked ourselves if we could convene a diverse group to talk about race and grow with each other over an extended period of time, it wasn’t clear the answer would be yes.
But it worked.
We used the model Cheryl developed with Minyan of Thinkers and selected a text, "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide," a powerful analysis of anti-black racism by historian Carol Anderson. Then we put out a call for open-hearted and open-minded people in their twenties and thirties.
Our group met once a month at Sixth & I, a synagogue and community space in northwest Washington, DC. We learned facts, like the number of black Americans that fought for the Union during the Civil War (198,000) and the specific laws passed by Southern states to thwart implementation of Brown v. Board of Education. We learned about the public, grotesque violence inflicted on black bodies to maintain inequality. Then, we dug deep into our own well of experiences and shared stories of racism, discrimination, ignorance, and injustice. For many of us, this process was transformative.
We recorded what we did and learned, along with some reflections of our journey, to support our peers and fellow change agents leading their own convenings. We know many people are hungry for these kinds of conversations, and we want to share one approach to how to actually do it. Our recipe is simple — some books, good people, a space to talk, and a commitment to keeping one foot planted firmly in the truth of history as we struggle through the present. This toolkit will show you how.
CONNECT is a way to bring young people together to learn together and move towards a more just and equal society. And it's easily replicable. Thank you to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Sixth & I, Moishe House, and Revolve for making this first step possible.
— Lionel Foster and Cheryl Pruce, Co-founders, CONNECT: An Interracial Discussion on Race in America