This monthly column for the Newberry County Literacy Council normally addresses issues involving the activities and programs of the Council and general commentary on literacy, democracy, and citizenship.
This month we will expand our focus because of the horrible episodes of violence that have been plaguing the world, the nation, and our consciences.
Living in this small community we may feel we have little effect upon world and national events. But we certainly do have the ability to engage with issues at our community level.
In this time of divisions, we must acknowledge that yes, we are a community of people from different backgrounds, classes, racial and ethnic groups, and religious beliefs.
The question is – how important are these differences to us? They can be a source of strength and coherence or a cause of separation and strife. Do we treat people differently based on their race or religion? Do we consider some as “others”? Are we a community of “us” versus “them”, or do we consider all of us part of “we” – the community of Newberry? These are questions we need to answer.
I find it unfortunate when I hear people around me talk in terms of “them” and do so in a way which means they don’t consider “them” worthy of association or inclusion in activities and places where “we” go and “we” associate.
This creates silos and enclaves where we interact, dine, play, and pray within our own groupings. That, of course, is our choice. But there are consequences when our choices are made on the basis of categorical differences.
There is something lost when we don’t venture beyond our circles. We can learn from those who are not like us, we can develop a better understanding of others in direct interaction and conversation. We can move forward together only by acting together.
We can be thankful that the cruel and rigid barriers of class and race from the past have eased, when laws governed where some could choose to live and eat and work.
We have equality under the law now but what is in our hearts? Do we still have resentments based on racial or class membership? Do we avoid some situations and embrace others based on these differences? Do we desire to be inclusive or exclusive in our associations and friendships?
Some may think these questions are not important or even inflammatory but events around us belie such an opinion. Instances of racial violence, in our own state last year, and in events in cities around the country, seem a regular occurrence. Killing of black citizens by police, killing of police by black citizens. Clearly, race relations are tense.
Each community, whether there is evidence of racial strife or not, needs to consider ways to examine its environment and the state of community attitudes. Diversity is a fact of life. We can try to ignore it, we can try to avoid it, or we can try to deal honestly with it.
And on a very practical level, we know that attraction to violence and to violent organizations, whether terrorist or not, is high among people who feel left out, ignored, and separated from others. So, it is in all of our interests to nurture an environment of acceptance and tolerance.
Toward this end of promoting reconciliation of differences, the Newberry County Literacy Council will host a series of Brown Bag Dialogues this fall.
On Wednesdays, at noon, we will gather for open talk about our community. We will invite people from non-profits, government, business, law enforcement, schools, and other sectors to break bread together while exploring current conditions and issues around us.
Are we the kind of community we want to be? What can we do to move ahead? If this sounds interesting to you, contact the Literacy Council. We will more formally announce this program in a few weeks.
Please look also for announcements about fall programs at the Literacy Council. The FAST Program (Families and Schools Together) will be starting again in September as will our book club, The Weekly Readers.
And the People’s College will begin Sept. 12 with a course called Politics 102 – readings of historical documents about U.S. democracy (such as The Federalist Papers, Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, and Letter from a Birmingham Jail).
We will connect these documents to the 2016 presidential campaign. We had a great time in our spring Politics 101 course so join us for this new one or any of our other activities.
Until next time, happy reading!
Joseph McDonald is a retired sociology professor from Newberry College and has worked with the Newberry County Literacy Council for more than 20 years as a tutor and board member. The Literacy Council is located at 1121 Caldwell St. Visit newberryread.com, call 803-276-8086 or send an email to [email protected] for more information.