During the last four years when I started to work in support of public education and getting deeply engaged in the diverse communities in Jacksonville, I have heard many times people say “This is just another meeting, another conversation, but there are no concrete actions happening.”
Whenever I hear this statement, I can’t help but question it. Isn’t having a conversation already an action? Investing time to go a to a community meeting where issues are discussed is already an action, especially if we take into consideration our busy schedules. It is true that many community meetings don’t go beyond the complaining mode and that participants leave with the feeling that nothing was accomplished. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The critical element to make community conversations actionable are the questions we use to frame the dialogue.
At the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, we use a kitchen table conversation format that requires diverse voices being represented. We ask aspirational and provocative questions that prompt participants to create feasible solutions for the problems they identify in public education.
During our first series of ONE by ONE community conversations five years ago, close to 2,000 Jacksonville residents participated in 169 conversations to dream of a school system in which ALL children have access to high quality of public education. One of the direct results of those conversations was that three of the four priorities that Duval County Public Schools and their board included in their strategic plan came directly from the community.
Since then,we have kept the same kitchen table conversation model at all our meetings. And we have seen the model replicated by other organizations. For us, these conversations are the signature of our work: authentic listening to the diverse voices of our communities. This spring, we are embarking on a new series of community led conversations. These conversations are led by ONE by ONE Delegates (people who have been engaged with JPEF for a while and who participated in the 2016 ONE by ONE Convention).
I had the opportunity to participate in one of those conversations held by Martina Brisset, a teacher at Raines High School. Twelve people, including students of different high schools, teachers, parents and administrators engaged in a powerful conversation to dream again of what they expect to see in our local schools.
I left the conversation inspired and humbled, and recommitted to the belief that the best solutions for our social problems usually reside with those who are experiencing it.
I hope you will consider hosting a conversation this spring! And know that the conversation is the first, yet often most important, step in making change in our community.
If you are interested in hosting a community led conversation, please contact Joan Leslie at Joan@jaxpef.org or call her at (917) 455-5665.