Sparking Dialogue Around Racism, Faith & Cultural Competency

By Suha Ahmad Alsyoufi

Finding the best language to help people talk about racism isn’t easy. How can we have a productive dialogue when words such as people of color, minorities, cultural groups, institutional racism or white privilege are words that can make us feel vulnerable?

Racism affects every community and every person’s quality of life. It shows up in inequities between groups and in tensions among people from different ethnic backgrounds. In order to have healthy communities and a strong country, we need to face racism head-on. In a democracy, there must be ways for everyone to have a voice in finding the solutions and in carrying them out. When it comes to facing issues of racism, this is a moment of transition in our country. This moment offers new challenges. It also provides new opportunities to make things better. The situation in Ferguson, MO is not just about Michael Brown.  It is about a nation of people that has endured more than they should.  It is about the institutionalized system that has been in need of change and that time has come.

I get to work with some of the country’s best and most leading activists.  I get to work with activists who address the school to prison pipeline, death penalty, women’s rights and leadership just to name a few of the issues. As assistant director of Education, Programs & Connections, I work to address some of these issues. With programs such as Hot Topics, we have been able to give people the opportunity to attend programs in a safe, non-judgmental environment, allowing people to ask questions that they may not have had the opportunity to ask. While this is a wonderful program, it plants the seed for future growth.  Diversity in Dialogue, which has been a corner stone program for Scarritt Bennett Center, is a dialogue to change program.  This is one of the tools that we can use to empower the community to organize and bring about effective change on the issues that matter most. An overview of the process includes engaging community leaders and planning for the dialogue sessions. Having community dialogues builds new relationships and trust, raises awareness, helps the community develop new ideas and create action ideas to follow up on. Following up on the action idea is crucial to change in order for the community trust to continue and for the community to be able to benefit from all of the hard work of organizing. Diversity in Dialogue helps all kinds of people take part in meaningful dialogue to examine gaps among racial and ethnic groups and create institutional and policy change. This is exactly what the greater Nashville community needs to address social issues such as gentrification, dessert food areas, educational gaps between African American students and white students.

Check out our calendar for opportunities for in depth workshops on Racism, Faith, and Cultural Competency in 2015.

Suha Ahmad-Alsyoufi

Suha Ahmad Alsyoufi is currently Assistant Director of Education, Programs, & Connections at Scarritt Bennett Center.  In her current position Suha is responsible for Diversity training for individuals and organizations, facilitator training, cultural sensitivity training, as well as other programs such as Hot Topics and World Harmony Interfaith Breakfast.  As a highly skilled trainer, she couldn’t have found a better place than Scarritt-Bennett Center whose mission statement is dedicated to the eradication of racism, the empowerment of women, and spiritual formation.