Austin discussions address diversity, inclusion
The Austin Human Rights Commission this month held what it hopes will be the first of many discussions involving diversity and creating an inclusive community.
The "Community Conversations" event in the Ruby Rupner Auditorium of the Jay C Hormel Nature Center addressed immigration and refugee populations in Austin and surrounding communities.
"It's just conversation, and we'll see where we go," Savita K said Thursday at the meeting. She was a guest moderator from the Diversity Council in Rochester, where she is the adult education program manager. "Today's conversation is a dialogue. There is no presentation."
Savita K did give attendees a few tools with which to aid in the discussions. Guidelines included avoiding critiquing others' experiences and not judging them, being honest and willing to share and using "I" statements. Each guideline was meant to set up an atmosphere of respect.
"Speak from your own experience," Savita K instructed. "Not what your friend thinks, not what your family thinks. From your own perspective, your own point of view."
After learning what distinguished immigrants, refugees, asylees and migrants from one another, the tables of discussion participants started their own conversations covering a range of topics, including messages and opinions in Austin about the immigrant community, stereotypes and what assets different people possess. Later, the room came together as a large group to share what they had discussed, which led to even more conversation.
"It's your burden," Peggy Keener said as advice to immigrants trying to fit in. She said she felt it was the job of immigrants and refugees to put themselves out into the community. "This generation of people have to do all the hard stuff. They have to break the ice."
Another member of Keener's small group, Solomon Paul, pointed out that it was the job of people like Keener and other citizens to be open to the new people coming into the community. One story their group had discussed was about how Paul had been stopped by a police officer in 2006.
"I was jogging," said Paul, who is originally from Sudan. "A lady was walking her dog. I ran by her twice, and she got scared. Her husband called 911."
Paul had to take the officer to his home two blocks away to prove his identification, and later went to the police station about the incident looking for an apology. He was told at that time "that's how Austin is." But now, Paul says he couldn't ever imagine that same incident taking place.
"The community is accepting now," he said, adding that the police force is a good one.
Savita K liked what she saw from Thursday's event.
"I'm very energized," she said. "Actually, I feel people are ready. They are ready to talk. It stayed very positive. They shared their voices."
The next Community Conversations is tentatively scheduled for the third week of September, and the topic will be about neighbors.