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Greater Springfield Race and Faith Collaborative Kicks Off its Second Quarter

Patrick Mureithi
Patrick Mureithi is a leader of the Greater Springfield Race & Faith Collaborative's second quarter. Photo Courtesy of Patrick Mureithi (File Photo)

The second quarter of the year-long Greater Springfield Race & Faith Collaborative is underway. Community members gathered Saturday to help advance the conversation about race in Springfield. As KSMU’s Samantha Nichols reports, this quarter’s “tool-kit” offers resources for discussing race with friends and family.

“When were you first aware of race?” This question and others are included in the tool-kit, which also contains advice on how to talk about race, as well as a DVD containing interviews on the topic conducted by documentary filmmaker Patrick Mureithi. Mureithi is the artisan in residence at Drury University and conducted interviews with local citizens for the project.

 “You know, my hope was that viewers would relate to what the subjects were saying and they would be inspired to think about their own life experiences as well. And, it would be a conversation starter for friends and for family about issues of race and diversity,” said Mureithi.

Mureithi pointed out that these are complicated discussions that require participants to set boundaries and differentiate between what a person might say and who that person is. Because, what a person might say can be troubling. The toolkit offers different strategies to respond to offensive jokes or comments.

 “One of the suggestions in the toolkit is to respond with something totally random such as, ‘How about the Cardinals’ or ‘I always rinse my fruits and vegetables before eating,’ you know, something totally random that throws the person who is making the racist jokes kind of off base, all while keeping a calm tone,” said Mureithi.

The formation of the Collaborative was the response of community leaders after learning the results of two surveys regarding the city’s diversity and understanding of race. One survey revealed that, for cities of its size, Springfield is the second least diverse city in America.

Mark Struckhoff is a member of the Collaborative’s leadership team and a leader of the second quarter reveal.

 “The mission is to enhance and promote a deeper understanding of race and race relations in the Greater Springfield area and to educate and mobilize people to help build a fair and just community for all. So, that last word tells it all,” said Struckhoff.

The first quarter kicked off last August and focused on self-reflection. It included a Unity March to the Square in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” The second quarter brings the conversation to friends and families, and the third quarter will move into places of gathering such as places of worship and employment. The fourth quarter will bring the conversation into the rest of the community.

Struckhoff said that the Collaborative seeks to draw upon shared values in different faith communities to advance the discussion.

“By and large, the language of faith is going to invite us to really think about how we treat our neighbors. Essentially, all the major world religions have a focus on loving our neighbors as we love ourselves and treating one another as we would want to be treated,” said Struckhoff.

Struckhoff added that the Collaborative welcomes all individuals, whether they come from a community of faith or not, stressing that there is always common ground.

The Collaborative also Saturday revealed that the traveling exhibition, “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963,” will open July 12th and run through August 22nd at the Library Center. This opportunity, made possible by a grant application submitted by the Springfield-Greene County Library District, will coincide with the end of the fourth quarter for the Collaborative. Springfield is one of only fifty cities in the country to receive the exhibit.

Officials are confident that its efforts can make a difference throughout and beyond the local community. Mureithi noted the importance of advancing this discussion and understanding that promoting diversity does not mean that one has to agree with everyone else.

 “We don’t necessarily have to agree with everything the other is saying, we can take what we like and leave the rest, but we don’t need to throw away the baby with the bath water. And I know that, especially from the work that I’ve done, that division, this us and them mentality, is a very dangerous thing,” said Mureithi.

He added that people should not consider their differences, whether religious or racial, as barriers to dialogue. Drawing from the first toolkit, he suggested inviting someone who is different than you to a cultural event or a place of worship. The resources included in the second quarter tool kit will be available on the Greater Springfield Race & Faith Collaborative website.