Building bridges of understanding with new immigrants

People pledging allegiance with American flag

Frances, an African-American mother of a teenaged boy, moved to Syracuse a couple of years ago. She came from the Bronx to escape the violence, drugs, and street life that was poisoning her family.

She was concerned about the tensions that she found in her new community on Syracuse’s North Side, especially tensions between African-Americans and refugees from Africa. After learning about Community Wide Dialogue at a street festival, she joined the North Side dialogue to have a voice in making a better life for her family in their new community.

On the third night of the dialogue, Frances listened attentively to the stories of refugees from Burma, Sudan, and Somali. Haji, a Somali-Bantu man, told his story of leaving the refugee camp in Kenya where he had been for ten years. He explained that to exit the camp, he and his county men were required to demonstrate the traditional dance of the Somali-Bantu people, to authenticate that they were truly part of the tribe, and not just masquerading as such to get out of the camps. The dance has subtle, intricate steps and must be done with precision.

Frances was electrified, sat up in her seat, and, looking straight into Haji’s eyes, found the answers to the anger, frustration, and jealousy she sometimes felt towards African immigrants. “I don’t have a dance, “she said. “When MY ancestors were taken from Africa, it was taken from us. We don’t even know if we are Bantu, or Yoruba, or Ashanti.”

Haji reached across the circle, and took Frances’ hand. With a nod he said, “I hope you discover your dance.”

As the North Side Sustained Dialogue continues, we know it will continue to build these bridges of understanding, and create the kind of community in which we all want to raise our children.

April 8, 2009

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Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.