Leading Across Difference

U.S. society is marked by profound injustice and inequity, shaped by a context of political and religious polarization as well as isolationism. EDS at Union believes that a key leadership skill in today’s polarized climate is the ability to lead conversations across differences on pressing social justice issues.

In partnership with Trinity Wall Street and their Trinity Leadership Development Grants, EDS at Union has edited clips from Dean Kelly Brown Douglas’s video series Just Conversations to build a curriculum called ‘Leading Across Difference.’ Through this curriculum, we hope to bring in the voices of faith leaders, activists, and community leaders who will help individuals and the wider church to gain an appreciation for finding common ground and developing strategies for speaking across differences to create change.

In each of the five study guides below, participants can view a series of video clips and consider the discussion questions provided.

Study Guide #1
Seeking Out, Listening To, and Telling Stories

We build trust by sharing, receiving, and taking care with one another’s stories.
Good conversations start with listening. For those of us who have been encouraged by the dominant culture to have something to say about nearly everything, listening is a discipline. For those of us whose stories have been left out of the common narrative, our challenge may lie in finding ways to amplify and illuminate the stories of the people and communities we love.

Seeking Out Stories with Darren Sands

Telling the Stories of Ordinary People Danté Stewart

Rebuilding Broken Trust with Tom Frieden

Stories That Humanize with David Giffen

Going Beyond Representation with Stacey Holman

Discussion Questions

  • How might storytelling be a way into the difficult conversations you want to have in your community?
  • Can you think of examples of when a personal or community story (yours or someone else’s) changed the course of a hard conversation?
  • What prompts might you use in asking people to share their stories?
  • What tools might you use to make sure that all the voices at the table are heard?
  • Keep in mind that sharing difficult and painful stories requires trust and intimacy.
  • No one wants to be known only for the broken or painful parts of their lives. Likewise, no one is “fine” or joyous all the time. All cultures and experiences include both joy and sorrow. How might you leave room for people to share both their joys and their sorrows?

Study Guide #2
Building Diverse Coalitions

Building and holding together diverse coalitions can be the most challenging and necessary piece of the hard work of making change.
Gaps in trust and inclusion can do serious damage to the transformative vision we seek to bring about. Real communities and real movements are messy experiments in balancing accountability and room for growth and even error.

Solidarity Across Lines of Privilege Bishop Elect Paula Clark

Holding Coalitions Together with Alicia Garza

Valuing a Wide Variety of Perspectives with Lonnie Bunch III

Accountability with Brittany Cooper

Bring Diverse Communities Together with Carolyn Foster

Discussion Questions

  • Identify a project or movement for social change that requires building a diverse coalition in order to be effective.
  • How do you hold space for diversity of identity, experience and opinion within the coalitions you are a part of?
  • Who is missing from your efforts?
  • How closely does the leadership of the coalition reflect the membership?
  • Who is at the table when decisions are made? What life experiences are represented? What experiences may not be?
  • How does diversity enrich the work that your coalition is trying to do?
  • How do you discern when it is time to compromise or step back from a strongly held position for the good of the overall effort?
  • What concrete practices build safety, trust and full participation in your coalition?
  • What obstacles remain?

Study Guide #3
Courage in the Face of Painful Realities

History shapes the present, and not all history is good or easy. Exploring the broken parts of our shared history is an essential element of building trust and committing to work together towards a more just future.
Recent years have witnessed both a flowering of efforts to confront the fullness of US history—particularly with regards to enslavement and anti-Blackness—and powerful backlashes against efforts to explore that history, such as The 1619 Project. Debates about Critical Race Theory often hinge not on the academic approach that coined the name, but on any effort to teach about the suffering and injustice faced by people of color in the history of the lands that are now the United States.

Critical Race Theory with Yvette Flunder

Rethinking Black Self-love Danté Stewart

The Full Telling of our Nation’s History with Lonnie Bunch III

The Unfinished Work of Equality and Justice with Julian Zelizer

Segregation by Design Richard Rothstein

Desmond Tutu and His Vision for Reconciliation with Darren Sands

Valuing Property Over Human Life with Sarah Monroe

Discussion Questions

  • How does your community approach painful history? Your family? Your church? Your denomination? Your culture?
  • In what ways are those approaches faithful to your values? In what ways might they need to change?
  • What specific histories need to be faced in your context?
  • What false stories need to be “untold” so that true stories can be told?
  • What are the risks of telling the truth? What are the risks of not telling?
  • How might you and your community contribute to the larger spirit of truth telling in our country?
  • What community building practices strengthen your community to face the pain and discomfort of facing painful truths?
  • How do you care for one another in ways that build courage?

Study Guide #4

When we face the realities of history and the ways that history feeds injustice in the present, it is clear that we are not starting from a clean slate. The history-rooted realities of the present create a breach: a wealth gap, disparate health outcomes, unevenly distributed grief and trauma and injustice. Reparations are about restoring that breach. The word “reparations” is highly charged in many US conversations.
One way to understand reparations might be as a bridge between the realities we live in and the better world we are able to imagine where love and justice and full participation are accessible to all people.

Another might be as redistribution of goods and benefits and privileges that have been unevenly distributed and as such have accumulated and multiplied in some communities over time, while other communities struggle to get by with an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.

Reparations with Bishop Yvette Flunder

Environmental Racism with Justin Pearson

Rebuilding Policing to Protect Black Lives with Gayle Fisher-Stewart

Ending Homelessness David Giffen

Diana Akiyama Being a First Asian American Woman Bishop

Discussion Questions

  • How do you understand reparations?
  • How do you talk about reparations with people who resist the word, but might be open to the concept?
  • What role do reparations play in your ministry?
  • In what way might reparations open the door to change that currently seems impossible?
  • What might efficacious reparations look like in your context?

Study Guide #5
The Moral Imaginary

One way to broach conversations across differences is to open up about what is possible, not just drill down on areas of disagreement. Hearing one another’s imaginations take flight—imagining just, peaceful, fruitful futures with room for all of us—allows us to hope together.

A More Just World with Sheena Wright

What a Just World Would Look Like with Brittany Cooper

Black Futures Lab with Alicia Garza

Discussion Questions

  • In hosting a conversation among people with differing political views and priorities, could you begin by imagining together: the good things you long for, not necessarily the things you would change or prohibit or do away with?
  • We can talk all day about the many things that are broken in our world, and that analysis is an important part of making change. But what would the world look like if it did work? If it were healed? If we were healed, as communities, as societies, as individuals?
  • Can you think of a time when shared hopes for a better world allowed you to have a constructive conversation about differing visions of how to get there?
  • Is there a “stuck conversation” or a “stuck relationship” in your life at this time that might benefit from a process of imagining a better world together?