Upon reaching her new community on Syracuse’s North Side, she was concerned about the tensions that she found, especially 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.
The North Side Sustained Dialogue was developed by Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism for Syracuse’s Near Northside (near Butternut Street and the White Branch Library), where ethnic tensions are escalating, especially among middle school aged children and families. The Sustained Dialogue for Communities in Conflictual Relations, a successful program of the Kettering Foundation, serves as the primary guide for this program, as it has been successful in addressing ethnic tension in the U.S. and around the world.
Renate Dunsmore, of the White Branch Library noted that taunting and physical attacks were increasing between African-American and African (Somalian and Sudanese) children, and also between European-American, Burmese, and Southeast Asian children. The near Northside has historically been the entry point for immigrants and refugees from around the globe, and continues to be so. Both of the city’s refugee resettlement offices are located in this area, and many newly landed immigrants and refugees find their initial housing in this area of the city.
The library has become the “common turf” where these groups meet, and where some attacks have taken place. Recent studies show how bullying and victimization are widespread in middle schools and that about 75% of students have been bullied and/or victimized. Students who are physically different (i.e., in race, body size, clothing) are more likely to be victimized. A new wave of immigrants from Mynamar, Iraq, and Burundi are expected to further challenge this community’s resources and ability to tolerate differences. Ms. Dunsmore contacted Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism to assist her in addressing this tension.
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 year. 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 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. The dialogue group meets monthly, at the White Branch Library. If you would like more information, or would like to join the dialogue circle, please contact us at 449-3552 ext 119 or register via our website at www.interfaithworkscny.org.