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'Big Conversation' gets a financial boost

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Big Conversation chair Diane Davies, left, Big Conversation committee member Hugh Davies and Community Mediation Center of Calvert County Executive Director Sheri Tardio are with their Maryland Humanities grant.

The Community Mediation Center of Calvert County will be hosting a conference on racism in September. That challenge recently got a bit easier after the Prince Frederick-based company was awarded a $1,200 grant.

The center received the grant from Maryland Humanities to host its Big Conversation on Dismantling Racism & Privilege: Many Wounds to Heal — Health Care Inequity.

“I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that we had gotten the grant,” said Sheri Tardio, the executive director of the Community Mediation Center of Calvert County. “I know how hard the team has been working on this, and the mediation center didn’t have any specific funding for this, so we were doing it, so to be acknowledged by receiving specific funding is fantastic. I am very thankful that everyone took the effort into writing this grant.”

The Big Conversation began in 2010 and is held annually at Middleham and St. Peter’s Parish in Lusby.

“It began because we saw a need for a venue for civil discourse on topics of interest that impacted the Maryland area,” said Diane Davies, the chair of the Big Conversation. “The first one had to do with immigration [because it was the] year of the Dream Act, and it was far more successful than we ever imagined it would be, and it evolved over the years.”

The Big Conversation on Dismantling Racism and Privilege will engage Southern Marylanders to connect people, policy, and history to illuminate structural racism and its impact.

“Over the years we were tackling many different areas [with the Big Conversation],” Davies said, “and we realized there was the elephant in the room and that was the fact that when you got down to the bottom of things it seemed to always revolve around racism,” Davies said. “At one of our sessions, we focused on just racism, and the underlying title was, “I didn’t know.” We spent six months to a year studying this topic before going public. And as the committee got into this [subject], we found ourselves saying, “I didn’t realize X had happened” or “I didn’t know that,” and so that’s how we started it.”

Expert panelists will offer data and information on the past and current discrepancies in health care, followed by an opportunity for diverse groups of people to both honestly and openly discuss racism.

“We also saw a real opportunity to partner with mediation centers to add a dimension to our big conversations that we didn’t have before, so we reached out to involve other organizations,” said Hugh Davies, a member of the Big Conversation committee.

“The mediators are key to the whole big conversation because it allows us to have people talk to each other and discuss issues [and] with leaders who are trained and know how to create an environment for people to trust each other,” Davies said. “And developing trust is the most important thing if you’re going to have people talk with each other instead of at each other.”

Dusty Rhoades, who is a mediator and trainer who represents the Community Mediation Center on the planning committee on the Big Conversation, said mediators are vital to the success of conversations.

“When we facilitate these conversations with 15 to 20 people, we bring the same skills we use in mediation all the time to help people listen to each other and hear each other,” he said. “And we get comments like, ‘You know, I’ve never spoken to an African American person before’ or “I didn’t know any white people cared about this.’ It’s just very heartfelt conversations where we ask people not to talk from a position but to share from their life experience so that we can better understand one another.”

The conversations encourage constructive, civil discourse while building relationships among community members and will bring a level of awareness to the community, which may not be present among all populations.

And this year’s conversation will focus on health care inequity. According to Rhoades, 46% of the COVID-19 cases in Calvert County are African Americans, though they only make up 29% of the population.

“A lot of the times we talk about racism, we think individual people may be racist,” Tardio said, “but this is more reflective of a system problem based on racism.”

“The real issue is that racism and white privilege really impacts every one of us in ways that are subtle, and especially as European white people we may not even realize,” Rhoades said. “It’s not that we’re all running around like KKK members. We’re in a society that’s been very structured to dispel the image of people of color and people of various ethnic societies in a lot of different ways. There’s implicit biases. It’s just everywhere. It’s not about a bunch of us feeling guilty, it’s about realizing the water we swim in and being able to see more clearly and to understand one another.”

Other grants went to the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society for its “Stories of Slavery, Songs of Freedom: Exploring the Experience of Slavery in Maryland,” the Deer Creek Chorale for “Celebrating the Gunpowder River in Poetry and Song” and Baltimore’s Writing Hearts, Inc.

for its project titled “Guiding Senior Citizens in Writing Stories that Impart Wisdom to Younger Generations.” Mini-grants provide support of up to $1,200 per recipient. Funding goes to nonprofit organizations that use literature, philosophy, history, and other disciplines to inspire Marylanders to embrace lifelong learning, exchange ideas openly, and enrich their communities. Grant criteria encourage free public programming in many forms.

Maryland Humanities will announce a round of major grant recipients — with support of up to $10,000 per recipient — this summer.

Maryland Humanities’ Grants Program is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Maryland Historical Trust in the Maryland Department of Planning, and the Maryland Department of Labor.

For more information about the Community Mediation Center of Calvert County, go to www.calvert-mediation.org/home or for more information on the Maryland Humanities Grant Program, go to www.mdhumanities.org/grants.

Twitter: @CalRecMICHAEL

Twitter: @CalRecMICHAEL

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