Local Color Midterm:
Progress report

Our self-evaluation of Local Color

“We shall learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools. The choice is ours: chaos or community.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

We are pleased to report our progress on the Local Color project to date. We are very excited about being able to do this work at such a critical time in our country – it couldn’t possibly be more important than at this time.

Public launch event

The public launch event was held following a year’s work of building and gathering a carefully selected group of ideologically and demographically diverse local residents who we believed could form the basis of a community capacity to gather in the face of racial tension. There was a packed house of 140 citizens in attendance. Attendees stayed after the event, deep in groups of conversation for another hour or more.

The number of times I heard white people say, “I didn’t know/ I never thought about that/ I never realized…” in a context where I had agreed (by my very attendance) to listen for learning and Presume Good Intentions moved me from a place of righteous impatience to appreciating just how necessary, how overdue, how perfectly timely Gatherings Like This Are. – An attendee

Here were the results of our pre and post event attitude assessments, conducted by Dr. Ravi Iyer of Civil Politics: “As a trend, people after the event were more likely to think both liberals and conservatives were good people, were less likely to yell at others, less likely to stereotype conservatives as racist or liberals as lazy, more likely to be friends with conservatives, more likely to speak out against hate, more likely to tell others about events, felt more in common with people both of the same and other ethnic group, and felt more comfort with people similar and different than themselves.

Catalyst events

Catalyst event #1: We’ve held 4 official gatherings with our Local Color catalysts in 2017 (2 scheduled, 2 “pop-ups”, 1 was cancelled due to a hurricane), with attendance of approximately 35-45 at each event (in line with what we expected). The purpose of the first catalyst gathering was to allow catalysts to get acquainted with each other and to learn more about the Local Color initiative and our ask of them. The focus of the evening was an interactive musical performance by Motown recording artist Royce Lovett with a mix of his music and dialogue on race relations. We provided food and drinks, and the opportunity for attendees to interact with each other, with Royce and with our project team. At the conclusion of the evening, attendees were invited to sign up for any of the following opportunities as well:
• Host a Jefferson Dinner
• Have Lunch Across the Aisle
• Host a Book Club on Race
• Read “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, a great book on human nature that explains a lot (borrow one from our lending library)
Host a Living Room Concert with Royce Lovett
• Host a Race to the Movies night – see a few past movie ideas by clicking on “race series” here.

There have been 5 Living Room Concerts, 5 Jefferson Dinners and a Book Club hosted by catalysts, and more are in the works. In addition, we partnered with Leadership Tallahassee on their Arts After Dark program at the Old Willis Dairy and included Royce Lovett and Brad Johnson for a Local Color discussion.

Catalyst event #2: The purpose of the second catalyst gathering was to dive deeper into discussion, allowing catalysts to share their own personal experiences with race as it relates to the project. The project team opened with a presentation on how the Local Color project connects with Tallahassee’s local history regarding segregation and the civil rights movement. There was a diverse cross-section of people in the room, leading to a discussion that was very real, meaningful, and even difficult at times. Once again, attendees were provided with food and drinks to maintain the social element that’s important to building camaraderie among the group. And catalysts were again encouraged to sign up for any of the above opportunities (we saw new faces who weren’t able to attend the first gathering).
Then the tragedy in Charlottesville happened. We hosted an impromptu, last-minute catalyst gathering to discuss reactions, actions needed in our community, etc. This gave us an opportunity to practice the format of these gatherings. Turnout was lower than for previous catalyst gatherings, but that was expected given the single day’s notice. Once we broadly draw the community into this effort, we still expect modest crowds as people will naturally move in and out of engagement on an ongoing basis.

Public launch strategies

The public launch event for Local Color was held on September 26 at the Junction at Monroe – a cool entertainment venue on the south side of town at the edge of the trending urban core. We believe setting the kind of mood that this venue offers was a key deliverable for the project. The conversation was on the topic of “Statues” which has been actively and contentiously in America’s public dialogue, especially since the tragedy in Charlottesville. Our panelists/facilitators were all Millennials given the purpose of Local Color – ranging from the culturally cool Village Square board member who is 36-year-old who co-facilitated to the 21-year-old Muslim college senior.

We identified a Public Launch Host Committee among the catalysts to engage them in spreading the word about the launch and helping to ensure a diverse and large crowd.

The following is a list of some of our promotional efforts related to the launch:
• PSA by Royce Lovett on all local Cumulus radio stations. Listen here.
• PSA about the project by Brad Johnson on the same stations
• Television interview at WCTV.
• Performance by Royce Lovett to promote project at Downtown Getdown – a 20-year Tallahassee tradition when Adams Street in the heart of downtown turns into a huge community pep rally each Friday night before FSU’s and FAMU’s home football games
• Production of four short videos of catalysts talking about why this project is important to our community here. (note, they are the most recent 5 videos)
Find photos of the event here.
Find the event webpage here.
Original Local Color catalyst invitation here.
Local Color catalyst network link here.

Evaluation of results

The Village Square partnered with Civil Politics to create a broad assessment tool to measure pre and post attitudes among participants at this event. Find this tool online here.

Civil Politics uses a rheostat type “slider” assessment tool with which it’s hard to fake socially acceptable responses, so we hope we’re approximating real opinion as closely as possible. Participants are surveyed both immediately before the event and immediately after the event – IP addresses are matched in order to be able to compare any attitude shift in each individual participant (anonymously) so that the results are scientifically significant. We have worked with Civil Politics using these surveys for years – our biggest challenge is that the response rate that allows us to match both pre and post responses is low.

Additionally, a participant feedback survey was conducted after the event. We received 28 responses of the estimated 140 in attendance (attendance exceeded our goal and 28 represents a typical response rate for us). Two responses were completed by people not in attendance – one of whom has been hostile to our organization (it’s an indication of just how difficult conducting conversations on race is). The full report is attached, with specific results highlighted below. 12 respondents rated the program “very good,” 8 “excellent,” 4 “good” and 2 “not so good” (one was the critic who didn’t attend).

Reflections

We are delighted with the progress we’ve made through the Local Color project to date toward having an ongoing, authentic, dynamic and diverse group of neighbors able to converse constructively about race. Our experiences have confirmed the painstaking process we’ve undertaken in assembling this group and we believe we have the makings of a national model that can be used in other communities to make real progress in addressing racial tension.

We achieved the results we were looking for in terms of a solid group of engaged catalysts who ultimately provided the civic glue to be able to have an authentic conversation on race in a large demographically and ideologically diverse group of the public – we believe this kind of gathering is a critical way to make racial progress in America, one that is rarely undertaken.

It was a bit harder to keep the full group of catalysts engaged than we might have hoped – of the 75 of so who agreed to be catalysts about 40 are really engaged (they are busy people, we do think as the crisis pop-ups occur and the buzz continues we’ll be pulling catalysts we back in as they see what we were only imagining when we invited them). We did achieve a true solidly connected core of people whose presence made all the difference in the public forum, and now that we’ve expanded that core to a larger group of people, we are confident that – as we continue to engage catalysts in regular informal private gatherings – we have achieved the hardest part of our hard-to-achieve goal.

One uncontrollable setback we faced is that we had negotiated a Royce Lovett concert to promote Local Color at a Downtown Getdown ahead of our launch (a community tradition hosted before FSU home football games) for free ($2K in-kind), which was cancelled because of a hurricane. (Royce is a local Motown Gospel who signed onto Local Color early on, performed at the first event and at 5 catalyst-led “Living Room Concerts” promoting Local Color since.)

We were fully aware the biggest challenge to the Local Color project would be to keep the diverse groups engaged. For people of color, the topic is intensely personal and emotional, so many are reticent, guarded and sensitive. Conservatives are a particularly challenging group to get and keep engaged for a variety of reasons that we’ve fully discussed here. The critical aspect of doing so will be – whether conservative attendance numbers are high or low – to hold a space for them. Many earnest race efforts get tripped up because the people who show up are all liberal, causing the whole project to naturally shift in the direction of the audience. We both anticipated and did see some of this problem at our launch. The panelists – the majority of whom were privately in support of leaving most statues in place (with various nuanced and well informed views on that) seemed to have been perceived by many in the audience as all supporting removal of confederate statues – we see that as demonstration of the shift, both as our panel related to each other and to the audience.

In the words of participants

Here are a few key items of feedback on the project:

It exceeded my expectations. Was surprised and so happy that there was such a diverse crowd. The table next to me had 4 young people, 3 women and 1 guy, 2 blacks and 2 whites. When it was over they asked me if I would join them to talk some and we did. We ended up with an email list and one person is going to initiate emailing the 5 of us so that we can meet and share more. As I was leaving, I stopped by another table to speak to people I didn’t know and was invited to join their women’s group that meets; it is also a mixed race group.

As a white male, I walked away with a new understanding of the hurt and pain our country has caused for our black friends, family, and neighbors. I have a long way to go, but I am equipped with more empathy and compassion that I didn’t necessarily have before to play my role in creating a more perfect union that embodies equality for all.

The morning of the event, I was inviting friends. Because we’d been asked to invite people we knew to have different perspectives than our own, I decided to invite my cousin. I had stopped speaking to her because I knew our views to be starkly different on issues I considered to be core values. The air was always headed, no one was changing their minds, so I just avoided the controversy and anger. Just through the act of explaining the concept to her – that we weren’t supposed to agree, but re-learn how to have a conversation, to disagree yet still respect – I felt my heart open. I ended the message with, “I love you! Hope to talk to you soon!” The desire to have her in my life returned. She hasn’t responded, but I have changed. All this at least 8hrs before the event even started.

I met strangers who became friends and we are going to continue to meet about this topic.

In addition to previous feedback from me, I want to add that a friend who also attended told me that she had a black women approach her to tell her that she didn’t have any white friends in her circle. Several of us lamented that lack within our own groups and hope to correct it.

Loved the questions and the panelists.

The format was thoughtful. The panel was stellar.

I liked that you set the groundwork for humor, which is such a great way to build cohesion to be able to hold the tension when it comes up. I also liked that you allowed for so much audience participation.

Challenges and adaptations/iterations ahead for the project

With the observation that feedback for events like this is always incredibly contradictory (parking great, parking terrible; audience mostly white, audience incredibly diverse; panel too liberal, panel not liberal enough), here are some comments we think represent key challenges ahead to navigate as we proceed:

Challenge 1: This project is a Rorschach test trying to combine groups of people with highly different lived experiences, from feuding political tribes and possessing different moral compasses – and we are navigating real and deep anger.

I appreciate that the organizers want to be welcoming of all viewpoints, however a concern I have is that often with these topics one side is overtly racist. We cannot be welcoming and accepting of that and I think we should push back on that always.

A far more diverse panel of speakers was needed. We basically just heard the opinions of black Millenials.

I would just be more mindful and also be aware of the identities of your panelists. As a POC, I was disappointed to not see anyone that held my personal identities on the stage beyond non-Black and White identities or able bodied status.. LGBTQ+.

Challenge 2: Conservatives are hard to draw in and harder to hold onto. How we deal with this has and will continue to be a central and unique aspect of this project. More liberal attendees will press for things likely to hurt conservative participation, which we’ll continue to have to resist (for example that we police how things are said, or that political civil rights actions be pursued). We were encouraged by the number of people who indicated concern for insuring that conservative views be expressed (see the full survey) – this is a good sign that the culture we wanted to build within this group is taking hold.

For example, from a liberal attendee: The whole experience seemed to be basically preaching to the choir. I never met nor heard from anyone who appeared to be conservative or to support the statues’ standing (one of the 2 “not so good” evaluations)

I love the way you both encouraged anyone with controversial views to express them freely and carefully kept it safe for anyone who might disagree so they could express freely and respectfully as well. Not an easy task, but it was well done.

Challenge 3: The socially appropriate shift that occurs in audiences – and on panels – toward more overtly accepting though ultimately less honest expressions of opinion. This is a problem particularly true on matters of race. We think you see this public face/private reality in so many things in our society now (think of presidential polling results that are off because phone survey respondents don’t want to even admit to a stranger that they’re voting for a candidate publicly considered racist). This is made far worse by the liberal hair-trigger reaction to anything that suggests a concern beyond being care and fair to minority populations (for example one might be properly concerned with the economic sustainability of entitlement programs and not have any racist intent, but the current trend in liberal circles would be to disqualify your opinion as motivated by racial bias.)

This participant nailed it: Hoped for a more balanced discussion (hearing from some who supported having the statues), but understand that human nature makes that difficult.

This person observed the “panel social shift” – since most panelists originally believed most statues should stay: Loved the questions and the panelists. Kind of wished there was at least one panelist with a very distinct opinion of defending the statues.

I feel like a great deal went unsaid – that people were so concerned about seeming intolerant that they didn’t say what was really on their minds. Or maybe it just that I’m conservative and felt uncomfortable in the room.

Challenge 4: Balancing a powerful central experience with an opportunity to interact with fellow attendees and engage the audience. We have a long experience with this challenge – people tend to idealize both audience questions and what will happen at their table with fellow attendees. With too much audience engagement participants may ultimately be disappointed if we’re not also able to offer a strong core program component in a limited amount of time (2 hours is long enough; though we should note that this particular audience had fabulous questions). In addition to a substantial audience interaction with the panel (the panel was asked to get to the audience faster than they did, but there was still a lot of interaction) – and there was much socializing after the program ended, which we were thrilled to see. Given time constraints we could see inviting tables to stay after for a table discussion if they’d like, and even offering some sort of incentive to stay like coffee or dessert (however our general experience has been that people don’t). An additional challenge is that a heavy table-conversation focus tends to signal “liberal” to many conservatives. Over time, some of our more interactive planned formats for 2018 will take care of this concern to some extent.

Some specific shifts we plan to make:
• More audience engagement. This is not a panel of experts (they are more first among equals), so over time we plan more audience interaction through the program. For this first program it was critical that the panel lead strongly to create tone and avoid disaster which can happen with an unstructured race conversation with no established group bond and mores. Maintaining this balance will continue to be important for subsequent programs as the connections between us are still growing.
• Introduction of unique formats that support interaction and growing bonds like card night, stories – all in the Local Color 2018 project.
• Different food (our preferred location has our least preferred food)
• More older panelists, more white panelists – as we build and strengthen the core audience, we’ll be able to incorporate this change.

We made significant use of targeted Facebook ads in this project to insure we were drawing the unique – and hard to engage – audience we wanted to find.

WFSU, our local NPR affiliate, attended and taped the program for later broadcast. Unfortunately, there was a technical difficulty and they were not able to capture a radio-quality recording.

Two psychologists from the FSU psychology department participated in the full project from its inception. They provided ongoing consultation, feedback and engaged very directly in every aspect of programming, strategy and execution. We were delighted with this partnership that enriched Local Color in every way.

Supporting materials available upon request:

• 3 pages of the original catalyst invitation that was snail mailed to invitees
• Printed hand cards we distributed to catalysts both for the launch event and to continue to use on an ongoing basis.
• A photo of the billboard we were able to get for free!
• The banner we have been using at events, including those that are catalyst-led
• Full launch night feedback from participants
• Press release
• 5 Local Color catalyst videos (online here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheVillageSquare/videos)
• Skye Creative Communications Plan
• Full Skye Creative community survey on which informed launch strategy and formed the basis of some of the recommendations in the communications plan
• Local Color Launch night notes (indicating questions we planned, a bit of process and rules we shared with the audience)

A postscript: This is how you build community

We received this email from a Local Color catalyst into the project. We wanted to share it, because this is how community is built across division. This is how we become part of a team together.

I couldn’t help but send you this.

I was at a work event last week – one of the attendees came up to me during the event to say hello and they happened to be one of our Catalysts. I got an instant feeling of closeness… I felt a deeper connection than the traditional networking feelings you get at a big event. I instantly felt like I wanted to take care of this catalyst all day, connect her with people at the event that she was seeking out, and had this feeling of “we are on the same team. My teammate is here and I want to serve them in the best way I can.” That isn’t something natural. You built that in us in such a short time with the hard work you do. What you do works. I’m proof.