“In order to love your neighbor, you have to know your neighbor”

What happens when people actually sit together, chat, listen and share stories Relationships are built, misconceptions are cleared up, common ground is established and the community strengthens.

Recently in Concord, after seeing multiple local online forums with increasingly racist, xenophobic and hateful overtones, a group of people got together to address the situation. The first question was “Why is this happening?” Perhaps the highly politicized refugee crisis makes people nervous of our newly resettled neighbors? Are hard-working citizens frustrated to see non-Americans getting help from the government? Or maybe, longtime residents aren’t comfortable with the changing face of their beloved community?

Attendees were greeted with a welcome sign by the “Be the Change” Club at Concord High School

The group decided, rather than speculating, to engage residents in a conversation. With the help of NH Listens – “a group of educators, practitioners, and civic leaders interested in fostering opportunities for civil and balanced deliberation” – the focus group (which consisted of over 20 different partner organizations) hosted a series of discussions called “We Are Concord.”

Although the events were prompted by issues of racism around the New American population, the group really wanted to focus on “How can we make Concord a more welcoming community for ALL?” The facilitated discussions included a wide variety of issues that impact, not only the Concord community, but many communities. Everyone was welcome and encouraged to attend and talk about their hopes for the Concord community, share ideas for promoting understanding across differences, and identify key issues that impact them.

I attended all three sessions, each with very different dynamics and perspectives. There certainly were some common themes that came out of the discussions, but the best part about it – at least for me – was the opportunity to bring community members together and let them know that their voices and opinions matter. We heard from students and parents, New Americans and “Native Concordians,” young professionals, retired professionals, elected officials, clergy and many in between.

Photo credit: Field Work Photos

There were several “warm and fuzzy” moments that made me proud to live in such a wonderful community. One such moment was when the young Bhutanese woman sitting next to me said “Every time I come to an event like this, I realize: this is the community where I belong.” It made me happy because, despite the racism and xenophobia that still sadly exists in our community, it’s not bad enough to have affected her and her family, and that her experiences living in this community have been all positive.

Participating in these events reignited my appreciation for the Concord community. I love how people come together and take a stand in the name of peace and community. I enjoyed meeting new people- folks that I wouldn’t normally cross paths with in my day to day life- hearing their stories and perspectives and working together to find solutions, instead of griping about the issues.

TBJ people

Photo Credit: Field Work Photos

So, what happens next? NH Listens is currently putting together a report, which will be used to address the key issues that came out of the discussions. The focus group who organized the discussions will then begin reaching out to community leaders and organizations to start addressing the issues and working toward solutions.

It’s amazing how something as simple as having conversations can have such a tremendous impact. Now go out and talk to your neighbors!

There are so many wonderful people and organizations making a difference in our own backyards! If you would like us to feature your nonprofit or know of an amazing NH professional giving back email  doinggood@stayworkplay.org

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