MooreUnity held an introductory session for its upcoming six-week program, “Our Stories – Brave Conversations on Race,” at the Moorestown Library on Feb. 23.
“Everybody’s voice gets heard, and the questions are things that get us all thinking about how we learned about race and racism growing up, and how we experienced it, and how so many of us experienced it in different ways,” said Karen Reiner, president of MooreUnity, of the program.
According to ourstoriesonrace.org, the program was created in 2020 by North Carolina residents Matthew Kane and Katie Gailes, who brought together five white people and five of color in a virtual setting with trained facilitators asking questions, encouraging dialogue, learning and finding common ground.
Questions asked during the program include, “What did you learn from your parents about race?” and “What creates prejudice and how can we overcome it?”
Facilitators of “Our Stories” must first experience the program as a participant. Reiner and Moorestown resident Tamara Johns participated in two cohorts of the program in 2021 and were inspired to start the South Jersey chapter of the organization.
Last year, they facilitated a similar preview to “Our Stories” at the Perkins Center for the Arts in Collingswood.
“We had a mix of people there, people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities,” Reiner recalled of the session. “I think as a white person, it’s very eye opening to hear the stories that people of color, particularly Black people, have to share about how young they were when they first experienced racism, and how much it’s continued throughout their lives.”
That event impacted Reiner, as did another aspect of “Our Stories.”
“It’s also interesting to hear from white people what they’ve learned or experienced themselves,” she noted. “We’re all products of the environment that we grew up in, and sometimes people have to unlearn things that they learned if they grew up in a house with a lot of prejudice.”
“They have to sort of train themselves to unlearn that, and that comes out in these sessions,” Reiner added. “And people are very understanding and patient with one another, knowing that we’ve all had different experiences.”
Reiner and Johns facilitated “Our Stories” last year, and Reiner looks forward to sharing the experience again with residents.
“I would hope that people will walk away feeling like they have a better understanding of how somebody who has experienced life in a different way feels,” she observed, “and that they’ll have empathy and willingness to make some changes even in their own life in order to create more equity and more safety for people who are feeling marginalized.”
To learn more about “Our Stories,” visit https://www.mooreunity.com.