Finding My Voice: Randee Wilding
You should know that I'm not a religious person. I wasn't raised in a particular faith tradition, other than celebrating Christmas and Easter at home. The only time I remember visiting Sunday school, I remember feeling upset that I didn't know any of the songs or games. Religion seemed most present at weddings and funerals.
That said, having been peripherally exposed to many world religions, I've always believed that it doesn't matter how people commune with the Divine. What really matters is what good comes from that connection and how good is spread in practice.
As a longtime resident of Howard County, Maryland, I had heard about Howard County Courageous Conversations (HoCo Courageous Conversations) on Race and Religious Bias when it began in 2017. Different faith groups coming together to have candid conversations on race and religious bias at different faith houses? What an amazing experience an opportunity for community building. Unfortunately, for me, there was no time to participate or a connection to one of the participating faith communities. The latter was an incorrect assumption on my part.
In 2021, during COVID lock-down, HoCo Courageous Conversations went virtual. The program offered facilitation training to all who were interested, provided by Essential Partners. This opportunity was perfect for me. I wanted facilitation training and they needed facilitators. The training also allowed me to connect with those who had been involved with the discussion series since its inception and its dedicated core team.
In fulfillment of the Dock C. Bracy Center for Human Reconciliation (the Center) Anti-Racism Pro-Human Reconciliation Pledge, engaging with HoCo Courageous Conversations and making connections throughout my community, has been mutually beneficial. I acquired facilitation training, real-world practice and shared the work of the Center.
In 2022, and still living with the threat of COVID, HoCo Courageous Conversations remained virtual. By this time, I'd established a relationship with the core team and offered the Center's technical support of the program with Zoom administration. As I shared in the Center's press release, “As a member of the community and past facilitator, these types of conversations are critical for interfaith understanding and growth. The Center is pleased to help provide technical support for this series, as it aligns with our shared vision.” The theme for 2022 was "Standing Together as Allies." I was able to use the Center's resources and my professional knowledge to enable the virtual discussion series. In addition to being the Center's Chief Operating Officer, I leveraged the Center's resources as a member of the Finding Your Voice Program (FYVP).
The Finding Your Voice Program exists to support ongoing learning of those who have completed the Center's Eradicating Racism: A Path Forward learning series or programs similar. It is a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, working towards our shared vision and in solidarity with others.
In the months leading up to the 2023 discussion series, I was asked to help plan this year's program. Due to the persistent threat of COVID, especially to those at highest-risk, it was decided to host a hybrid (in-person and virtual) event. This allowed those at home to experience the in-person openings, closings and supplemental presentations while using Zoom breakout rooms for discussion. The theme for 2023 was "Courageous Love." I introduced the work of Valarie Kaur to the core team and suggested using her inspirational 2018 TED Talk on "Revolutionary Love," as a keynote to our discussion series.
In Valarie's words, "Stories can create the wonder that turns strangers into sisters and brothers. ...stories can help us see no stranger," and say, "You are a part of me I do not yet know."
In combination with Valarie's TED Talk, book "See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love" and inspiration from "The Revolutionary Love Learning Hub," we developed the topics and questions for each of the discussions:
Love of the Divine: Tuesday, February 7, 2023 at St John's Baptist Church, Columbia, Maryland.
Love of Ourselves: Tuesday, February 14, 2023 at Beth Shalom Congregation, Columbia, Maryland.
Love of Others (Neighbors): Tuesday, February 21, 2023 at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Clarksville, Maryland.
Love of Opponents: Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at Dar Al Taqwa Mosque, Ellicott City, Maryland.
Without question, I spent more time in houses of worship during February 2023 than in the last twenty years. I was able to bring my youngest son to the first session at St John Baptist Church and introduce him to the incredible core team. Seeing the hours of planning meetings, creation of discussion questions and hybrid event logistics come to successful fruition is extraordinarily rewarding. To know those who've participated in the conversations from one to six years were able to gather in-person and virtually, after two years of virtual requirement, warmed my heart. And getting to hug, smile, hand to heart greet those I've come to know and who also share my curiosity and passion for community building has made my heart grow.
Together, HoCo Courageous Conversations and Revolutionary Love create a powerful framework for meaningful change. By engaging in honest and vulnerable conversations with others and responding with love and compassion, we can begin to break down the walls that divide us and build a more just and equitable society.
To learn more about the Finding Your Voice Program, please visit: https://www.dcbcenter.org/finding-your-voice-program
To learn more about Valarie Kaur and The Revolutionary Love Project, please visit the following websites: https://valariekaur.com and https://valariekaur.com/revolutionary-love-project/.