Sep 5 2018

Let’s Talk

Citizens of Piedmont attended the Let’s Talk Workshop that took place on Saturday, August 25, 2018,  to gain a new understanding of the community they live in and the social aspects involved.

The leader of the Let’s Talk sessions, Sara Wicht, began this first morning session with a mirror activity. In this activity, everyone in the room had to find a partner that they had not talked to that day. The partners decided who would be partner A, and who would be partner B. The direction were for partner B to mirror every motion that partner A made, and then after a minute, the partners would switch roles.

After, a group reflection was held where people could share what they were feeling as they were both the leader and the follower. Many people who had to be the leader the first round said that there was a lot of pressure to lead, and that it was much easier for them to be the follower. They said that as a follower, you have one objective, to follow, but as a leader you constantly have to think about what you are doing and what you are going to do next. I, however, felt that it was easier for me to be the leader once I felt comfortable with my partner. I was partner B, so I had a minute to feel comfortable with my partner before I made him mirror my motions.

After the reflection, Wicht compared the leading and following to that of two people having a conversation. If the follower does not pay attention for even a second because they get distracted or are already thinking up a response before the leader is finished, it can throw the whole conversation off. It is important, in a conversation, for everyone to have a chance to be a leader, and for everyone to be a loyal follower once their leading is over.

Next, each table group talked about which goal was most important for each individual out of the goals Wicht provided for the session. The goals were to demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identity.

Then, transitioning more onto the topic of identity, Wicht led an activity in which she told the group to make a list of 8 things. Each one was a different part of one’s identity; race, nationality, gender, socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.

Then, without giving the participants much time to think in between, they had to eliminate a part of their identity which they found the least defining of who they are until they were left with just one. The table groups debriefed on how it felt to have to eliminate a part of their identity, and whether it was easy or not. Wicht then brought the group back together and said that if you take away a part of you, even if it is not a huge part of your identity, you still will not be you anymore.

“This is a really important issue for this town,” participant Diana Miller said. “We’re in such a bubble here, and Oakland is just right there, and we have so much that we need to do to help improve our minds and our outlooks and our communication and our relationships with people who are not like ourselves, and anything that I can do to make that happen, I’m gonna try.”

Wicht then transitioned into race, focusing on how you see the world, and how the world sees you. She said that a sense of race is developed at a really young age, and therefore there is no time “too early” to start talking about it.

“Silence perpetuates racism,” Wicht said.

Wicht then brought up the idea of implicit bias, and how it is unconscious or automatic. She presented situations, and the group was to determine whether there was implicit bias involved. The groups reflection afterwards was that the situations were too vague and without enough context to just assume that implicit bias was in fact involved in each of the decisions of the people in the situations. It can be with bad intentions, but first we have to see it from every perspective.

“I got some level of satisfaction sitting with students who have the world ahead of them,” Miller said. “There is a lot of mind opening that happened that I think we may not even realize and I think some change has happened in the last three hours.”

by Roni Schacker, Piedmont High School Senior


Let’s Talk!
Last Sunday I attended one of the “Let’s Talk” seminars that was supported and run bythe Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) and Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee (PADC). The seminar was run by Sara Wicht, who has taught all over the world, including Rio De Janeiro, Minnesota, and California to name a few.

Normally throughout the year PADC and PUSD will have 2-4 Let’s Talk seminars. Other speakers there included Jen Cavenaugh, a Piedmont City Council member, and Randall Booker, Superintendent of PUSD.

The main goal of the meeting was to navigate polarization and find out what Piedmont as a community can do to combat it. The suggested solution was to learn how to discuss opposing arguments respectfully and effectively. Ms. Wicht also stressed that when discussing these issues we must make sure the person does not feel excluded or like an outcast.

First, Ms. Wicht showed us the main parts of a conversation and how they can be kept civil instead of argumentative. She stated that the best way to keep a conversation civil is to, “Ask yourself what you are trying to learn and accept the other side, even if you do not agree.” A conversation is broken into seven different parts that include intention, approach, opener, sparks, reciprocity, exits, and reflection.

Throughout the seminar at our table groups we discussed how to make each part the most respectful and beneficial for each person. As a group we acknowledged that the most important tip for all of these parts of conversations is to be accepting and understand that you do not need change the other’s point of view.

Following the table discussions about conversations, Ms. Wicht pulled everyone back together to talk about “Modeling neighborly behavior.” She considered this to be the second most important part of diversity awareness and inclusion. Examples of neighborly behavior include celebrating diversity, gathering neighbors at public events/discussions, sending inclusive signals to neighbors, and listening to personal experiences.

One of the other people at my table was Megan Pillsbury. Ms. Pillsbury had heard great things about the “Let’s Talk” meetings but this was her first time in attendance.  She came because she felt that she should be a part of this movement for more inclusiveness and diversity awareness. On top of that she was is going to run for School Board and as part of her campaign she wants to take steps to create a more inclusive community.

Previous to her campaign Ms. Pillsbury taught for over fifteen years at Wildwood Elementary School. She wanted to come because she saw that many of her classes were not as diverse as she expected. Ms. Pillsbury hopes to be elected to the school board and take action by promoting diversity awareness for all ages throughout the PUSD school system.

Personally, I thought the seminar was very engaging. It gave me lots of helpful tips for engaging in beneficial conversations when discussing political differences or diversity. Compared to many of the people there, I would say I have more conservative views. During many of the discussion portions I had lots of different ideas than the majority of the people at the table. However, everyone was respectful, accepting and willing to listen, which was really great to see. I would definitely recommend that you check out one of Ms. Wicht’s talks.

by Daryl Tjogas, Piedmont HIgh School Senior


Let’s Talk!

Last weekend in Piedmont, Piedmont City Council and Piedmont Unified School District held a workshop called “Let’s Talk!.” The workshop is being held on four different weekends throughout the year in the Piedmont Veterans Hall with four sessions each time.

The goal for “Let’s Talk!” is to build a more inclusive Piedmont through conversations with the residents. The workshop attacks problems such as: racial equality, the importance of conversation, and how to build communities.

“Let’s Talk!” promotes attacking these problems with conversation. The workshop teaches people how to listen and respond to ideas that they might not agree with and do so in a respectful and constructive way.

“Let’s Talk” teaches a four step refutation to counter an idea one doesn’t agree with. The four steps are: restate, refute, support, and conclude. This is an effective strategy to argue with someone while still respecting their opinion.

I attended the August 26th workshop. During the workshop, the attendees were put into small groups so they could participate and apply all the skills we learned. This format allowed everyone to practice using the skills we learned and then apply them in the community.

The people in attendance were people who live and work in Piedmont. The people that showed up were people who were looking to share some of their stories and people who were looking to make a difference in their community.

The workshop was filled with many activities to help teach people how to have conversations about difficult subjects. The activities were split between small groups and the whole group. In an activity with the whole group I shared an example of how to practice the four step refutation on how Piedmont High School needs a remodel. After I shared I was reaffirmed by the group that I had mastered the skills they were teaching.

Charlie Richards, a resident of Piedmont who attended the workshop in search of a place that will help build community in Piedmont, claims, “in the community of Piedmont there is comparative wealth and the comparative wealth breeds an independence…creating isolation in the community.” Richards attended the meeting to learn ways to help Piedmont strengthen its community because he feels like Piedmont is divided by ageism and classism.

In the workshop classism was brought up as a major problem for the city because with the lack of diversity, racism is amplified.

All the people in attendance were very supportive and accepting of the varying opinions presented in workshop. Toward the end of the workshop we went over ways to build a more inclusive community using movies, art, and signals of inclusiveness.

All in all “Let’s Talk” taught me and the people of Piedmont that problems such as racism and community building can be improved through the use of conversation.

By Paul Woolcott, Piedmont High School Senior

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