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CHARETTE - A Restorative Community Planning Process

The movie, The Best of Enemies, portrays the story of how African-American civil rights activist, Ann Atwater, and local Ku Klux Klan leader, C.P. Ellis, became good friends during a community planning event in Durham, NC in 1971. Bill Riddick, a community organizer, was recruited by the state Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare to expedite the integration of schools in a racially charged city which had yet to follow the law of the land. Riddick facilitated a process called a charette - a planning meeting in which representatives from numerous factions making up a community work through differences and conflicts in order to create solutions to an existing problem. Atwater and Ellis, leaders of two prominent groups within the city, served as chairpersons for the charette sessions, which took place over a ten day period.

It was uncomfortable yet incredibly powerful for me to watch the heated exchanges and bouts of silence laced with tension during the charette process. In the end, it was ultimately inspiring to witness the unfolding of the friendship formed by the original adversaries in this story. Very few situations illustrate more conflicting perspectives and the intense emotions that derive from these differences as this movie depicts. Knowing that these events actually happened, heightened my belief in and passion for restorative practices.

Bringing all parties together within the city that would eventually be impacted by the decision whether or not to desegregate the community schools, and facilitating their expression of varying points of view and desires while requiring that everyone listen to the same from others, are what the restorative process is all about. It gives each person an opportunity to share his ideas; it shows people how to listen to and respect others; it gives everyone ownership in decisions that affect them. This process creates greater self-satisfaction while fostering more effective group collaboration and smarter decision making.

Our country is becoming polarized because everyone who feels ignored and neglected is begging, crying out, screaming to be noticed and heard. Those who feel that their positions of control, power and comfort, are threatened by acknowledging and supporting others, especially those who seem so different and possess ideas and habits so different from their own, lash out from fear in anger and hate. This is an exclusive, competitive and combative belief system. We need to promote more inclusive, caring and supportive perspectives that allow everyone to thrive and succeed. We need to model, teach, and facilitate these positive attitudes based on the understanding that we are all better off, happier and healthier, when we lift each other up rather than tear each other down. We need more charettes within our communities in order to bring about more satisfying conditions for all as well as foster greater harmony between individuals.

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