Sparking the Conversation Conversation (not a typo)

Kai -- January 22nd, 2007

Last Thursday, over 25 people got together at the Massanutten Regional Library to brainstorm how to create a culture of conversation in downtown Harrisonburg. Let me add to finnegan’s notes with minutes and an overview.

Over 25 people showed up, including students from JMU, EMU, and Bridgewater; city council members Frank and Chenault; local bloggers; yound professionals and retirees from city and county; past and future state delegate candidates; democrats, republicans, republitarians, and others; and others. It was very encouraging to see this turn out with the relatively limited advertising, and I’m convinced it wasn’t due even in large part to the pizza.

I was also very happy to see everyone contributing to the many small group conversations we had. For those that weren’t in attendance, finnegan and I had worked out a progression of questions we felt would be helpful in moving starting this conversation. Everyone sat in small groups at four tables and discussed with a few others each question before we talked about it in a larger group. That process worked well, I think/hope, in getting everyone involved immediately and throughout the meeting.

The turn out – and engaged participation – proves, to me, once again that there are countless people yearning for opportunities for more meaningful conversations and relationship-building experiences. And, there is a critical mass of people who are willing to do something about it. The challenge isn’t apathy around this issue, it’s rather how to make these people (us) aware of each other and then how to coordinate our efforts and channel our energy.

The meeting was short, so we didn’t come up with answers. But we did create momentum. I’ve created a GoogleGroup listserv to serve as a vehicle for those who want to connect with others who want to spend some time and sweat to make this happen.

One last thought: this is NOT going to work unless a team of serious, willing, and creative participants steps up to the plate. If you have an idea for a discussion, panel, meeting, dinner, etc., it’s up to you to make it happen. The nice thing is you’re not alone – other are willing to help, but YOU have take the initiative.

Notes, in raw form, from the meeting are below (thanks Michelle!).

Record of Brainstorms

First Meeting of Harrisonburg Culture of Conversation Group

1-18-07, Massanutten Regional Library


Inclusive, 2+ Perspectives, co-sponsors, time for discussion, keep it simple

What is a culture of conversation?

Openness, respect, talking, value the conversation, sincerity, ability to allow silence, listening, uplifting, debate, knowledgeable, easy conducive to shades of difference, tolerance

Topic Ideas:

Philosophy, religion, local connection, downtown’s future, consciousness, environmental consciousness, prejudice, civil rights, conversations, sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, immigration, growth, Blacks Run, ESL, (valve of the amk???) transportation, initiatives in business, candidates for office, recreation, golf course, landfill management

Similar Efforts/Cosponsors:

Downtown Renaissance, International Festival, Interfaith Alliance, Peace Building Institute (at EMU), blog, Center for Conflict Analysis and Intervention (at JMU), Communication Resource Center (at JMU), OCP, Merchants MHDA, Rocktown Info Shop, RCDC


Small group discussion, panel, speaker(s), movie night, poetry readings, potlucks, progressive dinner, debates, art show, town hall meeting, idea fair, blogs


library, homes, YouMadeIt!, universities, parks, Kai’s house, restaurants, council chambers, Court Square Theatre, arboretum, rec center(s), churches, schools, online

Resources/ Advantages:

Diverse community, universities, strong economy, mobility, technology, simplicity, faith in process, blogs, proven methods and techniques, nonprofits, NCDD, size, social networks, facilities, willingness to host, strong religious community willing to talk, other pro-dialogue/community efforts, active service-oriented community, people, tonight, willing local business owners


diversity, cultures, language, isolation, exposure to diversity, tunnel vision, pointlessness, “just talking,” stereotyping, publicity, different ideas of change, Crossfire mentality passions on issues, cultural/language barriers, logistics, blind idealism, apathy, business

3 Responses to “Sparking the Conversation Conversation (not a typo)”

  1. finnegan says:

    Thanks for the detailed account, Kai (and thanks to Michelle for the minutes).

    I’d like to see a discussion on local immigration. I will be working on this to make this happen ASAP.

    Anyone else who was at the meeting can pick their own topic, and organize it, using folks on the google group to help get the word out.

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