Radical Hospitality in the Classroom and Beyond: A Collection of Civic Engagement Resources
I grew up in the South, the daughter of a Methodist minister. If I were to pick a defining characteristic of our household, it would be hospitality. Friends and parishioners came in and out of the house for short visits or long discussions, Sunday dinners and summer evening meals on the back porch. Our close-knit community returned the generosity in kind. In times of loss and grief, a steady stream of steel magnolias filled fridges across the neighborhood with casseroles and homemade pies; in times of joy, they hosted baby showers and church picnics. I’ve long since grown up and moved out the house–thousands of miles away to California, but that hospitality sticks with me.
What would it look like if, in my community and yours–together–we enacted a bold and courageous hospitality that extended to, not just those in our closest circles, but also to the most vulnerable among us; those whose voices go unheard the most often? That’s the key idea behind one of the principles of equitable and inclusive civic engagement outlined by researcher Kip Holley in his 2016 report for The Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (which you can find as a resource in this collection). Holley argues that radical hospitality can be carried out when we listen with intentionality and when safe spaces are created for honest conversation.
As I put this collection of civic engagement resources together, I kept coming back to this idea of radical hospitality because, from a personal standpoint, honest conversation seems difficult enough across the Thanksgiving table with my own family members who hold opposing views, much less the national stage. Change is hard, but if we are to support civic engagement in the deepest sense, it’s necessary.
Now more than ever, groups who have been silenced for too long are taking great strides to make their voices heard, and what they need most is for those in positions of power to listen and invite them into the conversation. As Holley explains, “Diverse groups of community members such as young people, new immigrants, returning citizens, and people of color can face tremendous resource barriers to engagement and as a result, many communities fail to incorporate their voices. For community decisions to be meaningful, community leaders must decide that these voices are integral to the conversation.”
But in an increasingly fragmented political landscape and an environment where civil discourse seems to be shrinking, not expanding, welcoming new voices and opinions, not only into political dialogue, but into the classroom and our daily lives, online and off, can be a challenge. It’s my hope that the resources in this collection can help educators and activists alike with practical tools for how to engage in productive conversation in a range of settings–from the classroom to the dinner table. These resources touch both on what we can learn from history and how we can use our civic imaginations to build the future.
I’m so inspired by the activism being taken up by today’s young people, and what I hope more than anything is that, in this crucial moment, we as educators, changemakers, and thought leaders can be as hospitable as the church ladies of my youth. Let’s start by listening.
Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on flickr