As issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice moved to the front of the national conscience this spring and summer, local leaders in Griffin decided the time had come to have difficult conversations around those issues and they called the University of Georgia to help.
“We needed to work through some tensions,” said Griffin Mayor Doug Hollberg. “Once the George Floyd situation came up, there were issues we needed to discuss regarding race and how Griffin had done things in the past.”
At that point, Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith reached out to the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development through the Archway Partnership, both units of UGA Public Service and Outreach.
“Griffin-Spalding County has been an Archway community since 2015 and through that partnership, the Fanning Institute had facilitated several workshops in our community,” Hollberg said. “We knew Fanning had the expertise we needed for this moment.”
Fanning Institute public service faculty member Terence Johnson, who had previously worked with Griffin-Spalding County, facilitated the workshop for Griffin city leaders in Athens.
“We led a two-phase process,” Johnson said. “First, we facilitated a dialogue around the issues surrounding race in their community, allowing everyone in the room to express their thoughts and identify major pain points they saw in Griffin. Then, we facilitated discussions around what steps the city could take to begin to address the concerns they identified.”
Concerns city leaders addressed went beyond race and included frustrations with how Hollberg operated in his role as mayor, overall governing philosophy and city processes.
“Terence created an environment where everyone was able to say what they felt,” said Hollberg. “We had some hard conversations about race, how I operate as mayor and how the community operates in certain areas. However, Fanning’s process allowed us to express ourselves, heal and start working on goals and objectives.”
In the workshop, Johnson utilized principles of Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), which focuses the discussion on understanding rather than problem solving. RSD utilizes agreed upon communication guidelines, emphasizes active listening and reflection and promotes participant feedback.
“Not only did they identify differences through the dialogue and open conversation, but more importantly they found a lot of areas of common ground,” Johnson said. “Finding those commonalities through the dialogue process created a point for the group to move forward from and begin discussing possible solutions.”
Establishing common ground is a crucial first step for building more inclusive communities, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.
“To address diversity, equity and inclusion in communities or organizations, leaders first need to create an atmosphere where all perspectives feel heard, understood and appreciated,” Bishop said. “That creates trust among everyone involved, which fosters collaboration and action over time.”
Through the two-day workshop, they identified concerns they could address within the community right now, and which issues would require a broader community effort.
Initial steps they agreed on include creation of an equity and inclusiveness commission consisting of community members appointed by each of the city commission members, diversity training for staff and a revamping of Griffin’s Citizens’ Government Academy to provide a more detailed look for citizens at city operations.
“While we didn’t agree on every single thing we talked about, we left the workshop having laid a foundation that we all agreed on to move forward and work towards things that will be for the greater good of everyone in Griffin,” he said.
Johnson effectively guided city leaders through some very honest, difficult and transparent conversations, said Kenny Smith, Griffin city manager.
“Not only did Terence keep the dialogue on point, he also very professionally, emphatically and successfully guided the discussions to exactly where they needed to go,” Smith said. “We realize it was a difficult time to get together but we had some pressing issues to discuss. Terence made sure everyone was safe, following all protocols recommended by UGA, and that everyone was comfortable and open.”
For more information on the Fanning Institute’s diversity, equity and inclusion programming and services, click here.