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Cooley Dickinson, United Way to Host Community Dialogues on Race

NORTHAMPTON — A dialogue about race in the community will be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5 and 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jandon Center for Community Engagement at Smith College. The discussion is the first in a series called Community Dialogues on Race, which is open to residents of Hampshire County. Registration is required, and there is no cost to attend the two-day event.

Community Dialogues on Race will highlight the issue of racism, as well as race-related incidents that continue to occur both locally and nationally. In addition, organizers have identified the following outcomes:
to move towards solutions rather than continue to express or analyze the problem;
to each beyond the usual boundaries, offering opportunities for new, unexpected partnerships; and to unite divided communities through a respectful, informed sharing of local racial history and its consequences for different people in today’s society.

The idea for the Community Dialogues on Race initiative stems from the ongoing work of Cooley Dickinson Health Care’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council as well as the results and recommendations of the 2016 community health needs assessment, which was commissioned by Cooley Dickinson Health Care.

Cooley Dickinson is underwriting the cost of the project, and the United Way of Hampshire County is a partner in organizing the initiative, which includes four two-day sessions. Following the November discussion, three additional dialogues will be scheduled in 2017.

Participation is limited to 30 people for the Nov. session. Attendance for both days is required, and lunch will be provided both days. To register, call (888) 554-4234.

When registering, prospective participants will be asked their name, the organization they represent (if any), and their race/ethnicity. Organizers are asking about race/ethnicity as they have a goal of 50% participation from people of color. Registrants will receive confirmation that they have been selected for the November session or that they have been placed on the waiting list for future sessions, which will take place in 2017.

Kent Alexander and Jeff Harness will facilitate the November program. Alexander, who developed the idea of the Community Dialogues on Race, will function as the lead facilitator, while Harness, director of Community Health at Cooley Dickinson, will assist.

Alexander has worked as a consultant for the New York City public school system, arts groups, and labor unions. After moving to the Pioneer Valley, he was employed for nine years as the director of Diversity and Inclusion at Elms College, where he also co-taught cultural competency, as well as at local institutions that include Holyoke Health Center and Springfield Technical Community College. Since retiring in 2015, he has been an active member of the Cooley Dickinson Patient Family Access Committee as well as a member of Cooley Dickinson’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. He also facilitates social-justice-focused workshops for various local organizations, including Girls Inc. of Holyoke, HAPHousing, Montague Catholic Social Ministry, and Franklin Regional Council of Governments. He also serves on the advisory board for the local chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice.

Harness has a long history working on public-health issues in Western Mass. He has worked with a variety of communities and local residents on public-health topics including health access, substance-use prevention, tobacco control, food, and physical activity. In his current role as director of Community Health, he represents Cooley Dickinson on community health projects in the region.

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