Valley neighbors take a step in the right direction at Re-2 meeting
RIFLE – Trust is built with stepping-stones of dialogue.Garfield County has a unique culture with much diversity. Tuesday night, approximately 50 people from around the valley gathered at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rifle to discuss just that, this unique and diverse community.For the most part people were quiet at the beginning. But the point of this community dialogue, mediated by the Community Relations Department of the U.S. Department of Justice, was to get neighbors together and discuss race relations.That’s not an easy thing to do in a community of great diversity. Nonetheless, it’s happening in Rifle and that is a step in the right direction, according to Jill Ziemann of Glenwood Springs.”I think communication is the key,” she said. “We need to communicate our fears and wants until we feel like we can dispel the fears in order to get to know one another.”And that was exactly what people did Tuesday. They talked.During this first meeting they were to talk with the others seated at the table, neighbors, friends, strangers or otherwise, and they answered some of the most basic questions, like, “Who are we?”People talked of their heritage, their background, where they grew up and when they first noticed that someone they knew was different in race or ethnicity, or if they remembered the first time that they noticed or felt like they were different from the rest of the crowd.It’s a simple question, sometimes not so easy to answer outside of a mediated discussion group, but Tuesday’s meeting was a step in the right direction.”We’ve never had this many people come together on a Tuesday night, a lot of town people, come together to bring the conversation to the community,” said Garfield School District Re-2 Superintendent Gary Pack.Re-2 was a big piece of bringing this dialogue to the community due to an altercation between a Latino and an Anglo student at Rifle High School in February. Pack indicated that this is a positive thing to come out of a negative situation.”If we have to be the catalyst for the conversation, we will do that,” Pack said. “Sweeping the problem under the rug is not what we’ve ever done. We really need to understand what our community is made of and use whatever groups are available to address the issues as a community and keep the conversation fresh.”Around the room predominantly were Anglos. A few Latinos attended the meeting, but the low turnout of Latinos at a discussion of race relations seemed to be on everyone’s mind.”I think we need to build trust in order for the Hispanic leaders in the community to come to these kinds of conversations,” Pack said. “We knew that we would have to work on that.”But it was only the first of many dialogues Pack hopes to see.”The district is trying to facilitate a common ground where we as a community can get together and discuss the issues before they increase,” Pack said. “And to bring the conversation of how to make our community grow together.”A simple conversation. A stepping-stone in how to build community.Together.Contact John Gardner: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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