Building the world we dream about

Dr. Mark Hicks (©Nancy Pierce)
Dr. Mark Hicks introduces Building the World We Dream About (©Nancy Pierce)

Dr. Mark Hicks introduces the “Building the World We Dream About” curriculum during a 2012 UUA General Assembly workshop. (©Nancy Pierce)

In a three hour workshop on Saturday morning, Dr. Mark Hicks, Angus MacLean Professor of Religious Education at Meadville Lombard Theological School, gave participants a taste of his curriculum, “Building the World We Dream About.” This program for adults “seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another.” It is available online in a 24-session version, and an 8-session version designed for young adults.

Hicks opened the workshop with a brief introduction. He pointed out that we are learning all the time. But over time, we sometimes discover that we have learned things that aren’t true. Then we have to un-learn what we have learned, and re-learn what is true, in order to “build the world we dream of.” Hicks then offered some “Rules of Engagement,” taken from a handout titled “Guidelines That Promote Multicultural Dialogue,” from the first session of the curriculum.

Hicks devoted the next hour of the workshop to “The Postcard Exercise,” taken from the third session of the curriculum. Hicks asked participants to pair up, and then he distributed postcards to each pair. He asked participants to study the postcard silently, and to describe in writing what is depicted on the postcard. Then he asked participants to write down a story that is being told by the postcard, and to come up with a title for it. He asked pairs to share with each other what they had written down: the description, the story, and the title.

After giving some time for pairs to talk with one another, he then asked pairs to share with the whole group. Some of the pairs had seen much the same thing, but some of the pairs had seen very different stories in their postcard.

“So what is going on here?” Hicks said. “What is this telling us about our own stories?” He noted that he asked participants to describe the postcard first, before going on to judge what they were seeing.

“What are the implications for this exercise for what is going on in terms of race in our congregations?” Hicks then asked. He said that one of the purposes of the “Building the World We Dream About” curriculum is to “create a space” where people can talk openly about race and diversity.

“This work takes time,” Hicks said. “Congregations that do this work say it can take four and five years.” He explained this is why the curriculum is designed to last for 24 weeks — it takes a long time to make it safe to talk openly about race and diversity. However, he said the results are worth it — when congregations take the time to do this program, they find it can change the whole congregation.

Hicks concluded the workshop with another exercise for sharing personal reactions to the meaning of music, in which participants talk about their reactions to several different recorded versions of “The Star Spangled Banner.” (This exercise is not included in the curriculum.) At the end of the exercise, Hicks noted that it was much easier for participants to talk openly, because there was a deeper level of trust. “That’s why this program is so long,” he said. “This work takes time.”

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