On November 5, the Community Foundation kicked off the Stronger Together Series with a virtual event titled “Beautifully Different” that featured former Newaygo County residents and authors Razel Jones and Daniel Abbott.
“Stronger Together is a series of community events about difference, identity, and the stories the shape our lives,” said Carla Roberts, Community Foundation president and CEO. “We believe that everyone in our community has a story. For some, that story is one of belonging. For others, it’s more complicated. Diversity has always been a part of the fabric of our community—we just have to see it. The goal of this series is to amplify the voices of our neighbors and to explore the ways differences enhance our community and ultimately make us stronger.”
More than 120 people attended the launch of the series to hear from Jones and Abbott. The two men are brothers-in-law and authors of the recently released book Wounds. In this collaborative memoir, Jones, who is Black, and Abbott, who is white, reflect on their experiences growing up in Newaygo County and learning to navigate difficult spaces and hard conversations. Through stories that intersect and sometimes overlap, they explore what it looks like to understand and appreciate difference.
“Our goal with the book is to get conversations started,” said Abbott. “The beautiful thing about stories is it gives humans the ability to relate.”
Along with reading excerpts from the book, the event featured a candid discussion on personal experiences with racism, the importance of embracing differences, and the concept of cultural navigation. Jones described cultural navigation as “the ability to go into a room full of people different than you and successfully navigate those differences.” It was a skill Jones said he learned growing up as one of few Black children in a predominantly white community.
“You develop that skillset,” said Jones. “It is an amazing and necessary skill to navigate those differences. It’s a growth experience to bust out of your bubble. Are you willing to experience being other?”
During a question and answer time after the presentation, Jones and Abbott shared their thoughts on addressing racism and positive steps people can take in their communities.
“You have to use your you to influence your where,” said Jones. “We each have skills, knowledge, strengths. Ask, ‘What do I have and how can I contribute?’ What can you do to help level the playing field?”
Added Abbott, “One of the biggest problems is we don’t think the problem exists. On a human level, we need to stand up. It takes acknowledgement. It takes action. What is your ability to influence?”
According to Carla Roberts, it’s impossible to address systems and institutions that perpetuate inequities in our community without first addressing our own hearts.
“Change happens at the speed of trust,” she said. “It’s only by getting to know someone that you can start to understand them. We want to create a space where we can build relationships with our neighbors, learn from each other, and honor each other’s stories and lived experiences. When we are open to new perspectives, we can start to grow.”
Additional events in the Stronger Together Series will continue in 2021.