Since 1976, Interfaith Works has been developing the capacity for cross-cultural dialogue leading to community action and/or public policy change. IFW first began building bridges of understanding when a handful of faith communities gathered for open dialogue. In 1995, IFW initiated the Community Wide Dialogue designed to bring Central New York community members together to discuss and take action on a variety of complex problems facing our community. The Community-Wide Dialogue to End Racism—now the longest running dialogue of its kind in the nation—grew out of these initial dialogue circles. Twenty years later more than 10,000 individuals have participated in more than 400 dialogue circles on racism. Hundreds of people have been trained to facilitate the circles and have spread these skills far and wide throughout our community. The program has grown from an all-adult project to now encompass elementary, middle and high schools, teen youth groups, college students and corporate and community leaders, among others.

The dialogue process builds the capacity of the whole community. Both facilitators of the dialogue circles and community members learn methods of constructive engagement that inform public policy and community problem solving. InterFaith Works believes that that the dialogue process helps to develop a common ground on which people can stand, leading to lasting, positive change.

InterFaith Works is now poised to build on our strong track-record of success by launching the El-Hindi Center for Dialogue. The Center–established through a generous gift from the Ahmad and Elizabeth El-Hindi Foundation–will serve as a regional hub for constructive community engagement and for the important work of dialogue. Our administrative offices at 1010 James Street houses the El-Hindi Center for Dialogue, allowing us to bring together disparate groups of people to foster mutual understanding and trust, and to find additional ways to work together for the betterment of our whole community.

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Intergroup Dialogues to Build Relationships and Understanding

Intergroup dialogues bring together people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet and get to know each other. These dialogues typically allow participants to share information about one’s own background (ethnicity, religion, socio-economic class, etc.) and to learn about cultures different than one’s own. Intergroup dialogues help to break down stereotypes, build understanding between diverse groups, and teach the skills necessary to become an ally to a group different than one’s own. Intergroup dialogues often lead to life-changing experiences, altering one’s future behavior as a college student, an employer, a neighbor, or a member of a work team.
Through Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism, our community has been engaged in a serious, twenty-year community organizing effort about racism, race relations and healing. Each racially mixed dialogue group of 10-20 people meets for at least six, two-hour session. Two trained facilitators help the groups work toward a productive discussion in an environment of respect and honestly. Dialogue circles help participants to:
• Explore how racism has affected us
• Uncover stereotypes that need to be challenged
• Understand the differences between personal bigotries and structural racism
• Deepen their commitment to becoming allies
• Take action in our homes, communities and workplace.
InterFaith Works organizes the annual InterFaith Dinner Dialogues hosted in private homes and other gathering places throughout Central New York. Up to 200 people come together across many faith communities to share a meal and participate in facilitated dialogues about faith.

Muslim/Christian Dialogues address the challenge of building peace by promoting acceptance of religious, cultural and gender differences to build bridges and eliminate hatred and suspicion.

Each year in February, InterFaith Works celebrates World Interfaith Harmony Assembly, in conjunction with the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week. Almost 500 people gather to spread the message of harmony and tolerance by showcasing and celebrating the many faith traditions in Central New York.

Courageous Conversations about Race Initiative is a CWD/Syracuse City School District partnership designed to engage Syracuse City School District’s entire staff (administration and faculty) in facilitated dialogue about race in order to assist in closing the achievement gap.
The Starting Small Program involves day-long or semester-long “exchanges” between suburban and urban school students. CWD uses a facilitated dialogue process, discussion guides and interactive activities to spark conversations, diffuse tensions, break down stereotypes and build bridges of understanding among participating youth. The program serves approximately 650 youth and teens from 14 area schools each academic school year.
Since IFW initiated the Community Wide Dialogue, Syracuse University (SU) faculty and staff have been actively involved. SU’s Honors Program began offering dialogue students for circles in the late 1990’s, and several early dialogues were held in the School of Social Work.
Conversations About Race and Ethnicity (CARE) Dialogues were later launched as a larger campus-wide commitment to ending racism and to forging connections between SU and the larger community. CARE is a collaborative initiative between IFW and SU’s Division of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. The program provides dialogue circles each semester for students, and all residence hall directors participate as part of their training. The Office of Human Resources has also started a Dialogue Circles program to engage SU staff, holding several circles each semester. IFW provides technical assistance, materials and training for facilitators.

Sustained Dialogues for Communities in Strained Relationships

Sustained Dialogues for Communities in Strained Relationships bring together groups of people who are already in a relationship with one another and whose actions affect one another positively or negatively. Together, participants explore the underlying or root cause of the problem(s), begin to create action plans for change and determine how to bring those steps into their wider communities. Our work focuses mostly on assisting people who are experiencing some type of conflict stemming from ethnic or racial differences. The sustained dialogue process often alters destructive attitudes and behavior patterns that affect whole neighborhoods and school communities, resulting in both personal and community-based transformation.
Syracuse Housing Authority Dialogue for Africans and African-Americans involves long-term dialogue circles at the Central Village complex in Syracuse – a low-income housing site managed by Syracuse Housing Authority – to help Somali-Bantu refugees and African-American residents arrive at peaceful resolutions to on-going conflict and misunderstanding.

Seeds of Peace is a collaborative project initiated with the support of Say Yes to Education, Inc. The program brings refugee and American born city high school students together to build strategic relationships, and to facilitate deeper understanding, acceptance and tolerance. For the past three years, the program has brought 39 Syracuse City School District Students to Otisfield, Maine, to attend The Seeds of Peace Camp for 14 days. While there, youth engage in facilitated dialogue sessions to explore racial identity and to learn how to reduce racially-motivated bullying in their schools and communities.
Follow this link for the national Seeds of Peace Facebook page.
Follow this link to the Syracuse Seeds of Peace page on the national parent website.

• Italian-South East Asian Dialogues
• North Side American-born and Refugee Dialogues
• Anti-Bullying Dialogues

Study Circles on Community Issues

Study Circles on Community Issues use a deliberative, democratic process successfully implemented across the United States and globally. Community members engage in discussions about complex social issues and community problems that have multiple potential solutions. Trained facilitators use a carefully crafted, neutral dialogue guide that:

• describes the issue
• offers a variety of solutions that represent distinctly different viewpoints
• lays out the pros and cons of choosing one solution over another
• presents a set of questions that helps the participants find common ground upon which to craft the solution that the majority of the community can support.

Facilitators help participants clarify their own points of view and listen to points of view that is different from their own. Study Circles occur in multiple locations simultaneously or within a short duration of time, and include participants from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. The Dialogues end with an Action Forum that:

• allows the whole community to hear the voices of each group
• further explores the issue through expert panel discussions or additional dialogue circles
• identifies places of community consensus and community division
• creates a space for citizens and community leaders to develop Action Teams to continue the work on addressing the community’s issue.

Syracuse Housing Authority Dialogue for Africans and African-Americans involves long-term dialogue circles at the Central Village complex in Syracuse – a low-income housing site managed by Syracuse Housing Authority – to help Somali-Bantu refugees and African-American residents arrive at peaceful resolutions to on-going conflict and misunderstanding.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, the Center for Dialogue will initiate Community Issues Dialogues. Working with strategic community partners, InterFaith Works will identify one critical issue on which community dialogue is needed. A large scale recruitment effort will ensure a diverse group of participants who will be led by culturally competent, diverse facilitators. The dialogues will address particular geographic areas within the region, and will build the capacity of the region to continue the dialogue process to address subsequent issues.

Examples of Possible Community Issues Dialogues:
• How Should We Clean Up Onondaga Lake?
• What Does It Mean to be a Refugee Resettlement City?
• Should Interstate 81 Come Down?
• Should Our Town Ban or Allow Hydro fracking?
• Should Local Governments Consolidate?
• What is the Role and Responsibility of a Migrant Community?
• How Does the Presence of a Prison in Our Town Influence Our Vitality?
• How Can We Assure that Our Teens Graduate?

Undertaken in 1995 through a grant from The Gifford Foundation, the “What Kind of Community Do We want for Our Children?” dialogue involved 40 dialogue circles, reaching 450 adults throughout Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, and Cayuga Counties. Small groups of 10-12 people met for four sessions, using a guidebook that was produced by InterFaith Works and research-based fact sheets created in partnership with The Post-Standard.

After exploring a range of social economic issues impacting youth in our community, all participants agreed that they wanted every child to have a level playing field on which to start their lives and the opportunity to achieve their highest potential. At the follow-up Action Forum–attended by over 300 people–facilitators asked, “If all people want this, then why don’t we have it?” Participants resoundingly said that racism and poverty kept children off a level playing field and prevented their achievement.

Four task groups subsequently formed with a goal of addressing poverty and racism in Central New York. These groups would go on to influence critical public policy decisions and the provision of human services in our community. They advocated for increased funding for food stamps and support to dependent families and children. They brought attention to the lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods. They helped facilitate the expansion of faith-based food pantries and promoted parent-child literacy programs, among other efforts.

During the second year of grant funding from the Gifford Foundation, IFW focused on addressing racism in our community. The agency developed materials, built an advisory committee, recruited and trained a diverse cadre of dialogue facilitators, and ran 23 dialogue groups the first year. Ultimately, IFW committed to holding dialogue circles on ending racism for 20 years or until 10,000 Central New Yorkers had participated in the dialogue. (See Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism).