The murder of George Floyd served as a catalyst for calls of racial justice around the nation. It also marked the beginning of Uncomfortable Conversations, weekly Zoom conversations about race, politics, religion and more.
In May 2020, Al Womack, executive director of the Alton Boys and Girls Club, had conversations with concerned townspeople that were outraged by Floyd’s murder. They believed he was the right person to start a conversation in the community about everything that had happened surrounding Floyd and others who had lost their lives or been injured to police violence.
“People are hurting based on what they are seeing and what they’re witnessing taking place in our country, and I think things are happening almost in HD right now because we’re in a pandemic,” Womack said.
It didn’t take long for Womack to agree to start Uncomfortable Conversations in June with a weekly Zoom meeting.
Every week, Womack picks two to three topics that are discussed on the call. The topics are typically centered around current events. Recent topics discussed include the upcoming inauguration, Illinois House Bill 3653 and former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment.
“We talked about everything from the election to the differences in cultures of the Black and white culture,” Womack said. “[With] the elimination of Black history in the school system …, we talked about education and how to address those short falls or disparities in education.”
Womack said the importance of having these uncomfortable conversations is so one day they can become comfortable.
“It is a safe space for people to share their experiences or to talk about how they feel about certain subjects,” Womack said.
He said the program’s goal is to bring people together so they can discuss each other’s experiences and understand where they come from. After a few weeks break for the holidays, the program is back to their weekly meeting on Thursday evenings.
People joining these calls include local police officers, judges and teachers around the Madison County area. Principal of Lewis and Clark Elementary School Latasha LeFlore-Porter believes Uncomfortable Conversations is something that needed to happen.
“It’s not until you lean into more challenging things that you’re able to grow,” LeFlore-Porter said. “And that is why I think this particular conversation that we have every Thursday night is not just good conversations that [are] uncomfortable to learn from, it’s necessary.”
LeFlore-Porter has joined almost every session of Uncomfortable Conversations from the beginning. Whether she decides to just listen or voice her opinion, she is ready to hear what other people’s thoughts are.
She said she is excited to see the future generation pushing forward to seek changes and to see how everyone comes together, more than past generations have done.
As a principal, LeFlore-Porter said she sees more diversity in her students every year.
“Watch you guys, because you’re not just [saying] okay this really is not right, this is not right. You’re actually joining together, you’re actually marching together… but I think the world itself is taking a turn because of how the people in this country look,” LeFlore-Porter said.
Juvenile Probation Officer Tonya Jackson grew up in Alton, Illinois, the same town as Womack and LeFlore-Porter, and was interested when she learned about the program.
“I really think this is how change starts,” Jackson said. “You have to start initiating those conversations and getting people involved and the more people you get involved the more they can have conversations with their peer groups. You know, it’s like a wildfire — it starts the spread.”
Both Womack and Jackson emphasized the importance of continuing to have these conversations and to have them with as many people as possible.
“I think just the actions that took place [in D.C. have] changed people’s views …” Womack said. “We can’t continue down this path because look what’s happening … Change has to come because look what’s happening if we don’t embrace change.”
Uncomfortable Conversations is open to the public and new people are always welcome to join.
For more information on how to join the conversation, email Womack at email@example.com.