The idea for Closing the Gap Retreats was birthed out of working together for years in Community Development with my friend, Cheryl Miller, Founder and Owner of Quantum Circles Consulting and Training. We’ve both seen the world as we think it could be by the reflection of what actually is, and we’ve wanted to work together in some capacity to remove the contradictions, or to make Heaven where Hell is found, as the late pastor and theologian, Howard Thurman put it.
The events surrounding the Unite the Right rally, also known as the Charlottesville rally or Charlottesville riots, erupted into our national consciousness in August of 2017. It galvanized our desire to work together and help address our nation’s original sin. In the days after the hostilities took place, I received a phone call from Cheryl. She desperately wanted to create a new conversation on race in this country that sustains and enhances life rather than destroys it.
Through tears, Cheryl asked if I’d been watching the events of Charlottesville unfold. I said I had. She then shared with me some things I had not known about her, things that compelled her to do something to address the unhealed racial trauma in America revealing itself to the world in real time before us. Her family is in the lineage of Confederate war hero, Robert E. Lee, displayed on a family tree heirloom hanging in her home.
Looking at that family heirloom, in light of the events occuring in Charlottesville, revealed a dawning understanding illuminating her heart. Her family, like so many dominant culture families across our country, have been complicit through silence and bore some responsibility for the racial inequities and traumas experienced by so many people of color in our country.
“I have to do something. I can’t just sit here and do nothing. My heart is breaking.” Cheryl said to me.
She then suggested we conduct a peace circle consisting of half black and half white participants discussing personal experiences with race and systemic injustice. I thought it sounded like a great idea. “You have to lead it, Byron. This effort has to be led by those who have suffered the most from it.”
I agreed to do so, and I immediately contacted my friend, Rev. Charles Cheek in Hampton, Virginia, to help us set up a gathering. Charles is a leading community organizer championing facilitated dialogues on race in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Hampton Roads is considered the birthplace of America, where the English landed in 1607 and gained a foothold leading to the first English colony, Jamestown. It is also where the first Africans landed on the continent as slaves in 1619. Could there be a better place to have a peace dialogue around the issue of race?
This peace circle was powerful and enlightening. Not only did it deepen my personal commitment to the practice, it gained national attention and made people curious and interested in the possibilities for real change in our country and our world.
Everyone who participated in the circle, felt it a safe space to be real, vulnerable and unjudged. We all left wanting more, but realizing that circle processing is hard work requiring diligence and training. Most people understood that circles can be used to address so much more than just the issue of race in our country.
Over the past few years, I have had the good fortune to experience the power of circle processes in action across the world in the following areas:
- Engaging in restorative justice training and reconciliation dialogues through the Christian Community Development Association
- Participating in coaching circles in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) course, U Lab, Leading from the Emerging Future, where we learned how to develop solutions in economics, education, government, medicine, religion, and law.
- Engaging in council (circles influenced by indigenous people) with Illuman, an organization committed to helping men mature and become life sustaining and enhancing presences in our communities across the world
- Facilitating circles of high school students in Europe with D3 Hungary; an organization developing the whole person through service, adventure, language, and travel working with high school students in Budapest Hungary
- Facilitating circles of 6-8th grade boys with Tapestry Church, Raleigh, NC.
The practice of circle facilitation helped birth Closing the Gap Retreats and will always be an integral component of them. If you have any questions or would like to more about circle processes, contact me and I’ll help in any way I can. There a lot of good resources out there, but a great place to start is this little, power packed book, Little Book of Circle Processes, by Kay Pranis.