On July 27 and 29, members of the community participated in a free virtual workshop. Let’s Talk Winthrop: Conversations for a United Community aimed to help attendees improve their confidence and competence when it comes to communicating across differences.
The event marked the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting that claimed the lives of two Winthrop residents on June 26. It was billed as a way to strengthen the community, heal from trauma and move the town forward.
“We must learn how to talk with each other,” read a flier for the event, “to really hear our neighbors and to understand one another.”
Around 55 members of the public registered for the event. Attendees included Council Pres. Phil Boncore, and Councilors Rob DeMarco and Stephen Ruggiero.
“I’m very pleased this is taking place,” said Fr. Walter Connelly of St. John’s Episcopal Parish. “The community depends on relationship and we need to be able to relate to one another with compassion and dignity.”
Dr. Brian Blancke, an expert in conflict resolution, asked attendees to state their goals for the workshop. Answers varied from “learn how to talk constructively with someone who disagrees with me” and “be able to listen to others without feeling defensive” to “be more effective at facilitating group discussions” and “be more comfortable in difficult conversations.”
Over the course of two evenings, participants were taught how to recognize unproductive conversation patterns and replace them with new ones. They practiced listening skills, thoughtful questioning and constructive speech. They were challenged to expand their confidence and willingness to engage with others whose viewpoints are different from their own.
Participants were divided into smaller breakout groups to practice new concepts. The idea behind the exercises was to learn how to engage with others in a way that promotes community connection and healing.
Let’s Talk Winthrop was organized by One Winthrop; the Winthrop Commission for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations; For Kids Only Afterschool; and the Winthrop Police Department. It was funded by a grant from the Winthrop Cultural Council and facilitated by Essential Partners, a nonprofit that helps people to connect despite differences in value, belief and identity.
“The workshop was a valuable opportunity for residents to dig into skills that will enable us to have effective discussions around polarizing issues,” stated Julia Wallerce of One Winthrop, “and to practice those skills in a safe space.”