BY DEBORAH SHOUSE
Rev. Sandra Campbell was nervous. Her throat was dry as she sat in a small circle with congregants from Unity Temple on the Plaza
in Kansas City, Missouri, for their first Courageous
Conversations meeting. Campbell, an associate
minister, didn’t know where this venture would go or
how the participants could even get into the difficult
discussions about personal and societal prejudices
regarding race, religion, sexuality, class, and more.
She didn’t know what the talks would uncover. She
just knew she felt called to do this.
The seven group members of diverse ages and
ethnicities introduced themselves and shared
information about their backgrounds and their
current lives. Then Campbell used an exercise from
the “Diversity in the Workplace” class she’d taught at
Webster University’s Kansas City campus. She asked
the group to identify politically correct names for
a variety of peoples, including African Americans,
Asian Americans, Caucasians, Jews, Latinos, LGBTQ,
“Now, close your eyes and imagine that you’re at
the family dinner table,” she instructed the group.
“What words are used to talk about these groups
The silence thickened. Someone coughed.
Finally, a woman said, “Nigger.”
“Chink,” said another.
“Now, think about who you know personally,”
Campbell continued. “Do you know African
Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, lesbians? When you
see them, do you see the labels around the kitchen
table or do you just see the individual?”
The tension eased as the group talked about their
friends and how much they had learned from being
around people who were different. At the end of
the two-hour session, everyone hugged. Campbell
breathed a sigh of relief: She had wanted to build
an environment where people would feel safe and
invited to speak. They were on their way.
FOLLOWING THE HEART
The idea for starting the group came to
Campbell months earlier, in the summer of 2016.
Campbell was teaching at Christ Church Unity
Orlando, just days after the mass killing at the Pulse
nightclub, where a gunman murdered 49 people and
wounded 58 more at a popular gay bar and dance
club. She returned home with a heavy heart, haunted
by a recurring question: What is ours to do?
Campbell voiced her concerns at a Sunday lesson,
asking, “Do we just pray and meditate, talk and
agonize, and go back to business as usual while
others are left to pick up the pieces?” Instead,
Campbell saw the tragedy as an opportunity to lift
up those who were hurting.
“I thought we should have a conversation about
the issues that divide us,” she says, “but I didn’t take
Still, the question What is ours to do? stayed with
her. Several Sundays later, after a black gunman
killed five white Dallas police officers at what had
until then been a peaceful protest, she decided
to ask the question and invite comments during
her Sunday lesson. Several people came up to her
afterward and agreed that something needed to be
done for the congregation to be more inclusive and
engage the community on issues like racism, sexism,
homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on.
Campbell then went to work, creating a 12-week
program to explore the uncomfortable issues and
stereotypes that keep people apart. As an African
American, Campbell knew they would need to brave
some difficult topics before they could begin to
achieve understanding or inclusion. A quote from
diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers kept
echoing in her head: “Diversity is being invited to
IS BEING INVITED TO THE PARTY.
IS BEING ASKED TO DANCE.”