Audrey Addison Williams,
professional speaker, writer, spiritual leader, business consultant
and expert in personal transformation and community empowerment
Originally published in Huffington Post, 7/3/2013
I was raised in a Republican household; my dad was a paid speaker at Republican conferences and events. I grew up in the ‘60s and have vivid memories of vibrant, invigorating, loud, informative, respectful, intelligent, fun and life affirming political debate in our living room. Whites, Jews, Black Nationalists, Black professionals, and young radicals would come to eat and have a conversation. Many of the conversations were about deconstructing the ideology, benefits, threats and long term consequences of the civil rights movement and forced integration.
I remember as young as eight years old, trying to wrap my mind around integration, segregation, Jim Crow, civil rights, liberation theology and many other things that I heard listening in on these conversations. This opportunity in my early years to experience the sense of a shared humanity that arises from civil discourse, honest debate, intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas has been the fertile ground from which my life's work has sprouted and matured.
I have spent the past 25 years serving as a bridge builder by creating events and offering tools that encourage cross-cultural engagement and celebration of our diversity. I am blessed to have been part of amazing transformations of individuals that have resulted in community empowerment.
Part of my process has been a gradual willingness to dismantle my own prejudices, bias, and cultural stories, and transcend my limited perceptions about all people and circumstances. I have supported many others in doing the same, resulting in our collective willingness to deconstruct world views and belief systems, and examine core values.
I move well between and amongst diverse cultures, races, political parties and economic classes. I hear and witness the gross misperceptions, projections and wild assumptions that serve to keep us vilifying one another and fearful.
Living Room Conversations has given my work a valuable tool and has created a framework that we will use as a starting place for the work that we all must do if we are to survive on this planet.
Living Room Conversations is as powerful as the simplicity in which it is grounded. It is a brilliant concept, deeply grounded in an understanding of American culture, that cuts across ethnicity, political affiliation, class, religion, gender identification and race. We Americans are usually respectful of a guest in our home. When you are a guest in our home, you cease to be the villain or the enemy. You are our guests.
We, Americans are usually gracious and respectful of our hosts when in their home. We appreciate, notice and acknowledge the seemingly little things. Thus, the dragon is slain by simply changing the context and environment for our gatherings and offering simple tools in the form of a structure to our political and social conversations.
Living Room Conversations is helping America and the world take a giant leap into the future, and I predict will leave a legacy as the "idea" that shifted a people and changed a culture for the good. Our strength as a nation is deeply rooted in our diversity. Living Room Conversations supports us in honoring this truth. The mere process of an active willingness to engage with reverence and authentic interest in what the other has to say, creates an opening in our collective consciousness and allows for oxygen - new ideas, new concepts, new approaches - to negate our need for "life support.” In this gap that follows the disruption of what has been accepted as the norm, we can help one another recover from an orchestrated, seemingly drug-induced reality, that makes life for so many of us bearable on a day to day basis. It is only through this process of calling out and addressing with love and civility our vulnerability to all artificial crises, engendered fear and manufactured threats that do not serve the highest good of the majority of all people, that we will be empowered to create new systems, structures, policies, enact legislation and attract and support an emerging group of visionary, innovative, creative, loving and compassionate, new public servants.
Together we shall experience the joy of gathering, the beauty of acknowledging the other, the life giving energy that comes from authentic engagement. Already we have evidence that Living room Conversations is offering holistic healing of our collective neuroses and soul dis-ease and introduces preventive measures to ensure that future generations will not be predisposed to these, up until now, inherited societal and political norms that have rendered us impotent and have weakened our collective immune system. Living Room Conversations is a timely antidote capable of eradicating the "virus" of in civility and allowing us to survive the caustic and toxic public space that we have co-created and shared.
I am excited about including Living Room Conversations as the starting place for our One USA Rising Movement and Live Radio Talk Show. We are now scheduling Living Room Conversations in key cities across the U.S. for August and September. Our movement will add voices and incredible innovative ideas from the grassroots to an already vibrant and energetic dialogue. Our intent is to use these conversations to inform, empower, inspire, encourage and, yes, to heal. This is a necessary starting place, a safe and a secure foundation for the work we must do to take our democracy and the reality of the American Dream to the next level. Where we will end up, we do not know. What I know for sure is that the way forward MUST include all voices and all political perspectives and demands a radical humility and a deep compassion for all humanity, beginning with one's own self.
Our network of young professionals and business owners in East Africa have scheduled their inaugural conversation, XtraOrdinary Conversations Kampala, Uganda. Our plan is to host conversations across East Africa over the next twelve months. These conversations will help to ensure that as Africa rises to a a position of global, economic and spiritual power, it includes all people, all tribes, all beliefs, and serves to expand the collective capacity and power of the people on the Continent of Africa.
I am profoundly appreciative of the audacity and courage of the founders of Living Room Conversations in offering, to us, this incredible gift that is disrupting the political norm by shifting our attention from ritualistic obsessions with the problem to the very real possibility of, and hope for, an America that is truly of all the people, by all the people and for all the people.