Last week leaders in Fresno County gathered for a Living Room Conversation about community safety. The conversation included the Fresno County Sheriff, Probation Chief, a local banker, a local business owner (multiple industries), Superior Court Judge and an executive from a transition services provider. I helped organize this first conversation with the goal of creating the opportunity for these key leaders to hear viewpoints that they were unlikely to hear in the course of their typical week. I took 11 pages of notes as I observed this conversation. I was elated by the numerous insights and connections forged by the participants.
As participants were getting to know each other they connected around their shared desire for Fresno to be a safe and livable community for everyone. And they shared their deep desire and commitment to benefit their community.
As the conversation progressed, two of the participants admitted that they did not feel safe in their neighborhood. Both live in upper middle-class communities, yet burglaries are common. The police no longer come out to take statements by burglary victims, leaving feelings of disconnect and uncaring by the police. The Sheriff followed up with compassion, asking questions about their personal experience.
A common theme emerged from the participants; that of concern for the local community and the desire for all residents to have equal opportunity. It was noted that many people in Fresno lack access to capital and to supportive relationships to be successful. Everyone acknowledged and lamented the need for stronger support for families and kids. Common concerns included how to insure that every child has at least one responsible adult in their lives, “to get them up, feed them and get them to school.”
One of the participants mused that government officials and workers seem to be risk averse, whereas business owners practice risk mitigation. This sparked a short conversation about outlook and work culture. Following the Living Room Conversation, Sheriff Mims commented that while she has a citizen’s advisory group, she wants to get more business people involved with risk mitigation expertise involved. She spoke further with the business connection she had just made.
Conversations such as this demonstrates the power of connection. When leaders from around the community spend three hours getting to know one another and exploring issues in the intentionally structured safe format of Living Room Conversation that promotes relationship development, listening and curiosity windows and doors to new opportunities open up.
As an observer of the conversation, I was moved by the level of caring and concern exhibited. This group understood the interconnectedness of education, poverty, opportunity, substance abuse, mental health and violence. These are leaders that are strongly motivated to create a safer more prosperous community. And this is just the beginning, we are encouraging more community members as well as leaders participate in Living Room Conversations with the goal of enabling better and better coordination by individuals and community programs to address local challenges. Working together we can build the safer more caring community we all desire.