In 2007, City Manager Kim Payne and Mayor Joan Foster proposed that the community engage in a discussion on racial issues in the Lynchburg community. The proposal was not driven by just one incident but by an understanding that Lynchburg is a changing community and that issues of diversity are becoming increasingly important in a number of areas including public safety, housing, and employment. Conversations with other community leaders helped to convince us that the time was ripe for such a discussion. The goal is to have discussions that are open, honest, inclusive and sustainable. Research and discussion with community stakeholders resulted in a consensus to utilize the Study Circles model for The Lynchburg Community Dialogue on Race and Racism.
The goal was to have a minimum of 300, and ideally 1000 or more, citizens participate through study circles in The Lynchburg Community Dialogue on Race and Racism. This was an enormous undertaking over a period of approximately one year. A working group, comprised of the Neighborhood Executive Advisory Council, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Lynchburg Community Council, and other interested citizens, developed the program that will guided the effort. Additionally, sponsors were sought to back the initiative and to help recruit a broad and diverse cross section of the community to participate in the study circles process. Pilot study circles began in the summer of 2007. Program refinement and recruitment took place over the next several months. The community study circles began meeting in January 2008. Following the conclusion of the study circles, an Action Forum was held showcasing a wide range of ideas generated from the circles that can be implemented in the community. Action teams have now been formed and the teams are meeting on routine basis to make plans and implement ideas that came out of the circle process.
By the end of 2008 over 1,300 people have participated in the Community Dialogue process. Currently plans are underway to begin another round of community study circles.