On the morning of April 12 at the Warehouse Theatre, Jonathan Parker of Fellowship Greenville led the first Shine the Light forum of 2017, entitled “Community Engagement: Authentic Voices Really Matter.” Parker is an active voice in the Greenville area, drawing on his experience as the Director of City Involvement at Fellowship Greenville and his involvement with other organizations in the community. After a brief introduction to a crowd of more than 100 local nonprofit leaders, he got right down to business and began to challenge his audience. The host made clear that he aimed to address difficult questions that may make the audience uncomfortable but that ultimately would help expand their understanding of different and valuable perspectives.
The theme of the day was curiosity, and in particular the value of curiosity in breaking down barriers. The main point that Parker drove home in the first act of forum was that we should strive to discuss the difficult issues in our lives that we often see as barriers. Issues like race, privilege, age, politics, and religion are too often relegated to a “we don’t discuss that” policy within organizations and at places of business. However, there is much value in discussing these issues so that we can see the other side and understand multiple perspectives. Rather than have these barriers in our personal lives and in the organizations we are involved in, we need to find ways to brake down the barriers.
After a lively speech, the attendees were broken up into 13 groups to discuss some of the issues that they face in their everyday lives and propose solutions for how they could overcome these barriers. Parker had set a vibe that encouraged his audience to open up in these discussion groups, and some of the most valuable engagement of the morning was prompted by this more personal setting. Calling the crowd back to the theater, Parker had his audience participate in a couple exercises before ending with a challenge. His final act focused on a quote from the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax, which reads, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The quote tied into the theme of curiosity, but also a sense of personal endeavor to start having those important conversations that can be so impacting. Given the effectiveness of Parker’s speeches and exercises, it was easy to see how motivated and inspired the crowd had become as the session ended.