The Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) and the Association for Youth Empowerment (AYE) will host their third "Bridging 23" event, aiming to build relationships between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti community members, on Dec. 2. The free event takes place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the 14A District Courthouse, 4133 Washtenaw Ave.
The events grew out of the vision of founder and organizer David Abramson, who passed away just before the groups put on their first event in April. Abramson heard Belinda Dulin, DRC's executive director, talk about peacemaking at a community event, and thought it was a concept that could apply to the division between Ann Arbor and Ypsi along US-23.
Dulin says peacemaking is a process that brings people together to have important but uncomfortable conversations in a nonjudgmental way that's about finding shared values and connectedness.
"The highway divides the community in intense and unique ways," Dulin says. "We wanted to bridge that and identify what we have in common."
Jeff Gabrielson, a volunteer with AYE, says this kind of community division has been addressed in the past in Detroit with a series of community forums called "Bridging Eight Mile."
"We were committed to bringing people from inside the city of Detroit and outside the city of Detroit together, and David saw 23 as the same kind of dividing line as Eight Mile," Gabrielson says.
The point of the community forums is not to specify a topic such as public schools or affordable housing, but to bring people together, facilitate discussion, and let the community drive the conversation about what needs to happen next, Dulin says.
Participants sit in a circle and are invited to share their values and the personal experiences that shaped them. Values that come up over and over again build the foundation of the rest of the dialogue. As people begin to know one another, they begin to trust one another, and that trust makes it possible for community members to work together on shared goals.
At the second event in August, participants discussed what kind of community they live in and what kind of community they aspire to be in, as well as who wasn't in the circle of discussion but should be invited to future conversations.
"We talked about what changes can happen and what we can do individually or collectively to effect positive change," Dulin says. "The magic of it all is that, just by listening to each other's story, we see barriers start to melt away, and when those barriers melt away, we begin to see how we can build that bridge over 23."
One major benefit of the discussions is making participants aware of resources available to them that they might not have known about, Gabrielson says.
Concrete actions or initiatives coming out of the conversations are driven by participants, not by facilitators. After two sessions, many friendships have been made, and one participant suggested having a unity march from Ann Arbor City Hall to Ypsi City Hall. Another participant admired the peacemaking circle idea and introduced it at her place of worship for business meetings.
Dulin says the format of the Dec. 2 event will remain the same, but the conversational prompts will change a bit, focusing on next steps, including celebrating what has been accomplished and talking about how participants can give each other additional support.
Additional information and tickets are available at the Eventbrite page for the December event.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.