The Breaking Bread Village: Founder Erin Patrice on discussing diversity in Midland

Erin Patrice is no stranger to hard conversations.

In fact, she seeks them out.

An advocate for positive change and connection among people, she has her hands in more than a few efforts locally, previously working with Adoption Option, as a mediator for youth and adults and as a life coach. Creating connection and understanding is one of her passions.

Patrice recently spoke at the Black Lives Matter rally in Midland. One for always trying to find ways for creating and opening the doors for conversation, she sought out one person specifically to speak to that day.

Erin Patrice at the Black Lives Matter rally in Midland.

It happened to be someone who at first glance, was different than her.

“At one point in the rally, the crowd stopped walking and I realized there was a gentleman, who happened to be white, standing there with sunglasses and NRA t-shirt on, carrying an AR-15 rifle, a pistol, and a knife,” says Patrice. “He stood in front of a store with his arms crossed, which has always echoed a vibe of ‘do not approach’ to me.”

“At first, I questioned why he was there at a peaceful demonstration and I braced myself for the atmosphere to change,” she says. “Then I then checked myself and reached inward.”

“I have always been a person who appreciates dialogue from whichever direction it comes. I value another person’s authenticity even if we may not agree on everything. I love to engage and understand others. Often, I have found if both parties are open to having raw conversation, sometimes you find you have a few things in common regarding your mindset and beliefs. We may demonstrate them differently, but the similarities are still there when you really get down to it,” she says.

“I have started conversations of all types with people from all walks of life. I don't have to agree with them but I have found it useful to try to understand them, as I feel it helps me grow. It’s just kind of how I am,” Patrice says. “I’ve always tried to reach out to other people and have a conversation. I try to always act as a de-escalator and listen.” Erin Patrice talking to a man at Midland's Black Lives Matter Rally.

With that in mind, Patrice walked over to the man and asked him why he was here and what his goals were. 

“To be honest, he looked pretty menacing, so I wanted to understand his perspective. After talking to him, I learned that he had seen violence and looting at other demonstrations from around the country and wanted to help protect his friend’s pawn shop,” says Patrice. “I asked him if he thought that would happen here, and he said ‘no, but that he just wanted to make sure’.”

“We had a conversation about the rights of people in protecting their home and property, and I told him I believed in those rights. I told him that I didn’t want to assume things about him,” Patrice says. “It ended really well and I thanked him for allowing the conversation. He was very respectful and kept calling me ma’am. I found out afterwards that he even stayed after the rally and helped with cleanup, which is really cool.”

“That shows the power of having a conversation with someone who may seem different than you,” says Patrice. “From that conversation, I was able to understand his intent. I could understand if my friend had a shop, feeling worried about those things too.”

While understanding the perspective of others has always been something she strives to do – it hasn’t always been easy. Erin has lived in Midland for more than 15 years, raising her four boys here after moving from Cincinnati to be closer to family. Erin Patrice of The Breaking Bread Village (PC: Natalie Lodicobond)

“Coming here was really a culture shock for me, initially. When we moved to Midland, I can remember walking into a restaurant and having children point at me because they hadn’t seen anyone that looked like me before,” says Patrice.

“Back then, my youngest was about four years old,” says Patrice. “Not long after, one of their teachers from elementary school called and told me the kids were aggressive. I’m a word person, so I tried to understand what she was actually trying to convey to me. I know what it means, but I actually looked it up in the dictionary. She didn’t have any examples, so I didn’t understand what they wanted me to do about it.”

“After that, I was always hyper-aware and on edge about how the boys were received here and very aware regarding people’s thoughts of them,” says Patrice. “It definitely made me self-conscious about how they were treated and thought of.”

“We had issues throughout their years in school and have experienced racial inequality and classism, where they have been treated differently,” says Patrice. “One time, another student who had a black betta fish at home drew a fish on the chalkboard in class and wrote a racial slur next to it, saying the fish was slow and bumped into the glass all the time. I never even heard from the school about when the incident happened, I heard about it weeks later, from running into another mom from class at the grocery store.”

“Other times it was classism, like when the boys had friends in school and girls started liking them,” says Patrice. “The parents found out and the girls were no longer allowed to be friends with my sons.”

“It can be subtle, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint,” she says. “But when you see some of these things over a number of years, a pattern develops.”

She is certainly an advocate for positive change in that aspect. The Breaking Bread Village, which aims to foster understanding through conversation and learning from others.

“In our community, I think there is a need overall to grab our children’s attention at a young age and educate kids with positive imagery and stories of people of color,” says Patrice. “Students of color also need to see more people that look like them, in positive roles, influencing them, because what we put into our children shapes and molds them,” she says. “Sometimes it can be hard for white people to grasp this, because they are consistently surrounded by people that look like them. So, we need to start having those conversations.”

That’s part of what Patrice is doing with her efforts with 4 Steps 2 the Sun, a community outreach organization focused on ‘bringing voice to those that need help being heard, giving those blinded by misunderstandings the sight to see otherwise and light and love to those trapped in the dark’. Patrice also helps young women and families in need of resources.

As a part of that effort, she recently started The Breaking Bread Village, which aims to foster understanding through conversation and learning from others.

“We sit down, break bread and have a conversation, because that is where the powerful moments exist, in those small conversations where we learn something about another person,” says Patrice. “As a society, the more we talk to each other, the more we understand, the more we connect with and love one another.”

And that is where positive change starts.

You can connect and follow Erin Patrice and The Breaking Bread Village on YouTube here and over at www.4steps2thesun.org.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. As the Managing Editor of Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner. 
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