The Carbondale Human Relations Commission inaugurated Carbondale Conversations for Community Action in September, 2003, followed by City Council approval in November. The programs were modeled after the nationally recognized Study Circles Program (see www.everyday-democracy.org ). These community-wide programs include people from all walks of life taking part in meaningful dialogue (called Study Circles) and constructive actions (called Action Groups). All community members are invited to participate in small-group discussions, led by trained facilitators and held at various sites throughout the city. Ideas and recommendations for action from each of these small groups are collected and brought to an Action Forum where all participants gather and select specific projects to work on. Individuals and groups commit to future actions; Action Groups are organized and continue the work.
From 2004 to 2007, three rounds of Conversations were held, dealing with "Building Strong Neighborhoods," "Community and Police Working Together," and "Racism and Race Relations." Action Groups that grew out of the Conversations met regularly and sent reports to the Carbondale Human Relations Commission for discussion and possible action on the part of the City.
The first topic, "Building Strong Neighborhoods," has had the longest impact: Ideas that began in conversations are still producing results, and the Neighborhood Action Group continues to meet most months on the first Wednesday. Meetings are open to the public.
For more information contact:
Carbondale Conversations for Community Action
City of Carbondale
P.O. Box 2047
Carbondale, Illinois 62902-2047
Or phone at: 618-549-5302 x 386 (leave your name and number if volunteer not available)
Or e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The first round of Carbondale Conversations for Community Action took place in the Spring of 2004. The topic was Building Strong Neighborhoods. Over 100 people participated in 10 small groups. At the Culminating Action Forum participants were most concerned that action groups focus on getting a swimming pool for Carbondale and on improving housing and neighborhoods. Other topics included beautification, promoting diversity, student-city relations, and a focus on Buckminster Fuller.
The Carbondale Aquatic Complex Committee developed into a strong coalitions of various interests; they did research on other communities with pools and arranged public presentations; they became a citizens' advisory committee through the Carbondale Park District Board to develop the best route to their goal: an aquatic center for Carbondale residents that is accessible to as many people for as many uses as possible. In 2011 the Park District received a grant which allowed them to move towards a Splash Park, due to open in 2015.
The Housing and Neighborhood Action Groups joined forces and started meeting the first Wednesday of every month at 5:00 p.m. in City Hall. One early focus was over-occupancy of rental properties. After hearing from homeowners, landlords, tenant representatives and City Officials, the group recommended changes in City Ordinances in order to increase transparency in leases. The Carbondale City Council approved such an ordinance in April 2005. Another focus is increasing the number and effectiveness of neighborhood associations. A Neighborhood Alliance Meeting is held in January each year and brings together representatives from different neighborhoods with leaders on current issues. The meeting is open to anyone who considers Carbondale home.
Another project of the Neighborhood Action Group (name simplified in 2012) is the Map Your Neighborhood program, which promotes disaster preparedness. ; Training sessions have been held since 2008.
Community and police working together was the focus for the second round 2 Carbondale Conversations for Community Action, held in the fall of 2005. Seven different discussion groups were held all over town and included people from all walks of life, including employees of both SIUC and Carbondale Police Deparments. Groups met weekly for a two-hour facilitated discussion. At the end of five meetings, an Action Forum was held which resulted in the creation of four action groups: Continue the Dialogue, Education, Police Recognition, and Youth Involvement.
The Education Action Group produced a new flyer, What to Do if Stopped by the Police, which was a joint effort by SIUC Department of Public Safety and the Carbondale Police Department. The first (of three) Police Recognition banquet was held in May of 2006 at the Carbondale Civic Center. The Youth Involvement group brought together participants from Carbondale Community High School, the Adolescent Health Center, and the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale, and cooperation among those groups continues.
Dialogues continued for several years, at various forums around Carbondale and on the SIUC campus. SIUC's Black Affairs Council was a regular co-sponsor. One way to achieve the goal of "Community and Police Working Together," is to seek out or create opportunities to have open dialogue with the police and all the various parts of our community.
Carbondale Conversations for Community Action focused on Racism and Race Relations in Spring 2007. Dozens of participants and trained facilitators used the Study Circles booklet "Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation" to guide the small groups through six weeks of discussion.
Ideas and recommendations from each of these small groups were collected, and participants at the Action Forum committed to working in the areas of schools, the media, training, and jobs. In addition, the "Colorful Carbondale" group planned and promoted several events and programs which celebrate the diversity in Carbondale.
The Schools Group brought together parents, educators, school board members, and others, creating a forum for discussing issues of concern and they encourage new approaches.