Building bridges, breaking walls

“Outsiders have no idea what Georgetown is like,” says Jaquita Wilson, a vibrant young African American woman who fled a difficult situation in New Jersey. When she arrived with her family and one suitcase each, local volunteer groups were quick to step up. “Christmas was ridiculous!” Groups including Blue Santa and a community group she found through a neighbor showered Jaquita’s family with assistance. “They gave us everything—a tree, presents,” she recalls. One person anonymously left a bag on her doorstep. “We thought Santa Claus lived in Georgetown.”

Stories like Jaquita’s seldom make the news. But even after such overwhelming generosity, she reflects, “We don’t talk. Everybody’s in their own little group.” Jaquita is not the first to watch Georgetown’s diverse cultures struggle to communicate. Community leader Dr. Ron Swain also noticed. Then he founded Courageous Conversations.

“Georgetown does have racial issues,” says inaugural member Stephanie Blanck. “Unless you experience or witness discrimination, it’s easy to say it doesn’t exist.” Stephanie explains that the group started as a response to the Ferguson shooting. “We didn’t want to be that community.”

New member Mary Calixtro is active in several community efforts supporting Georgetown’s Spanish speakers. She chooses to attend Courageous Conversations “for the betterment of mi gente [my people].”

Jaquita learned about Courageous Conversations during a library session on economic development. “I went, and it immediately felt like chicken soup for the soul,” she says. “There were all these people discussing the negative impact racism has had on people of color.”

Member Lalena Packhurst is concerned about Georgetown’s LGBTQ community. As an IT professional, she works in local schools to keep systems running and sometimes see conflicts among students while there. She says altercations tend to start when students “don’t know what words to use to express” their thoughts and concerns.

Courageous Conversations can help in such situations. The group offers safe places for youth to communicate about their concerns. And today, though still very new, the group continues to dream up positive ways to bring Georgetown out of its many cultures and into collaborative discussions. For Black History Month 2017, these plans include at least five community events and celebrations.

“This is not a radical, arm-waving, screaming group of people,” Stephanie explains. “We want Georgetown to be a ‘Beloved Community’ as envisioned by MLK,” she says, “all inclusive, where racism ceases to exist.”

Courageous Conversations will also hold three Black History Month sessions at the Georgetown Public Library on February 7th, 21st, and 28th at 6:30 p.m. For more information about Courageous Conversations and its events visit

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