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Living Library Café at HC Link’s conference: eye-opening, powerful, positive and hopeful

A key highlight of HC Link’s 2017 conference (Linking for Healthy Communities: With Everyone, For Everyone), was the plenary activity on day two that provided space for reflection and dialogue on how to work across difference to build more inclusive communities. Through this “Living Library Café”, we helped participants co-learn through respectful group conversations with fellow conference attendees and a library of “Living Books”. These Living Books — each with varied knowledge and expertise (lived/inherited and/or as an ally) in equity, diversity, cultural humility, inclusion and allyship — shared their stories and facilitated discussions to explore successes and barriers in this work.

Our approach to this activity (a Human Library/World Café hybrid) was grounded in participatory learning with three primary objectives:

  • To create greater capacity for perspective-taking by cultivating empathy across diverse experiences.

  • To challenge prejudices and discrimination.

  • To create an environment where attendees can integrate learnings and/or identify barriers and strategies.

We hoped our Living Library Café would facilitate collective learning by harnessing the knowledge in the room, and also help conference attendees reflect on their own successes and challenges, and explore how they too can create meaningful ways of continuing this important work.

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Conference participant, Alison Stirling, shared the following observations on her experience at the Living Library Café:

This Living Library Café blended the World Café and a Human Library – the vibrant changing dynamic exchanges of the café of people from many worlds, mixed with the learning, sharing and respectful contemplation of a library of living ‘books’ telling their stories.   “Making stories is not a natural act, some stories take more space than others” noted social justice activist and Living Library Café moderator Sara Mohammed. “It is how we come to know our stories that is key.”

In her opening, Sara addressed the audience to explain the structure and context of the activity, as well as introduced us to a select panel of three additional books. We were invited to reflect briefly upon what we heard from the book panel and our table’s living book and how their tales aligned with who we are as people and who we want to become; our ‘mission’ or ‘goal’ of sorts. Changing gears to delve into deeper reflection with our table’s living-book and their individual story was somewhat disorienting, yet it was a good way to hear about their lived experience more deeply and share tips of success and what to improve.

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Conversations came from the heart. All around the room I heard lively discussions on what defines ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. I learned more about engaging and acting on awareness of privilege and bias. We also took a deeper look at the golden rule of “treating people as you want to be treated” and its reformed version introduced to us by Kim Katrin Milan, the conference’s keynote speaker, “treating people the way they want to be treated”.

As we rotated to different tables to join a new living-book, my next book wanted to share more about actively engaging with people and youth, exploring the arts, and addressing equity and faith communities. Here I can say we learned how to become receivers of messages, information and change. Among the people seated at my table, we shared tales of diverse communities that struggle to find common ground. When clashes of beliefs, faith or culture arise, leadership on both sides is required to step in and talk about barriers and how to communicate and work together.

AHA! moments came in talking about relationships, understanding conflict, and the context of experience:
“We do not have the lived experience of people at the table. We have to understand context.”
“Relationship building is vital in working with youth – respect and ask, listen and support.”

Time calls to move and to wrap up came too fast! Voices and gestures sped up, talk and questions flew about ways to act on change. “Don’t stop here” said our table facilitator/living book – “write an email to yourself or to [the facilitators/storytellers] with comments, ideas, commitments to ourselves for what’s next”.

There was energy to keep the exchanges flowing. Like other participants, I felt that the Living Library Café was eye-opening, powerful, positive and hopeful.

“Look forward to the future, keep on dreaming”

 

To see proceedings from HC Link’s 2017 conference, including presentation slides and materials,  visit: http://hclinkontario.ca/events/conferences1.html

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