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Tackling tough conversations in Elizabeth

The City of Elizabeth is in the process of creating their 10-year Master Plan. Groundwork Elizabeth will provide opportunities for youth voices to coordinate policy proposals to mitigate the effects of this pandemic and prepare the community for probable similar experiences, while educating them about the positive difference that civic actions can make.

Groundwork Elizabeth turned a major challenge into a highlight this past week. The group of Civic Spring grantees, ranging from fourteen to nineteen years old, is diverse and represents a wide range of political ideologies and lived experiences.

“We have very varying opinions, some people far left, some people far right, some people right in the middle,” said Youth Leader Stephania Gonzalez.

Talking about difficult political issues was a challenge at first, she said. But, by working through their differences as a group, each participant is learning the skills of engaging in tough conversations while upholding the values of respect and validation.

One of the ways that the Groundwork team laid the foundation for these tough conversations was by starting the program with a game called, “I agree, but…”

They started with a fun topic: pizza. The conversation went something like this:

“I love pizza with pineapple.”

“I agree, I love pizza, but pineapple has no place on pizza.”

“I agree that pineapple has no place on pizza, but it is great in fruit salad.”

The group gradually worked up to different topics like gender and race using this structure. Establishing a sense of commonality before challenging someone’s opinions or beliefs allowed the participants to keep listening to each other with respect, even when they didn’t agree on serious matters.

“It is a great tool to help us come to better conclusions,” she said, by “introducing the idea of having a conversation in a respectful atmosphere.”

Youth participant Dency Rivera talked about how these conversations have helped him and others develop the skills to engage in civil dialogue with those who think differently. He believes that participants will share these valuable skills with their classmates, friends and family in the future