By SARA NEWMAN
January 12, 2018
In an effort to encourage public discourse, understanding and sharing various points of view, the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association is hosting community discussions throughout the region this month surrounding the question, “How Should Communities Reduce Violence?”
“Any time you have an opportunity where people can come together and share their perspectives and everyone will walk away from this program with a better understanding of the issues and with what they believe to be true,” Brad Gottfried, former president of the College of Southern Maryland, CSM, said of the events.
Gottfried and his wife, Linda, will moderate the discussions at three different libraries. The first discussion will take place tomorrow in Charles County at the P.D. Brown Library branch at 2 p.m. The next events will follow on Saturday, Jan. 27, at Calvert Library Prince Frederick at 9:30 a.m. and St. Mary’s County Library’s Lexington Park Branch at 2 p.m.
The program is the first in a series of National Issues Forum, NIF, discussions that Gottfried has had experience with prior to his tenure at CSM. NIF is a network of civic, educational (and other organizations) and individuals whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in the country. It includes civic clubs, religious organizations, libraries, schools and many other groups that meet to discuss critical public issues.
Though not specifically associated with NIF, libraries in Southern Maryland have hosted similar community conversations over the past year. Tisha Tyler, marketing and development manager for Charles County Public Library, said the library is committed to this format because the conversations are a “launch pad to bring about some different mindsets” and points of view that may lead to positive change.
“[This is] an opportunity for our community to feel as though they are heard and then for us to really have an opportunity to look at what some of the steps we can take to make our community better and stronger,” Tyler said.
Various professionals within the community, including those from the county sheriff’s office, community mediation and mentoring organizations among others, are invited to the discussions to be a resource for participants and answer questions, though Tyler said the events will not be surrounding a panel discussion.
“The power is with individuals to share and discuss and people have to feel comfortable to share how they feel about things without being attacked by others,” Gottfried said.
“We want people to understand other people’s points of view without getting angry at each other,” Robyn Truslow, public relations coordinator for Calvert Library, said.
In the past, Truslow said similar events have led to relationship building between adversaries and creating fresh ideas for how the community can deal with various issues.
“We know we have an opioid problem in Calvert County and drug use and mental health issues play a role in violence and these are issues for us even on a national scale,” Truslow said, adding that the focus of the conversations is placed on what can be done at the local level to solve these problems.
A self-described “educator at heart,” Gottfried said he looked to bring this NIF discussion to the region’s libraries as a way to continue to give back to the Southern Maryland community since leaving his position at CSM. He said he hopes participants continue discussing even after leaving the event.
“It really is very stimulating and gives intelligent people an opportunity to learn and share with each other and to me that’s what a community is all about,” Gottfried said. “I’m not so optimistic that at the end we’ll all sing “Kumbayah” and have all the answers. These are such complex issues that I’m not so certain we’ll come to any closure at the end of the programs, but rather more knowledge, thoughtful discussion and how a person really feels about [an issue when it’s] grounded in thoughtfulness rather than things in the news or things someone may have told them that may not be accurate.”
NIF booklets on the discussion topic of “Safety and Justice” are available to check out through all three county library systems. Additional copies will be made available on a first come, first served basis at the discussion programs.
Though the programs are free and open to the public, seating is limited. Go to SMRLA.org/NIF to register for a specific location.