"What a wonderful gift - the gift of family history." – Michele Norris, NPR
As a community leader, Aurora Family Service has been helping to prompt more dialogue on topics that are important to strengthening our quality of life. One annual event hosted by Aurora Family Service is a Race, Families and Milwaukee Summit. The theme of this year’s summit, the fifth annual, was Sound of Silence: Things said and left unsaid.
With nearly 300 people in attendance, guests gathered around the proverbial table to discuss how family legacy plays a critical role in race relations. Participants included educators, social workers, and agency representatives working to strengthen families and continuing to address race issues that impact our city.
Leading the conversation was Michele Norris. An award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience, Norris hosts NPR's newsmagazine All Things Considered, public radio's longest-running national program. Last year, Norris published her first book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir.
Norris realized she couldn’t fully understand how other people talked about race until she understood how her own family dealt with it. This memoir features stories long silenced about racial tension experienced by her African-American family. For Norris, it was uncovering pieces of a puzzle well into her adulthood that provided a richer understanding of her family’s history.
"The turning point came when I finally urged my mother to share these stories, even though she really didn’t want to give them up," explained Norris.
In revealing countless examples of race relations in Minneapolis in the 1960s, the experience, for Norris, was eye-opening.
"I learned my mother had something called ‘grit.’ Through grace and good humor, it’s how she coped," said Norris, as she talked about her mother’s recollection of the racial and social divide in their city neighborhood and its painful effect on the family.
"My family has a much more complex racial history than I ever knew," she added.
As the keynote speaker and member of the panel discussion about race and racial issues, Norris emphasized that race in America is the subject of an ongoing conversation. "All of us should remain at the table, even when things get uncomfortable."
The afternoon at the Summit included three Call to Action Workshops breaking the conversations down into three areas: The Role of Secrets in Families, Talking Race Across the Generations, and How to Start the Discussion.
Beginning to open these lines of communication can be daunting for even the closest of families. An NPR colleague of Norris’ has declared the day after Thanksgiving a National Day of Listening. It’s easy to sit and talk, especially when comfort food is involved, she joked. And Norris herself suggests recording it for posterity.
"Sit down and have a conversation about life and learn from history. It is families who help shape the contour of this country," said Norris.
This Thanksgiving, add a conversation about your family’s history to the menu. The lessons learned may be valuable tools for how we live, work and celebrate our diversities within families and throughout the world.
For more information about how to continue these important discussions on race, families and Milwaukee, please visit the Aurora Family Service website or call 414-342-4560.