The Group

This is an ongoing discussion series with a group of AmeriCorps service workers.

The Program

Our December discussion centered around Martin Luther King's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail." The members first viewed a video on the civil rights movement as a larger group, then divided up into two groups of 12 to 15 members each. Each group then read passages from King's letter. Discussions focused on issues that persist into the 21st Century. Many individuals shared their own experiences with injustice. A recurring theme was the importance of group action and group solidarity.

In January, William Carlos Williams' "The Use of Force" served as the basis for discussion. Once again we worked in two groups of 12-15 members. Since these Americorps members are for the most part serving as tutors in area schools, one theme that emerged was the difficulty of working with uncooperative students. Time and again we returned to the importance of good parenting as a precursor to good schooling. Members shared both their experiences with their own children and their experiences with children in schools. A tragic backdrop for this discussion was the recent suicide of an 11 year-old boy in the community. Several members knew the family. The Williams story thus served as a jumping off point for a wide-ranging discussion.

Overview

Many members of our group are becoming more willing to share their own personal experiences. While discussions begin with an analysis of the readings, topics quickly range to individual and community concerns. The readings can also serve to refocus discussions if too many topics get introduced.

Next Time

So far, we have tried to focus on readings, or excerpts from readings, that can be completed in a group setting within about ten minutes, leaving plenty of time for discussion. On the King letter, we read portions and then skipped portions, since the overall passage is quite long. The Williams' story can also be completed in a short period of time.

Final Thoughts

As with any group, some people are more comfortable in sharing than others. Increasingly, it seems the job of the facilitator is to try to involve as many group members as possible. This also means putting limits on the contributions of some. We end our sessions by giving everyone a chance to speak, though not all take advantage of this.

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