J. C. Faulk
I was seven years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. On that day, I was indoctrinated into American racial fear. The bullet mortally wounded him, but it injured me deeply…as a young, first grade boy, I realized that I could die because of my skin color. Fear became a constant in my life after that.
As a young man, I became a diversity consultant for corporations, and I raised my daughter as a single parent, lived my life as others do, but I didn’t really face my fear until the uprising over Freddie Gray’s death. Standing in front of the burning CVS, I decided to stay out after curfew and stare down my fear. I found I could stay in the middle of race issues all night long and be ok. I find a love of self in that; this is what I have been born, or at a minimum conditioned, to do. Through the uprising, I found the freedom that I lost so long ago.
So beginning with a gathering of 12 people in my house, I formed Circles of Voices, LLC, a diversity and inclusion organization that brings people of very different backgrounds - socio-economic, racial, age, gender orientation- together to listen and get to know each other, and face down their own fears and biases. Despite our differences, we take time to listen to each other - not just with our ears, but also with our eyes and other senses.
We find that the vast majority of humans want to get along. We have an innate desire to love and be accepted, but life happens, and we get scared to be vulnerable. We put up boundaries and think we have to hide or fight. In Baltimore City, we live in silos. My goal is to get people out of their silos and talk to each other. We don’t have to be afraid. When we look in another’s eyes we see they breathe like we do. They feel lonely, too. We are alike in deep ways.
Circles of Voices, LLC has reached more than 2,000 participants so far, and we are growing fast. We have 50-60% newcomers at each meeting. I plan to increase these numbers in the coming years. I’d like to have 50,000 people, nearly 10% of the city, participating. At that point more of us will run into each other in the grocery store, and on the streets. I do this work because I want us to know each other, and in knowing each other, we accentuate the power of empathy and we increase the chance that our city will change.