Civil Discourse Symposium 2014

Description of Inaugural Symposium

Civil Discourse for Civic Engagement

Date: November 3, 2014

In recognition of the important role civil discourse plays in cooperative governmental decision-making, the symposium will be held on the eve of Election Day, November 3rd at 5:00 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the L. William Seidman Building. The symposium expands on the civil discourse course, Detroit’s Public Dialogues:  Listening Across Differences, Seeing Beyond Stereotypes, Talking Among Communities and will feature four panelists whose social justice community work exemplify the successes of peace-based, neighborhood-nurturing initiatives happening in Detroit. The process of decision-making, whether choosing a political leader or determining the agenda for a neighborhood meeting, requires a commitment to stick with the process of collaboration, regardless of how contentious the voicing of opinions might become. We will hear from Detroiters who have made this commitment and learn how civil discourse is part of Detroit’s revolution. We welcome Ron Scott, Myrtle Thompson-Curtis, Richard Feldman and Kim Sherobbi, who will lead us in an evening of dialogue (see below).

We will begin with a showing of the film, “We are not Ghosts,” (see below) which highlights Detroit community initiatives and features panelists of the symposium as well as many of the people with whom students in the Detroit’s Public Dialogues course will work. After the film, panelists will talk about their work and the way civil discourse is part of community collaboration.  We will then open the conversation to everyone for an interactive community dialogue, moderated by civil discourse professor, Lisa M. Perhamus.

A special thank you to Richard Feldman and the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership for their support and partnership in the planning of this event.


Fifty years ago Detroit was booming with two million hard-working people living the American Dream. Then the auto industry crashed and so did the Motor City. Most moved away; whole neighborhoods turned into wastelands. But some didn't give up on the city they love. They had a vision of Detroit as a human-scaled city for a post-industrial world, and they are working to make it real.

“We are not Ghosts” tells their stories: from community businesses, to place-based schools, to thriving urban gardens and spoken word artists. These are the tales of Detroiters remaking their city with vision and spirit.

52 minutes
SDH Captioning for the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing
Film by Mark Dworkin & Melissa Young
Produced by Moving Images
Available from Bullfrog Films


Ron Scott is the Founder of Detroit Peace Zones for Life, a television and radio producer, a Founder of the Detroit Branch of the Black Panther Party and Founder of the Coalition Against Police Brutality. He is an advocate for a “people first mindset” as Detroit moves forward. Peace Zones represent “a paradigm shift from protest and opposition to transformation, resistance and finding alternatives.” It is not an organization, but, rather, a movement focused on living peacefully through self-transformation. Engagement with Peace Zones strengthens people’s commitment to their own safety, security and relationships.

Myrtle Thompson-Curtis is a Mother, Grandmother and Co-Founder of Feedom Freedom Growers, an urban garden that celebrates the motto: “Grow a garden, grow a community.” She led the way for transforming a vacant lot into a flourishing garden that now attracts neighbors and out-of-town visitors alike. Working in the garden offers neighbors an inter-generational experience of sharing wisdom and life stories while simultaneously strengthening the neighborhood’s capacity to feed itself. She partners with Wayne Curtis to build “life affirming communities” through nourishing neighbors’ relationship to the earth.  

Richard Feldman is a Community and Labor Activist. He worked on the assembly line at the Ford Michigan Truck Plant for 20 years and became an elected union official. His long time community work includes serving on the labor committee and disability justice committee of the U.S. Social Forum; the Huntington Woods Peace, Citizenship and Education Project; the Inclusive Education Movement; and the Disability Rights and Pride Movement. He is a Board Member of the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and Co-Editor of the book, End of the Line: Auto Workers and the American Dream.

Kim Sherobbi is a Community Partner and Facility Coordinator for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. She taught physical education for the Detroit Public Schools for 26 years and believes that everyone in the community is an educator. Working with both non-profit and government agencies, she has been an active community leader for over 20 years. Her wide range of community involvement has included volunteer work with the Adams Butzel Recreation Center, Reggie Mckenzie Foundation, Money Matters for Youth, Detroit Parent Network, Birwood Block Club Association and Detroit Impact.

After notes:  Thank you to all who attended the inaugural Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Civil Discourse Symposium, Civil Discourse for Civic Engagement. Over 240 people came together for a community dialogue. Students, staff, neighborhood residents, community members, faculty and GVSU leaders shared a unique opportunity to dialogue about important issues about developing and maintaining vibrant communities. Panelists shared poignant stories and challenging questions about the importance of “staying at the table” when conversations get difficult, both for the sake of remaining committed to honoring each other’s need to be understood and for the critical tasks facing each of us in the ongoing work of revitalizing Detroit and the many other cities whose needs call for civic engagement. When the evening ended, participants were still in the middle of conversations with one another. We had so much more to talk about together. May the conversations continue…

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