For the past year, the Fort Worth Report has invited community members to monthly Candid Conversations, where Fort Worth leaders have addressed some of the most pressing issues the community faces. Next, the Report will focus on listening to community members themselves.
With guidance from TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication, the Report is inviting members of the public to discuss issues that matter to them in a Friday event. Reporters will be on hand to listen to residents’ concerns and take what they hear out into the world — allowing those comments to shape the Report’s coverage of news in Tarrant County.
The event hopes to create a space for listening free from the incivility of other forums for conversation, said Ashley English, a TCU professor and one of the event organizers.
“We can’t be scared to talk,” English said. “We can’t be fearful of each other. We’ve done that long enough. And so, hopefully, this conversation allows us to start the process of knowing one another again, and trusting our neighbor.”
If you go:
The event will begin at 7:30 a.m Friday, Jan. 13, in the TCU Kelly Alumni & Visitors Center, Kelly Ballroom, 2820 Stadium Drive. You may register to participate in the free event here.
Participants will sign in, grab breakfast and coffee and proceed to a table. Each table will be assigned a topic, ranging from food security and education to sustainability and racial equity. Participants will have the opportunity to choose a topic that interests them.
Once seated, a community listener will facilitate conversation that is focused on listening to community members in the room. Representatives of Fort Worth organizations, including Trinity Metro, Tarrant Area Food Bank, TechFW and more, will serve as community listeners.
The College of Communications will synthesize the ideas generated by the event and distribute them to organizations working to address issues in Fort Worth.
The event is tied to research conducted by English and fellow TCU Communications professors Jacqueline Lambiase and Julie O’Neil. The research focused on municipal listening structures after former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her home in October 2019, prompting protests, grief and outrage among Fort Worth’s Black community, on Oct. 12, 2019. Dean was recently found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison.
The researchers found that despite residents speaking in public forums, they rarely felt heard and understood by city leadership.
“They give space for citizens to give expression of their feedback, but there is a
difference between listening and hearing (and then making change),” one interviewee in the study said.
One of the most important elements of effective listening is laying down power and control, Lambiase said.
“People who are in power don’t want to do that,” she said.
The recent trial and upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration serves as the perfect backdrop to invite the community to engage in difficult conversations, English said.
“We’re healing from a tragic event, but this is a beautiful opportunity to start a new habit at the start of the year … so we want to encourage unity, but that unity has to come with honest conversations,” English said.
The next step will be action, Lambiase said. Throughout their research, Lambiase and Taylor found that Black people reported bringing issues to the attention of city leaders, but getting discouraged after witnessing little change in the aftermath. Through honest conversations, Lambiase hopes to shift the dynamic.
“When we stop viewing everyone as other, we create the space to start listening and respecting the rights of others to speak, then I think we get further down the road of transformational change,” Lambiase said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.