Published in The Day

By Karen Florin

Hand me the talking stick for a few moments, please.

This past week, employees of The Day and Shore Publishing completed six months of training in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging with in-person instruction from Stephanie Johnson of OneDigital Learning in Atlanta.

The Native American talking stick tradition is one of the many tools Johnson showed us as we strive to become more inclusive internally and in our coverage and business practices. The talking stick is passed around, and only the person holding it is allowed to speak. It's an exercise in listening and respect.

We'll never actually "finish" working on the way we interact with one another and with the community we serve, but the training provided us with a good baseline. A handful of co-workers who spoke with me about the training Friday agreed we learned more from the two in-person sessions Johnson provided than the self-paced courses we took online in between her two in-person visits.

(Listen to the podcast attached to this column for an interview with Johnson about her work with The Day and other clients.)

Some of us struggled with the training, and a couple of people I asked didn't want to talk about it Friday afternoon. That's OK. We're all approaching this from different places and processing it in our own ways.

The hope is that as we continue to talk and listen to one another about issues of race, gender, ability, age and the many other traits that make us unique, we become more comfortable with the discussion and more aware of how we interact with one another and the community.

Let me pass the talking stick to my co-worker, Melissa Johnson, a copy editor and writing teacher.

"The training made me feel hopeful, like diversity and inclusion is something we can educate ourselves about and get right. We just need to stay open to learning and keep trying to do the right thing," Johnson said. (Note, "Mel" Johnson is not related to our trainer, Stephanie Johnson.)

We handed the talking stick to Dave Davis, a copy editor in sports, who's not shy about speaking his mind.

"I went in thinking, 'Oh God, another thing we have to do,'" Davis said. "I went out thinking, 'I'm glad we did this.' This is stuff you have to do as a business. It doesn't mean it's always good, and it doesn't mean you always learn something. In this case we did."

Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich had the talking stick next.

She said she was struck by the videos Johnson showed throughout the training, which provided a heightened awareness of the importance of empathy and listening.

One of the videos showed a subway scene in which somebody chastened a man who was letting his children run around and make noise. The man agreed he probably should control the kids, but went on to say he had just come from the hospital, where the children's mother had died and that they, and he, really didn't know how to handle it.

"We do it all the time as journalists. We listen to other people and tell their stories," Drelich said. "It just reinforced how important it was, because you never know what they might be dealing with in their life."

We're grateful to have received financial assistance for the training from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund and Chelsea Groton Foundation.

Here's the talking stick. Tell us what you think.