What began as a six-week experiment at The Portico has become an ongoing opportunity for growth and connection through conversation. The Civil Conversations Project at The Portico offers a weekly opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with others—sometimes with markedly different perspectives and life experiences—on topics and issues that impact our lives.

It’s a conversation open to anyone who wishes to participate, walk-ins welcome, 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays at The Portico. The project is inspired by the Civil Conversations Project (www.civilconversationsproject.org) launched by the NPR radio program and podcast On Being. Each week’s discussion focuses on one podcast interview from the project.

Explained Michelle Schumacher, group organizer, “When the Rev. Dr. Gary Mason spoke to us at the ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ event in February, he said, “There are three ways to resolve conflict: genocide, containment, and conversations.’ We choose conversations.”

Listening to and discussing podcasts on the issue of race in America, participants have experienced the wisdom of:

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson on why changing hearts is just as important as changing laws.
  • Civil Rights icon Ruby Sales on the importance and value of redemptive anger, and also in asking each other, “Where does it hurt?” with the intention of listening fully and with empathy.
  • On Being host Krista Tippett’s experience that “To ask someone to tell even a little bit of their story is to give them a gift.”
  • Veterans of Hope Chairperson and Civil Rights Movement leader Vincent Harding’s observation that “Love trumps doctrine always.”
  • Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and The California Endowment’s CEO Robert Ross’s experience on the importance of imagining something different for our collective future.

Members have helped others hear diverse experiences and points of view through the sharing of their own stories including:

  • A white man’s growing up hearing racist jokes and terms as accepted vernacular.
  • A black woman’s being followed in stores by staff because of the color of her skin.
  • A black woman’s not being helped by employees who offered assistance only to the white customers around her.
  • A white man not understanding, as a child, why his white mother didn’t want his black friend to come over after school.
  • A white woman’s childhood confusion and embarrassment at her first encounter with a “colored” water fountain.

Conversation has also inspired action. Two in the group chose to worship at Easter with Tyer Temple United Methodist Church, an African-American congregation in Tampa, and have invited members of that congregation to participate in worship and a potluck dinner at The Portico on Sunday, May 21.

This journey of opening our hearts and minds to listen to, and learn from, one another continues. All are welcome, on any or every Wednesday in May. Click on links each week to listen or read the interview in advance; excerpts are played at discussions.

May 3 The Movement Remembered Forward –“Wisdom for how we can move and heal our society in our time as the Civil Rights Movement galvanized its own.”

May 10 Let’s Talk About Whiteness – Could we learn to talk about whiteness in a multi-racial world?

May 17 PBS Film – Against All Odds: the Fight for a Black Middle Class with Bob Herbert (running time 1 hr. 15 min) – from the film’s website, “Acclaimed journalist Bob Herbert explores the often heroic efforts of black families to pursue the American dream in the face of unrelenting barriers.”


May 24 The Freedom of Real Apologies – “Entry points for us all — to events that are not merely about the past, and to the freedom real apologies might bring.”

May 31 How to Be Spiritually Bold – “How to engage with the well-being of our neighbors in this complicated age.”

For June through August, The Civil Conversations Project at The Portico will meet monthly, with topics expected to center around the future of Christianity and Evangelicalism.

As conceived by the NPR program “On Being” the Civil Conversations Project encourages “Speaking together differently in order to live together differently.”   From its website:

“The Civil Conversations Project seeks to renew common life in a fractured and tender world. We are a conversation-based, virtues-based resource towards hospitable, trustworthy relationship with and across difference. We honor the power of asking better questions, model reframed approaches to entrenched debates, and insist that the ruptures above the radar do not tell the whole story of our time. We aspire to amplify and cross-pollinate the generative new realities that are also being woven, one word and one life at a time.”

“These conversations are taken from episodes of On Being and are moderated by host Krista Tippett. Our hope is that these conversations model an approach to civil dialogue that:

  • Creates space for a new quality of conversation and relationship;
  • Is grounded in lived virtues;
  • Calms fear;
  • Engages common life even in the absence of common ground;
  • Restores the social art of listening;
  • Models an adventurous civility;
  • Patiently calls forth the best in ourselves and others.”

For more information contact Michelle Schumacher at 813.363.3970 or at michelleschumacher2015@gmail.com.