Editor’s Note: This article was inspired by the insights shared during a Fall 2021 session of “Community Voices,” a series of virtual panel discussions that was created in 2020 by our foundation to bring together experts from nonprofit and community organizations to discuss our community’s evolving needs and opportunities. A recording of this program and other sessions are available at www.cfsarasota.org/media-center/community-voices
Bold ideas are enriching our community’s desire to connect and come together once again. Regional leaders and nonprofit organizations are engaging those they serve on a deeper level, in ways that use new technology and tried-and-true tactics to create spaces for diverse thoughts, perspectives, and opinions.
The motivation to unlock the potential of these ideas is informed – and powered – by community outreach. In a virtual conversation with donors and community members, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County invited three nonprofit partners connecting people and ideas through unique mediums.
Panelists highlighted how the rapid adoption of technology through the pandemic and an urge for traditional, in-person connections strengthened their outreach, but in different yet complimentary ways, enhancing their work to come. Their ideas reflected both a way to connect with those closest to our region’s greatest challenges and engage generous individuals, families, and organizations to drive solutions.
While each organization’s mission has a different focus – be it about the importance of diversity and racial justice in the arts, the inclusion of LGBTQ+ communities, or the realization of an outdoor public space for all people – each has an aim to build a more equitable community.
“A Sanctuary for Growth and Acceptance”
Donna Hanley Board Member, Project Pride SRQ
Celebrating, uniting, and supporting our region’s LGBTQ+ community has been a mainstay of Project Pride SRQ since its inception in 2019. So when the idea arose to engage in conversations linking local LGBTQ+ perspectives with those of their peers, Project Pride turned to digital platforms and everyone’s favorite Sunday pastime – brunch – to educate and entertain.
Over the course of 12 episodes aired monthly, “The Brunch Show” has welcomed local leaders and community members, including allies, to catalyze ‘aha’ moments that get past unconscious biases and build respect for one another’s humanity. From health care to animal welfare, the series highlighted challenges and experiences that every community could see themselves in (say, mental health needs during the pandemic) and addressed issues specific issues for the LGBTQ+ community (such as end-of-life planning for same-sex couples). In the process, “The Brunch Show” created a virtual sanctuary for awareness, growth, and acceptance.
As the show’s more than 58,000 viewers experienced, the most meaningful outcome for members of our local LGBTQ+ community, in Hanley’s words, is “the happiness of seeing someone like themselves on screen.” Feedback and thoughts shared on “The Brunch Show” will guide Project Pride SRQ’s next steps, ensuring that representation will continue to be wide reaching and welcoming.
“Diversity is About Inclusion”
Michele Des Verney Redwine Executive Director, Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative
The voices shared through the arts are calling out to be heard and understood, not just seen. Through The Arts & Racial Justice Discovery Series, the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative is expanding this call to action into the realm of public discussion, exchanging ideas, pulling back the veil on sensitive issues, and helping others realize the work they must undertake moving forward.
Since January 2021, four panel discussions have invited hundreds of guests to think critically about race related to the visual, performing, and digital arts – and systemic issues within them – through the lenses of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Diversity is about inclusion, and inclusion must be the full community coming together,” said Redwine. “If we don’t communicate and talk about these issues, we are not going to learn.”
Most recently, in October 2021, the conversation highlighted the Black experience in the arts in higher education alongside students, young people, and leaders of local colleges and universities. This is one step along Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative’s journey to expose more people – especially children and families who are part of Black communities – to the arts throughout their life, not just during their education. These panels are only the beginning and, as Redwine shares, stand as “an opportunity to open an awareness to let others know to do more.”
“Coming Together on Common Ground”
Jeannie Perales Chief Experience Officer, The Bay Park Conservancy
Nearly half a decade of input about the many aspirations residents have for Sarasota have informed the vision of The Bay Park Conservancy: to build a 53-acre park along Sarasota Bay that will be open and accessible for all. “Common ground – that’s how we think of this park,” said Perales, “as a place to come together.” Since its inception, engaging our region’s constituents has been key to refining the park’s purpose and development. Now, that heritage of feedback is being employed to activate programs on the waterfront site.
Over the years, this outreach has taken the form of more than 174 presentations and listening sessions, and three comprehensive surveys, the most recent of which focused on activating the park’s pilot activities. Across platforms both in-person and digital, and offered bilingually in English and Spanish, this survey garnered 2,500 responses in three months by establishing a visible presence at communal spaces, including Sarasota Public Libraries and Newtown Farmers Market. Some of the input was expected, while others shared ideas – from play spaces to historical preservation – that The Bay hadn’t anticipated but could implement in the years to come.
When asked how our community could be more inclusive of differing perspectives, Perales shared, “It comes down to humility and curiosity – being curious about who is out there and what is out there, and not judging them. When it comes to listening to diverse voices, we need to hang our ego up and open our eyes, mind, and heart.”