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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Communicating With Our Children

By Laurie Markoff
The Holliston Community Education Collaborative (HCEC) hosted a community dialogue on March 7 entitled How to Have Important Conversations with Our Children for Greater Inclusion in Holliston. 
HCEC is a collaboration of Holliston PTO/Mindshare, Holliston Special Education Parent Advisory Council Diverse Holliston, Holliston Youth and Family Services and Holliston Public Schools. 
I have lived in Holliston for more than 30 years. When we moved in, one neighbor brought cookies and another helped put in our mailbox. Recently I realized that not everyone in Holliston has that experience. We entered and participated in this community easily because we looked like everybody else. 
What I love about living in Holliston is that it has a real sense of community. We value our relationships with our neighbors and support each other through difficult times. 
As the demographics of Holliston change, I want everyone who moves here to have as good an experience as I have had. For that to happen, we need to learn to engage in positive supportive relationships with people who are different from us. This requires facing and talking about difficult issues in our society, such as racism, ableism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression and discrimination. 
For that reason, I joined Diverse Holliston and participate in HCEC. 
At the event on March 7, we met in small groups and shared our experiences of trying to speak with young people about human differences, both those that went well and those that went badly. 
It was uncomfortable to share our struggles, but helpful to discover that we are all “in the same boat”. 
In my group, we realized that one of the problems was wanting the young people to come to agree with us, rather than being satisfied with raising their awareness. It felt like a relief to be talking about this and we would have continued the conversation much longer if we hadn’t run out of time. Having pushed through the fear of “getting it wrong” made me feel like it would be easier to talk about these issues in other settings. 
Participants shared their thoughts in writing about what made these conversations easier and what made them harder. Then a panel of community members who work with young people reflected on their experiences of speaking with them about human differences and summed up the important take-aways from the evening. 
One thing I realized was that learning to have these conversations is an ongoing process. One part is developing relationships with young people over time that are trusting and open and in which you listen to each other. Another is making sure young people have the opportunity to be with, read about or watch media about people who are different from them. 
We, as adults, have to keep adding to our own knowledge of what other kinds of people have lived through and how they live, so we have something to share. Since conversations about these kinds of topics can bring up emotions, we have to be able to recognize when our emotions are getting in the way, and step back, breathe, and let ourselves settle before continuing.
The most important thing I heard was the idea that, since things have changed very quickly, we and the young people are both in the process of learning about these things. We don’t have to know it all, or be perfect. We can let the young people know that we are also learning about this, and we can learn about it together. 
Diverse Holliston will continue to offer monthly Community Labs in which participants practice speaking about human differences. HCEC plans to host a future event in which community members can continue to learn and practice discussing these topics, so that we can become an even more connected and welcoming community.