What we learned about conflict from Crossing Divides

Apr 24, 2023

In this age of hyper-partisanship and social media algorithmania, Americans seem hopelessly divided—but we know there are people at the grassroots working tirelessly to build trust, empathy, and resilience. Partnering with the Cotyledon Fund, we created Crossing Divides, an open call to groups in Arizona, Mississippi, and Nebraska who are doing the hard work—often under the radar—of mending the social fabric of their communities. In 2022, we convened a six-person panel to review proposals in a participatory process, and awarded a $10,000 grant to 12 organizations. Our goal was not only to support grantee partners but to learn from and with them about how they define and address conflict, and what they believe is necessary to help the work grow.

These 12 groups represent a diverse constellation of approaches, all deeply committed to cultivating empathy, agency, and justice. Some focus on healing past wounds, others on preventing future strife. Among them are arts and culture projects that nurture social cohesion, nonprofits providing direct resources for immediate needs like housing or forward-thinking needs like supporting young leaders. There are media and storytelling projects confronting painful histories and dwindling local institutions, platforms for dialogue to shatter stigma around incarceration, faith communities finding common ground, and so much more. All of these projects address vital needs and crises, and along the way confront systemic racism, classism, and other structural forces that exacerbate social divisions.

In lieu of the typical grant report, we asked only for an informal conversation with representatives from each group. These calls offered illuminating and human-centered insights into their work and the many dedicated people on these front lines. With their participation, we have prepared a report that brings together just some of what we gleaned, which you can read here. Join us in celebrating their tireless work and considering how to create more inspiring change in other communities.

The mission of the Anastasis Theatre Co. is to lift unheard voices in our community. Our plays bring together diverse groups to highlight the beauty of our differences and reveal the common thread of our humanity.

The play More Than a Number breaks down the walls between incarcerated citizens and the outside world. Originally written and performed by a group of men at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, this play shatters misconceptions and reveals the common thread of our humanity. Anastasis Theatre Co. will tour More Than a Number to partner sites throughout Omaha and Lincoln, featuring a cast of formerly incarcerated citizens and professional actors. Each performance will be followed by a community conversation, and audience members will be invited to join Anastasis in a forum on criminal justice reform at a later date.

Civic Nebraska’s mission is to create a more modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans. We enable residents to feel more confident in their political institutions, more socially connected to their home and neighbors, increase civic engagement, and empower individuals to participate politically. With the support of Crossing Divides, participants will be trained in facilitating dialogue across differences and learn the art of civil discourse practice inside their communities and personal lives.

MMOS (Many Mouths One Stomach) began in 1996 as a small group of artists and activists working across mediums to enact ritual and theatre in the forgotten public spaces of Tucson, AZ. We have grown and evolved through the challenges of the work and are about to produce the 33rd Annual All Souls Procession attended by hundreds of thousands who gather to Honor the Dead and Celebrate Life on the second weekend of every November. MMOS produces community events, festivals, and showcases all year long at MSA Annex, an all-ages, open-air venue on Tucson’s Westside. MMOS hosts free support groups, workshops and meeting space at an artists collective called The Hive on Tucson’s Eastside, in partnership with Homicide Survivors Inc. MMOS also serves as a fiscal sponsor to smaller arts groups seeking grants and funding for their projects.

The We Are One project has a goal of creating a community of trust and understanding among cultures that will lead to joint community development projects. We want to resolve conflicts using several approaches: 1. Hosting listening sessions, 2. Community Gatherings, 3. Recognition of cultural events, 4. Conducting sensitivity trainings, and 5. Continuing to identify ways to integrate bi-lingual services into city and county departments, businesses and social service agencies. The project will take a multi-pronged approach to address the number of layers involved in the conflict.

Arizona Faith Network – Smart Justice Cafes Project

In response to rising temperatures and the needs of the most vulnerable in our community, Arizona Faith Network has launched the Smart Justice Cafes Project to help establish cooling centers and hydration stations in faith-based institutions. The establishment of the cooling centers and hydration stations prevents heat-related illnesses and deaths among vulnerable populations. These centers and stations also provide information on how to avoid heat-related illnesses and how to access needed community resources.

“Sacred Earth/Common Ground” uses the art of storytelling and shared experiences in nature to bridge the cultural and political divides that have made care for the environment divisive and polarizing. Artistic presentations will spark our imaginations. Then, participants from diverse backgrounds will be invited to tell stories of times when they have “stood on Holy Ground,” defined by those times and places when we have experienced deep CONNECTION—with ourselves (body, mind, spirit), our neighbors, nature, and the Divine. Shared narratives will help identify common values and create the shortest distance between people separated by conflicting ideologies. 

Seeking to put God’s love into action, Clarksdale Area Fuller Center for Housing (formerly Clarksdale Area Habitat for Humanity) brings people together across generational, geographic, racial, and social class boundaries to build affordable homes, encourage vibrant communities and bring transformational hope for qualified, low-income residents of this Mississippi Delta community. We are now embarking on a project to build new neighborhoods of smaller homes for younger, working residents to live decently as they become able to build equity for themselves and to improve the city to which they are committed. 

Mississippi Rising Coalition (MRC) is a multiracial, multigenerational, non-partisan, grassroots organization based in South Mississippi. We mobilize people and resources to improve the well-being, quality of life, and political power of marginalized Mississippians. Our goal is to facilitate the State of Mississippi’s rise from the bottom to the top of the list of quality of life metrics by empowering individuals and communities through community organizing, education, coalition-building, and advocacy in the areas of human and civil rights and social justice, and by increasing citizen engagement in the governance processes of our state.

Reconciliation Rising is a project dedicated to Natives and non-Natives confronting our past and reimagining our future. Since launching our project nearly four years ago, we’ve interviewed such notable figures as author and folklorist Roger Welsch, Ponca Tribal Chairman Larry Wright Jr., Pawnee seedkeeper Deb Echo-Hawk and Chippewa attorney Jerilyn DeCoteau. We’ve documented efforts to preserve tribal lands and corn, revitalize Native communities, educate non-Natives about the history of colonialism, and repatriate Native artifacts. We plan to continue seeking stories of reconciliation and plan to use this funding to conduct interviews and produce our podcast.

Grey Box Collective is a trauma-informed arts organization that devises interdisciplinary, experimental, and post-dramatic performances about social and emotional wellbeing (i.e. we make weird art about tough stuff). We work primarily at the intersection of performing arts, visual arts, educational psychology, somatics, and feminist theory. Our performances are developed through a trauma-informed creative practices method to embody and embed a lens of compassion and curiosity into spaces of creativity and learning. This allows for brave and supportive environments where multiple internalized/individual truths and social/systemic truths can be explored.

Our Family Services is a dynamic, multi-service organization with a rich history in Southern Arizona. Our mission is to eliminate homelessness and strengthen our community. We do this by providing stability in times of crisis, linking people to support and resources, supporting social connectedness, and engaging our neighbors to tackle tough community issues. Through our Center for Community Dialogue & Training, we help Southern Arizonans discuss challenging issues in a skilled, civil, and respectful way through mediation and facilitation, communication trainings, and events that build skills and spread constructive dialogue.

The Rosedale Freedom Project has implemented a restorative and transformative justice model within our learning spaces and youth organizing efforts. However, this work has focused primarily on the Fellows who participate in our daily arts clubs, academic classes, and organizing efforts. Through Kindle funding, we plan to expand this work to include other young people, to bring restorative and transformative justice models, conflict mediation and resolution strategies, and abolitionist organizing to the broader community of young people and their families, who are working to stem violence and build strong community in our schools and towns.