Empowering People to Act
A Long Talk About the Uncomfortable Truth comes to Sidwell Friends.
How do you build an effective anti-racist movement? One conversation at a time—which for Kyle Williams P’17,’19,’24 has meant nearly 300 conversations (and counting) over the last two and a half years. Williams is the chief empowerment officer of A Long Talk About the Uncomfortable Truth, a nonprofit devoted to creating an “anti-racism activation experience” and a network of educated activists. “I’m not trying to change people’s minds,” Williams says. “I’m trying to empower people to act.” In other words, Williams is not attempting to argue with or convert white supremacists; he’s meeting people where they are, igniting a sense of activism in them, and then arming them to go into the world and end racism.
It all started organically, after Williams spoke to his son’s college basketball team in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. It was a familiar role in a way: Williams has been an educator for the last 25 years, including as the head of a DC charter school. That one conversation led to conversations with some other colleges and universities, other athletics teams, workplaces, organizations, and the program just skyrocketed forward. Now, more than 7,000 people have had the conversation; they represent groups from the University of Michigan, Yale, Duke, Syracuse University, Brigham Young, the Aspen Institute, LinkedIn, Deutsche Bank, Inova Health System, and dozens more.
Sidwell Friends is now among that list after Williams hosted members of the community for A Long Talk. With three Sidwell Friends kids in his family, Williams had been eager for the School to join in. After all, Quakers have deep ties to the earliest abolitionist movements. In February, nearly 40 parents, faculty, and staff joined the conversation, and Williams hopes to host more conversations, including sessions for students, going forward.
The Long Talk experience itself includes “pre-work,” an hour-and-a-half video presentation and recommended readings to ground the group in a common understanding of U.S. history. Then there are two sessions, each two hours long, in which participants respond to the materials and questions raised in real time in a supportive environment. Participants also practice new skills, conversational approaches, and protocols as part of learning to become actively anti-racist. Williams is clear that A Long Talk isn’t “DEI” (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training, though that’s also important work. A Long Talk is less about how individuals behave in a given setting than it is an outward-facing call to action.
To that end, A Long Talk’s Pillars of Change network is there to brainstorm ideas, provide resources, and help participants activate. Whether it’s the basketball coach in Pennsylvania who only gets team meals from Black-owned businesses or the 6th grader in New Mexico who personally trained his teachers in anti-racist principles, there are big and small acts people can take every day to make a difference. Helping people commit is why Williams says, “I didn’t just find my purpose—I’ve found my people.”
To learn more about A Long Talk, go to alongtalk.com.
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