Courageous Conversations to Build Community

We all share a deep and abiding love for and pride in St. Louis. Few cities can claim our level of philanthropic support, our number of startups, our tremendous growth in medical or plant research or our level of racial division. Since the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, our community continues to occupy the imagination of the nation and the world as frequent news reports remind us all of our community’s shortcomings with regard to the disparities in quality of life.

While it is perhaps embarrassing to admit, many of us have been surprised to learn of these glaring disparities and are shocked to realize how little we know about the experiences and perspectives of our fellow citizens. There is a huge demographic shift underway in the U.S. Last fall, for the first time, the overall number of Latino, African-American and Asian students in public K-12 classrooms surpassed the number of non-Hispanic whites.

Increasingly, families self-describe as multi-racial. Beyond these shifts, readers of the Business Journal know many workplaces are increasingly international.

At MICDS, the 2015-2016 school year represents our biggest and most diverse student body ever, with 32 percent of self-identifying as students of color, our students come from 66 different ZIP codes around the St. Louis metropolitan area and more than 35 different languages are spoken in students’ homes. Ours is a big tent at MICDS and cultural competency is a must for us all. The only way to develop the skills of dialogue and cultural competency is to practice, to enter into authentic conversation with others whose life experiences and perspectives are different. It is through dialogue that we will find a clear pathway to a better future for our city, nation and world. At MICDS we are adopting the “McCallie model,” a strategy for building relationships and understanding across race, conceived of by Franklin McCallie, former principal at Kirkwood High School. McCallie’s work has included bringing diverse groups of people together over a meal to learn more about one another.

I am proud to announce that MICDS is launching a speaker and dinner series this year inspired by Franklin McCallie. Over the course of the year, we will hear from speakers who will share their thoughts and ideas for how we might come together to build a stronger community. We will also follow the “McCallie model” and host community progressive dinners as a way to get to know each other better and to learn more about how others in our community may experience our city and our society. This series will kick-off on Sept. 2, featuring Franklin McCallie himself along with Felicia Pulliam, a former MICDS board member, development director at Focus Saint Louis, and current member of the Ferguson Commission.

I’ve started wondering what St. Louis would look like if each of us were to commit to developing the skills to work effectively across differences. What if we all committed to being part of diverse groups that come together to break bread and open dialogue? From Mr. McCallie’s work, we know that friendships, partnerships and shared understanding have emerged across racial lines. To learn more about how you can create these opportunities, visit our website at

Lisa Lyle is head of school at MICDS.