One America Community Efforts
Little Bar

Program: Common Ground Program, New Orleans, LA
Contact(s): Lance Hill, Director: (504) 865-6100
Purpose: To create forums through which Louisiana residents can discuss race relations

Background Program Operations Outcomes


The Southern Institute for Research and Education was founded in 1992 to develop a long-term prejudice reduction program focusing on racial and religious divisions. The core group of founders emerged out of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, a political-action committee which began in 1990 in response to the David Duke senatorial campaign of that year. In 1993, the Common Ground Program was created to provide the catalyst for discussion. A primary emphasis of the program is in training participants to become moderators for discussions on race.

Program Operations

The Common Ground Program revolves around a moderated discussion among five to ten participants, preferably from diverse backgrounds. The six hours of discussion are divided over three sessions, with a particular focus to each session. The first session attempts to set a tone for the discussions that does not create an adversarial environment. Participants are led through exercises to develop trust, encourage sharing and define objectives. The next session focuses on defining terms to create a common vocabulary. The last session challenges participants to assess the problems within their communities and to find solutions. Nearly 2,000 people have participated in these discussions. In addition, the program offers moderator-training courses so that organizations can host their own discussions. The program has also developed events that take this format and expand it to larger numbers. On November 15, 1997, the Southern Institute for Research and Education sponsored a program called "Campus Dialogue on Race and Ethnic Relations," attracting 75 to 100 students from 10 Louisiana universities. The goal of this exercise was to hold a dialogue similar to that of a Common Ground discussion group and transform the dialogue into common action. The institute also organized two "Day of Healing" conferences in New Orleans that engaged more than 350 participants in small group discussions on improving race relations in New Orleans. The Institute then produced two reports on the findings of the conference. The Tolerance Education Project (TEP) also comes out of the Southern Institute for Education and Research. This program trains educators on how to address issues of tolerance and assists in curricular reform in these areas. TEP also provides instructional materials and promotes networking among involved educators. This networking for educators is supplemented by the Southern Catalyst Network--a regional alliance of organizations working on racial reconciliation--that helps to place organizations with common goals in touch with each other. In order to assist in the expansion of the dialogue on race, the Southern Institute has placed its Moderator Training Guide for the Common Ground Program on the World Wide Web. It has also developed an organizing kit for organizations that might like to begin their own peer-moderated discussion program.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Since this program began on the campus of Tulane University four years ago, the dialogue on race relations has spread. Up to 100 moderators are trained every year, and many of them live outside of the city of New Orleans. With the addition of the Southern Catalyst Network, the Common Ground Project and others like it have the ability to reach the entire state of Louisiana.

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