Beverly Braxton: sparking dialogue

Warwick. Beverly Braxton launched We the People Warwick, with its multi-faceted community initiatives, about two years ago.

| 29 Nov 2022 | 06:02

One conversation salvaged Beverly Braxton’s life, and since then she has employed dialogue in many directions. whether as mediator or fourth grade teacher in Warwick schools for 30 years. Most recently she has given dialogue a role in the organization she founded, We the People Warwick.

The group’s mission, according to their website is, “To foster dialogue, greater understanding, and common ground among all people of Warwick, ensuring that every person feels welcomed, heard, and supported in the town we all love.”

We the People Warwick has about 35 – 40 active members, with a support network of about 100 who come to events, receive the group’s newsletter and attend the dialogue series.

In a recent interview, Braxton discussed what led her to form the group and what she hopes they will accomplish.

Foundational stories

“We have to open up dialogues because we all have human stories” that form foundations for our beliefs and behavior, she said.

Her initial story had been discouraging.

“I grew up in a difficult family, exposed to violence. I was suicidal as a child,” Braxton said. “I had no hope, no sense of possibility.”

One conversation shifted her direction.

“Someone saved me or I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Braxton was in a Job Corps program in the 1970’s, working at the Library of the Blind in Philadelphia – an unusual experience for her: She was a self-described loner.

Also, she said, “I was never out of my Black community before.”

An “intimidating” white person called Braxton into her office.

“She saw something in me and said, ‘You don’t belong here – you belong in college.’”

Braxton was able to attend college as the daughter of a military service member and made her way out of difficult circumstances through higher education. It was this background that led her to teaching, and ultimately became a “training ground” for her conflict resolution work.

A view of community

Braxton spent much of her career as a fourth grade teacher, focusing mainly on the realm of Colonial American history and social studies. Occasionally, she would encounter “tensions” in her classrooms among some of her students when it came to the subject of race in America.

“We’re better than this,” she thought, and was eager for her students to engage in constructive dialogue: “You catch more bees with honey.”

Also, Braxton believes that the political climate of the past six years has made some people afraid of this country’s direction. We the People Warwick came out of this feeling, as she wondered, “Do we have it within us to create a better story? It’s important to be a model of hope,” Braxton said.

Evolving dialogue

Braxton’s professional experience includes training in conflict resolution as a mediator. One of the steps she learned to use in resolving conflicts among people is to go through an eight-hour dialogue series, which, she said, is “foundational,” and enables people engaging in the dialogue to see “how we need to be treating other people.”

When Braxton moved to Warwick, in the 1980’s she was asked to be a mediator and became “a really good listener.” These skills helped her when she became a teacher and observed that we, as a country, don’t have deep listening skills. Then after retirement, she noticed “buzzing in our community around race and politics” that were concerning.

People who stay with the dialogue series often go on to participate in We the People Warwick’s various projects, which include the Youth Engagement project; Story Share; and a mental health project, reminding people “You are not alone.”

The Youth Engagement project “gives voice” to the challenges young people now face, such as mental health issues, school shootings, or the fear of them, substance abuse and peer pressure. We the People Warwick invites Warwick youth, ages 7 - 12, to submit an original piece of art, poetry, or an essay, with the theme, “Warwick: A Town of belonging,” or in the group’s words, “a town where all members feel a sense of acceptance and inclusion, and where their identity matters to one another and to the overall community.” Top four entries will earn a $100 award. Deadline is November 15.

Story Share, a project Braxton says was modeled on Public Radio’s Moth Radio Hour, took place recently at the former Kutz Camp in Warwick. “

Story Share gives people a chance to talk for five minutes, telling a personal story in front of a live audience: “It awakens connections in people...It’s either a window or a mirror” allowing participants of different backgrounds, life experiences and political persuasions the opportunity to see the humanity in those who may be different from them, she says.

You Are Not Alone is a multi-part series to explore and destigmatize local mental health issues and find ways to address them.

“We’re looking at different sectors of society to see where folks are, coming out of the pandemic,” Braxton said.

Braxton and her organization expect to open a series of dialogues in January to look at the impact of job loss and other community challenges. She envisions bringing the community together to learn how to bridge divides. “How do we get back to what’s real? People just want to be seen, heard, and valued,” she said.

Story Share gives people a chance to talk for five minutes, telling a personal story in front of a live audience: “It awakens connections in people...It’s either a window or a mirror. - Beverly Braxton