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MEET Daniel: tango dancing promoter of tolerance

danielshorr

The world could use a little more peace and understanding.  A new organization doing just that is growing here in Atlanta.  Daniel Shorr was inspired by his past experience with the former National Conference for Communities and Justice and is moving forward to reconstitute this organization as BUDS, Building Understanding.  The FEED sat down with Daniel to find out what motivates him to spread greater understanding and tolerance among today’s youth.

 

Tell us about your project:

Our nonprofit, Building Understanding (BUDS) exists to dispel prejudice and build understanding through experiential programs such as workshops, cultural trainings, and social events.  We work with both adults and youth, corporate audiences and the public.

 

How did BUDS get started?

Right now it’s in its third coming.  It started in 1927 under the name The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ). That was in response to Anti-Catholic sentiment that was all across the nation at the time. There was some Protestant-Catholic clashing that prompted people to say “we really should try and create some understanding with each other”.

In the 60’s, during the major Civil Rights period, NCCJ held Brotherhood and Sisterhood Weeks trying to break down racial tension. That was a much broader mission than just religious tolerance so the name changed to National Conference for Communities and Justice.

The NCCJ (in one form or another) had been in Georgia since around 1948. From ‘89-’03 the former executive director, Dr. Jimmy Harper, started and developed a major youth program. Every year NCCJ hosted a summer camp that offered workshops focusing on racism, sexism, and classism for example.

To revive the program, we decided it would be nice to do an alumni gathering so I got some alumni together and reached out to some youth groups.

That was just August of last year. After that alumni meeting Dr. Harper asked if I’d take up the mantle, noting my strong commitment and ongoing work toward equality and social justice. I felt honored and challenged, and jumped in with both feet.  Maybe I was just naive enough to go for it. I don’t know. But it’s been so neat and the future looks bright.

 

What are some of the challenges you face?

From the beginning, I realized I needed more experience and input to be able to lead this dream.  Fortunately, in college I had done a number of entrepreneurial things that provided me some experience.  The challenges that I was facing with building BUDS were some of the same for any entrepreneurial venture.  Trying to build interest.  Getting your message out there.

And then there was refining my social finesse. I wanted to engage a really diverse group of people with our work.  With the younger generations you can come to a meeting in jeans and flip flops.  When I was doing my Fulbright year in Japan, there were several conferences that brought together media moguls, politicians, and academics.  You have to adapt. It is an art, developing the ability to read someone in these settings and catering your message to that audience.

I guess my tango life helped a lot too. The community that dances Argentine Tango is in general a really diverse but older group. I was an extreme anomaly when I was getting into tango in 2004 at age 18. Just getting used to having friends who are 40, 50 or 60 years old, trying to understand their references, it all helped a lot when I started this program.

 

What inspires you to continue?

One of the main things shaping my experience is having gone through the teen program on diversity myself. It helped me get beyond the stereotypes I encountered in the schoolyard, so to speak. NCCJ was an opportunity to see everyone as an individual and to have the “otherness” broken down.  And it wasn’t just my experience, that’s the really important part.  If I were the only person to have found it to be so powerful that’d be one thing. But what’s so amazing is that it’s 15, 20 years later for many of the alumni, and they are so excited to reconnect with BUDS.

It’s been 20 years since they participated in this one-week camp experience. It meant so much for them that the Building Understanding Facebook group just grows and grows. People care, and they want to reconnect. Alumni come out to contribute their expertise and personal network and their resources years later. That’s a testament to the impact of the program.

 

Who is BUDS collaborating with?

We really began programming Spring, 2011 and I’m proud we’ve already held 5 events, maybe 7 if you include some reunions. When we’ve collaborated we’ve gone through networks we are most strongly connected to: Refugee Family Services, Macy’s department store, Georgia Tech. GA Tech’s Circle K Club hosted us for a workshop. They got some validation of their community involvement by bringing in a non-campus organization and we were able to engage young people who bring all kinds of resources.  These are people who are already doing great work and this is something to make them aware of. So that’s some of what we’ve been up to.

Now we’re cosponsoring an MLK Memorial social justice trip to D.C. with Youth Universe, The HOPE Institute, and others.  Also, we’ve partnered with Clergy Beyond Borders and are planning a 9/11 educational event at the King Center early September.

 

What does BUDS need the most right now?

I think the thing that I would advertise is broad collaboration. We really do want to collaborate and want to do a community event that doesn’t only engage young people but also engages adults in these conversations about how society separates itself, dehumanizes, and demonizes in the most unfortunate cases. Collaboration is the big one.

 

What are some other issues you see in Atlanta?

As someone who is “vehicularly challenged”, I would appreciate better public transportation.  I just think so much well being and health is related to these ridiculously long commutes that people have.

There is a lot of self segregation that goes on.   I think the majority of people don’t say ‘oh, I hate Hispanic people I don’t want to live near them’ it’s more ‘I want to live in a community that I identify with, that has the same values as me’.  But its not that these people don’t have the same values as you, maybe you haven’t had the opportunity or experience of really getting to know them.

It’s the same thing with many of the events around town.  I mean there are so many fantastic religious events going on in the churches, in the synagogues, in the mosques.  And who’s going to participate? People who read the newsletter, the same circles of people, again and again. As such, we hope to break the boundaries and bring together different communities.

 

How can interested readers get in touch with you?

They can find BUDS at our website.  I can be contacted at dshorr@building-understanding.org

What FEED’s your soul?

I FEED my soul with books.

 

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