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Believing in democracy led me to NCDD: Barbara Brown’s Story

We asked supporting member Barbara Brown if she’d be open to sharing her “D&D story” with the NCDD community. Barbara was one of the founding members of NCDD — involved when we became a Coalition.  Barbara plays three important roles at Clemson University:  Cooperative Extension Military Liaison, Operation Military Kids State Leader, and Laboratory for Deliberative Dialogue Director.

Here is the story of how Barbara became passionate about dialogue and deliberation…

At 13 I did a twenty-foot mural expose on the development and challenges of democracy through the ages. My 7th grade teacher told the class we could explain democracy using any style and medium we wanted. The rest of my elementary and high school education took place in the same rural school district in mid-Missouri. At the time everyone felt we were deprived of all the benefits available to the big city schools.

But, I have come to believe this small school epitomized what our public schools should strive for today – parents, teachers, and school staff dedicated to learning together with the students, and students empowered to find their own interests and talents.  Mine was democracy and the privileges and responsibilities of being a democratic citizen.

I rebelled and verbally shared my opinions when a national agency partnered with the school to accomplish a service learning project which was designed by adults for youths and did not allow student participants the freedom to develop the project to accomplish the established goals. I remember how I resented the party that appeared as a means for the adults to make it up to the students, acknowledging if they had spent funds as the students had suggested to accomplish the project, more goals would have been met. They said they ran out of time so they were just going to have a party for all the volunteers instead. These years culminating with the senior class prediction that I would be the first school alumni to entertain international ambassadors, my life’s path seemed set by the age of 18.

Jumping ahead 18 years to arriving in Sumter, South Carolina after following my military, freedom defender, husband to other countries and back, acquiring an Associates Degree while living in Germany, a Bachelors in Florida, and a Masters in International Relations with a Political Economy in England, I came to the South ready to take on injustice, poverty, and discrimination.

I took on a job designing and implementing a corporate social responsibility project for an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler. I was to prevent youth underage drinking, adult drinking and driving, and promote the environmental benefits of recycling. I had reached 21 in Europe, had one of my first beers at a brewery in Salzburg, Austria that was established in 1492, and enjoyed Riesling wine delivered to my door in military housing in Germany. I believed in an American’s right to buy, sell, and drink a legal product – in moderation of course. I cannot count the number of “deliberations” that good hearted, bible-belt, Southerners had with me about the errors of my ways.

While I was at this job, I was volunteering with the county Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) agency to establish an alcohol and drug free youth center, working hand in hand with area youths and a deputy base commander from Shaw Air Force Base. Because of this innovative work with DJJ, Sumter County was invited to be part of a State grant project exploring the issue of Youth At Risk and how the problems could be resolved.

Representatives of Kettering Foundation came to teach us the nuances of Deliberative Dialogue. We held our forums, completed our report, and the Kettering representatives inquired of the State DJJ officials who in Sumter were part of the Sumter project from start to finish. They liked our report and wondered how it managed to be as deliberative and non-prohibitionist as it was. My name was shared, Kettering representatives came to meet me and later hosted my first trip to Ohio to a Deliberative Dialogue Workshop.

One might say the rest is history; but history is still in the making. I have remained an advocate for youths rights and voice. I do everyday communication in a deliberative style. I was recently informed I was a founding member of NCDD, I have to admit I did not realize this; but also admit I am an early adopter to anything representing a means of claiming and strengthening democracy. Seemingly, I usually have little to say in the presence of so many on-line articulate D&D practitioners. I have learned from the NCDD discussions, become somewhat more focused on the attributes of deliberation that can move ideas forward, and am forever longing for more opportunities to motivate others to act as citizens in a democracy that offers us the freedom to create our world as a true civilization.

I have worked for Clemson University for 22 years, am the Director of Clemson’s Laboratory for Deliberative Dialogue, serve as the Cooperative Extension Military Liaison and the State Operation Military Kids (OMK) Leader. In this position I have integrated D&D into numerous Clemson Extension venues and into OMK. One program focus of OMK is citizenship; deliberative dialogue forums (www.nifi.org) serve as a key means SC OMK focuses on citizenship. OMK is a partnership between the United States Army, Department of Defense, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and American communities to:

  1. provide educational, recreational, and social support to children, youth and families of service members involved in overseas contingency operations,
  2. build awareness of the impacts of military family member deployments on military kids, and
  3. build the capacity of American communities to support military families.

If a community’s capacity can be built to respond to the needs of geographically dispersed military families, then the community will have the capacity to respond to any of its community needs.

Learn more about Barbara at www.clemson.edu/extension/county/sumter/programs/community/index.html, or connect with her in the NCDD Members Network at www.ncdd.org/members/profile/BBrown.

NCDD Community
This post was submitted by a member of the NCDD community. NCDD members are leaders and future leaders in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and community problem solving. You, too, can post to the NCDD blog by completing the Add-to-Blog form at www.ncdd.org/submit.

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