In the Fearless Dialogues movement, people try to truly see each other

Gregory Ellison II's book evokes the sort of honest conversations he has been convening.

In July 2013, George Zimmer­man was found not guilty of ­second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. In the weeks leading up to the trial, as discussions of racially motivated violence roiled public consciousness, Gregory Ellison II was teaching a seminar on racism at Emory University in Atlanta. The day of the Zimmerman verdict, Ellison and his students took to social media and the radio to invite others in the Atlanta community to join their conversation. A week later, 300 people of varied backgrounds showed up and Fearless Dialogues was born.

In the book that shares its title with the movement, Ellison combines social theory, case study, and memoir to demonstrate how change takes hold among people typically divided by race or class. Early on, Ellison engages readers as active participants. The text is meant to evoke honest conversation. It is also meant to provoke a confrontation with the self by addressing the fear that arises between those with power and those without it. Ellison challenges readers to take a posture of humility or “lessness” in order to counteract the fear of the other. “Please accept my invitation to you, Beloved Reader, to join Fearless Dialogues as our latest unlikely partner.”

What follows is an overview of the Fearless Dialogues experience, which has been repeated in dozens of contexts with more than 15,000 participants worldwide. During a daylong workshop, participants explore their own stories and their own value, confront the prejudices of others, and are challenged to be agents of change starting with those in close proximity.