Persistence is key to agreeing on parks use for immigrants, long-time residents
Nearly 30 percent of residents in the city of El Cajon in California are foreign born. Many love to use city parks but have run into scheduling clashes with established activities. A dialogue was begun to resolve the conflict. Those involved learned the importance of persistent engagement.
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One of the groups most interested in Green Access is a nonprofit named YALLA, which uses the nearly universal language of soccer to motivate refugee and immigrant children to rebuild their lives through education and leadership programs. It brings kids together for drills, scrimmages, coaching – and also tutoring. But YALLA has a hard time finding places and times for them to play – and the money to fund their programs. El Cajon’s established residents also have established leagues, playing times, and rules about access. These residents are equally passionate about their needs.Skip to next paragraph
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Green Access brought YALLA, the city’s recreation department, and many other groups together for four sessions of dialogue. Everyone wanted the same goal of greater outdoor access for all the children of El Cajon. The various parties were not only willing, but eager to sit together and engage constructively.
The meetings helped build trust and understanding among those of differing viewpoints. Working groups were formed. Together, everyone gained a shared understanding of facts and experience. One participant depicted some facts graphically, with maps showing the distribution of schools, green spaces, and residents according to income and newcomer status. The disparities popped out.
Since these discussions ended in May, the participants – often in teams – have made progress. They presented their findings to key local officials. They’ve begun an effort to bring green space to an elementary school. They’ve started publicizing outdoor activities so that newcomers know about them, and they’re exploring ways to build public awareness of the links between green access, outdoor activities, obesity, and school performance.
But the organized talks did not resolve all differences. Indeed, the participants from YALLA and the City of El Cajon Recreation Department are respectfully candid about the different perspectives they and their institutions have about park allocation for sports – the needs, the pace of change, and the process involved.
While these key participants report greater understanding and cooperation after dialogue, they also say that finding common ground and solutions takes time and requires dedication. They and others involved in the El Cajon Green Access project realize what it takes to live in a dynamic, diverse, and democratic America: persistence at constructive engagement. El Cajon offers that lesson to everyone.
Meenakshi Chakraverti is a senior associate of the Public Conversations Project, based in Watertown, Mass., which provides dialogue services throughout the United States and internationally. One of its branches is Public Conversations West.
Readers: This is one of a new series by guest writers who offer ways to soften many of the polarizing debates over issues that sharply divide people. Are you working with others who don’t share your views in order to solve a problem in your community or beyond? E-mail us about it at email@example.com.