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Five Inspiring Quotes from Trinity Talks, featuring Dr. Gail Christopher. 

On Tuesday, September 10th, the Conservancy hosted Dr. Gail Christopher for our first event in a series called Trinity Talks.

Dr. Christopher is an award winning social change agent and former Senior Advisor and Vice President of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. She is the visionary for and architect of the WKKF led Truth Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) effort for America. Below are excerpts from her lecture.

1. Dr. Christopher explains why Harold Simmons Park is such an important project to Dallas and the communities surrounding it. 

The Trinity River has historically been a dividing line in Dallas. Dividing east from west and north from south, the River is a physical and mental barrier between many communities in the city. In addition, the city has turned its back on the River, often placing the least desirable development along its banks.

“…this river project, another way to frame it is that it is about establishing a new relationship with the Trinity River. A new relationship, one that is rooted in respect, regard, and creativity. One that is designed to make it, and they [Trinity Park Conservancy] use the phrase “at the heart of the City”. To bring communities together. To bring children, bring families and to make it to where everybody feels welcome.”

Reimagining the River as the heart, the center of the city gives Dallas the opportunity to use this project as a healing moment. Bringing the communities that have been divided together, building and coexisting in a shared space.

2. Harold Simmons Park will help bring a lot of health benefits to the communities surrounding it and Dr. Christopher discusses their lasting effects. 

Experts are now thinking in new, broader paradigms when it comes to the causes of health disparities between communities. Two emerging concepts are “social determinants” and the other is the “life-cycle” approach, explain why populations who live in less favorable conditions (living in poverty, facing discrimination, and lacking access to nature) are more vulnerable to disease than others.

“Social determinants of health — that means access to jobs, to housing, to education, to an environment where the air is healthy — all of these things combined affect our vulnerability to illness and we are beginning to understand that.”

“…Something as simple as living in an environment where there is access to a full canopy of trees can actually influence birth outcomes and thereby influence the life course of health and wellbeing. The studies are there. We know that when there is immersion in natural settings up to at least 2 hours a week – maybe more maybe a little less – but where there is an engagement in nature there are better outcomes in terms of cardiovascular, diabetes, and mental health. We recognize that nature helps to mitigate our exposure to the stress that comes from inequities.”

She concludes that access to nature and natural surroundings is the one thing proven to mitigate the stress that populations facing poverty and discrimination deal with on a daily basis.

3. At the Trinity Park Conservancy our goal is to equitably build Harold Simmons and Dr. Christopher explains to do that we must engage the community to come together around this vision. 

Central to Dr. Christopher’s work is overcoming the “hierarchy of human value” or belief that those of different cultures, communities, or physiologies are worth more or less than others. In order to create a more unified Dallas, we have to work to overcome this belief that has been a part of our thinking in America and around the world for hundreds of years.

“To really realize this vision of a unifying effort is going to take work. And that is the work that we call healing, or racial healing work. That’s the work of coming together as human beings and finding, as Albert Einstein would say, ways to see ourselves in the face of the other. Ways to increase our capacities for empathy and compassion and ways to expand our circles of human compassion and engagement.” 

To build a Park that equitably benefits Dallas residents, we have to face this belief and overcome it with programs and policies that right many of our historical wrongs.

4. Dr. Christopher explains “cultural humility” and its relevance to the Conservancy’s community engagement work around Harold Simmons Park. 

Building trust means being honest with each other and being honest with ourselves about the biases we hold as individuals and as institutions. Humility in admitting to those biases are what begins the healing process and progress forward.

“So our work to overcome bias is a lifelong journey. Some of you may have heard of the term cultural competence. I don’t particularly like that concept because it implies that the work can be completed and you can get a certificate. I like the term cultural humility because that suggests a lifelong journey, to be honest with ourselves and to do the work of building relationships. Building trust across various barriers and to be humble.”

That work of overcoming this bias is never complete, but part of an on-going relationship and city-wide dialog. This is what paves the way to creating a Park that is welcoming to us all.

5. Harold Simmons Park will be a new model, a different way of thinking and building projects for Dallas. 

Dr. Christopher mentioned several times the uniqueness of Harold Simmons Park and the approach to its design and construction in her lecture. Its potential is an exciting start, but will take support and continued involvement from all of us.

“This is a new model, make no mistake about it. And it can be more than just a new model for Dallas. It can be a new model for the nation. Because if we are going to improve our health outcomes in this country we are going to have to create new models and we are going to have to break our addiction to technology in the ways that are harming our health.”

“I applaud you in terms of the courage that this community, the Conservancy, is demonstrating in this huge transformational project for the [Trinity River] and I hope that everybody in this audience and everybody that gets to see this by livestream or video that you really stand up and become champions for this effort.”

The potential of this project to be a model for parks across the nation is exciting as we continue to work at the Conservancy alongside you, our neighbors, to transform the Trinity River into the natural gathering space for Dallas.

Watch the full presentation and Q&A livestream of Trinity Talks, featuring Dr. Gail Christopher on our Facebook page.

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