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2022 MLK Luncheon keynote speaker stresses importance of acceptance

January 18, 2022

Erin Patrice discusses how to bring people to the table for a conversation that allows us to grow as individuals

Erin Patrice knows a lot about bringing people to the table.

Patrice is the creator and founder of The Breaking Bread Village, a space created intentionally for people to come together and have transparent conversations with no judgement so that people’s ideas and perspectives will be heard.

On Monday, Patrice was the keynote speaker during a Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon presented by Northwood University Student Life. Her presentation stressed the importance of creating space at the table for other people, particularly those who are different from ourselves. That includes intentionally inviting people from different thought cultures (i.e. those you disagree with), and making them feel safe enough to be themselves. To do that, we have to accept people as they are, she said.

“We are all individuals. We all think differently,” Patrice said during Monday’s lunch in the McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood. “ … We have to be able to accept people that way.”

Patrice stressed the importance of active listening, which means listening to hear and understand (not listening to reply); being civil; and employing empathy and compassion. These all help us to understand why people we disagree with feel they way they feel, and how it came to be that they feel as they do.

A thing of beauty and magic happens once you create a space where people can be who they are and exchange ideas: We begin to understand each other, which allows us to grow as individuals, and we then want to continue the conversation.

“This means we did our job,” Patrice said. “Unless we do that, we can’t quote Martin Luther King Jr.”

While it’s common to feel defensive when someone is being disrespectful, Patrice cautioned attendees to rethink what they look at as being disrespectful, so as not to get upset and give someone the power to make you feel disrespected. That’s because getting upset by disrespect creates a lot of barriers that don’t need to exist.

Patrice noted it’s not easy to have a conversation with someone who says they hate people who look like you.

“But it’s necessary,” Patrice added. “We have to do it, especially if we want to carry out the dream.”

A Midland resident, Patrice is the recipient of the 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award, given annually to leaders in the Great Lakes Bay region. Her presentation Monday was the first Soup and Substances event of 2022 held by Northwood Student Life and organized by Camara Mackey, student assistant for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Mackey indicated this was a strong start to this year’s monthly Soup and Substances lineup.

“I like it when you get different perspectives, different points of view,” she said. “I like learning new things.”

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