What do you think are the most important skills and attributes of an effective civil rights mediator?


Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What would you say are the most important skills or attributes for a mediator?

Answer:
Gee, I had a group of twelve once that I wrote down. One is to be honest and straightforward. Honest not only with the people that you deal with, but honest with yourself. Be able to say, "I screwed up" and if necessary, tell the group that you did. Also when they mess up, you can't point it out to them. You aren't going to be as prepared for that sort of bluntness as you are with yourself. It takes a certain technique to be able to get a person to accept that he did do the thing, not necessarily right, but then to point out what they should have done. A good civil rights mediator should be self-effacing. You're going to get a lot of taunting and a lot of fun made of, especially from the law enforcement types. So make fun of yourself and that sort of breaks things down. Being secure is probably the most important one. What you're doing is important. What you're doing can have some good results. It doesn't matter how small the case is. And most of them are small, but accept it as it is, and deal with the people accordingly and that's really it. I think that's probably the most important. Also an ability to listen, that's key. An ability to listen to their point of view and not let your point of view interfere with what you're doing. It's going to come up, but even through your facial expression, don't let it show. If you really disagree, you do it on the side with them. But you've got to know the people, because if you do it on the side with certain people, you might lose them. If you're going to use even the one, "Well, yeah, that sounds okay. But I'm aware of another way that's been done," and then drop it and go on to the next subject, they may bring you back individually, or in the group there and say, "Hey, that sounds pretty good, but I'll still stick with mine." That's one. They'll be judgmental. I guess that's one part of what I said before. You can be judgmental if you want, but don't let that interfere with what it is you're doing. You also need an ability to take criticism. That's really good. The ability and respect for criticism of the people that you work with. From your bosses, take it, but you don't have to respect it, that was my idea. An ability to be hit on the side of the head with something you're doing and all of a sudden somebody gives you something clear out of the left field. And how are you going to handle it? Be flexible. Listen to it, see how the rest of the people take it. Either put it away and talk about it later, or if it's demanded, you discuss it then. Try to talk to the guy and convince him not to bring it up now, we'll talk about it later. And at the end, if it has to be talked about then, you've got to talk about it.




Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So getting everyone dealing with these problems requires that the mediator or conciliator be a person of trust. That's the first thing, to get the confidence of the parties. The interpersonal relations depend upon the mediator's respect for the individuals who often haven't been treated with respect by authorities. The mediator needs to get their support and confidence that this intervention, this problem solving, is going to lead to something. In the end, all of our work is moving toward ending the discriminatory practices or perceived discrimination and in building relations between and among people. I think the mediator has to be that person who already has built or is building these types of relationships of trust between persons. In fact, I see some of our least effective conciliators and mediators as being low in the interpersonal relationship category. Something about their personality, how they relate to people, how they carry themselves in that relationship is so critical. Some of the negatives of bad relations are a distance built up with the parties and you see it in the aftermath. They're not called back by those who were involved in the problem. They're not seen as a resource. Some of the persons who were involved in their work complain about them. Very often they don't complain overtly, but afterwards they try to avoid them. Good interpersonal relationships have not been formed.





Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Do you have any special techniques you can share with us that might be helpful?

Answer:
Coming in and working with them in such a way that you indicate to them that you know a hell of a lot about what it is that is happening. Show them that you can share a lot of your experiences that parallels what they're dealing with. That's probably one of the good things. The other one, of course, is being able to talk with them. Being able to listen to them. I mean sitting down and saying, "Okay, I want to hear you." Or coming up with something that he or she wasn't talking about, it wasn't important to them, but if you don't understand what they're talking about, being able to reflect it back to them and say, "Is this what you're saying?" or, "If I understand you correctly..." Go through all that and make them feel like you're not attacking them. So you could do that and show them that you're interested and you do that by, "Okay, I don't understand you right now, but maybe you can help me get to the point that you want me to get to." Be punctual. If you say you're going to be there, be there. Don't join the gang if you're dealing with a group of hard-to-reach types, don't become one of them. When I say hard-to-reach types, you're dealing with a group of gang kids. Don't start doing that dance with them because they're going to put you down immediately. We had one mediator who was actually passed a wine bottle, and the moment he took that drink, he became one of them.

Question:
So you break bread with people, but you don't have alcohol.

Answer:
Well not in a case like that, because that's the gang thing. You may have a good point there, if I get you. When it comes down to it, they're offering you something and in your education you know you don't over-identify with the people that you're dealing with. Therefore, you don't accept the drink and if they're drinking in the park and they've done this for years and you drink, then you're just saying that it's okay to break the law. It goes on and on.




Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

what are your strengths, your greatest skills and strengths as a civil rights activist?

Answer:
Number one: being truthful about what you can and what you cannot do. The second is being honest. The third thing is spending as much time as it takes. I mean just don't rush in and rush out. Spend as much time as it takes with the minority community. I have been in places where people still have dirt floors. They have burlap bags as partitions hanging from a string. I would see an old calendar there, and I'd walk up and I'd say, "You know this is beautiful. Where did you get it? How long have you had it?" Find something complimentary to say about it. They offer you a glass of water that's probably drawn from a well out of a jelly glass. Sip it. Don't stand up. If a child comes up to you with dirty hands, jelly or peanut butter you don't move away, let that child touch you. You understand what I'm saying? Find something complimentary to say to them. With white business people, be on time, be prepared, and don't flinch when you hear the "N" word. Some of them are going to apologize or say I'm sorry. Don't respond. Oh yes, even today, 1999, they're going to use it. Another thing is, don't accept any of their small gratuities. If we're in a room like this and there are cokes here that's one thing. But don't let them take you out and buy you a coke, or buy you a dinner or anything else. Be on your own. Don't let them try to move you away from the reason why you're there. There has to be a certain commitment in order to survive in a job such as this, but you have to know when the commitment ends and where it begins. Know your limitations. There's always somebody who knows a little bit more than you know. Everybody can contribute. That's been my strength, just recognizing that everybody is somebody and wants to be recognized. But if any credit is to be given, give it to the community or those individuals who have everything to lose and very little to gain. Spend time with them, just listening. Go to the churches and listen to these ministers. Sometimes go to their homes and sit there and look. Some of these places -- they defy description.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
A good mediator has to be broad and extensive in his/her knowledge base and experience base and that must be replenished. You don't ever know enough, and don't ever think you do. I never make the assumption that I'm so good, as to have obtained enough experience or enough knowledge to do my work, I must forever be reaching for it. So I expose myself extensively to the black culture, to the Hispanic culture, to the Native American culture, and to the Asian culture. So I have spread my level of contacts extensively. For example, for a long time, I was co-chair of the black-Jewish coalition in this town. Expansion of both contacts and knowledge. Blacks contend that if there's one person in this town who knows the Jews and where they're coming from, it's Ozell. I said, "I don't claim to be another authority, but I do claim to be a student." Just that simple. I know the American-Jewish committee, I know the NCCAJ, I associate with them. I make it my business to be at their functions and among them and I just restrict myself among black people. I say I don't need to go among black people all the time, I am black and I know black folk, and I've been black for all of these years. I need to be among people who have problems just like we do, and I need to know the nature of their problems and how we can best deal with that problem. That's comes from the standpoint of a mediator, and it also comes from the standpoint of a personal need to know other cultures and respect other people for what they are.

Question:
What then, based on your experience, your work, are the qualities, the most important skills and attributes of a civil rights mediator? Can I tell you what I've already heard you say?

Answer:
Yeah, because I'll probably say the same thing.

Question:
That's okay, you can expand on it. I heard you say the ability to learn from experience, to analyze and review that experience. Training, perceptiveness about situations, bodacity, knowledge, inspiration, creativity, persuasive skills or ability, the ability to use language, confidence in what you do and what you know.

Answer:
You know, and I tell people how important that is. I am not cocky, but I believe in me. Because if I don't know, I will surely find out. And I never come to a situation a second time. It may hit me and I don't know this time, but next time I'll know. And I know I'm like that. One of the most important things in addition to that, is a genuine love and respect for all people. I don't mean some false love, but a genuine respect for all people. Culture is but a way certain people have learned to address a given subject over a period of time to their benefit, that's all it is. You learn to do it this way, and it served you well. I learned to do it this way because I come from a different circumstance from you and it served me well. Neither is superior to the other.




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What would you say are the important skills or attributes for a civil rights mediator? What would you see as your greatest strength?

Answer:
A good mediator is a person who is patient, who is willing to develop skills that would -- maybe not endear himself to people, but at least earn the trust and respect of both sides. If you can do that, you may be on your way to being successful. This is true in any area of mediation. You have to be able to notice. I'm not so much concerned about all these technical things about how you get people to "come to yes". A good mediator has to help the parties begin to explore many different possibilities of how something could be. If they're willing to explore that and walking down the road from that point of view, then you have a possible chance of being able to get them to relate to one another. And once that's done, you may have a chance of everybody "coming to yes", as people often talk about. Anyway, that's what I think being a good mediator is.

Question:
If you had to identify your greatest strength as a mediator, what would it have been?

Answer:
Well, number one, I was a hard worker. And that was my great strength. I would work so hard sometimes that they would have to tell me, "Hey, lighten up, take off from this." I know my boss would often have to ask me, "Hey, when are you going to put that down? When are you going to leave this office at night?" Sometimes I think it was because I wanted to make sure that something was left there and something was going to be there even after it was over with. A lot of these problems recur because we haven't found the method to be able to curtail the situation, or stop it, and then find a way to monitor it and keep it from flaring back up again. It's like a brush fire. CRS has been known for going in, dealing with brush fires, putting them out and then leaving. The next thing you know, you look around and the fire's going again. You see that a lot, and you learn that sometimes during the course of your career, you begin to say to yourself, "How can I find a way to avoid having to come back into this town anytime soon?" You see a lot of that, I don't wanna be running back and forth, back and forth. A lot of times I personally would go into a situation hoping to put together something once we'd identified what the issues were. Once we resolved the crisis at the time, how did we take it to the next step or next level? The strategy was getting community involvement, reservation involvement, city involvement, to speak to those issues. All of the aforementioned strategies were attempted to be achieved when we sat down at the mediation. How do we speak to these issues? We have to find ways. I learned from a colleague, who would tell me from time to time, "Let's speak to the issues at hand." When we went into a meeting with somebody, we sat down, and sure enough the issue was going to come up because he was going to bring it up.

Question:
Would that be the same advice that you would pass on to other mediators?

Answer:
Oh, very definitely. There was no question about it. It was unfortunate that I wasn't in a place where I could work with a lot of mediators. They were all someplace else. I was out here. Everybody else had their own thing going, I guess, to the point where I just tried to do what I had to do. From that point of view, I think it worked out really well.




Wallace Warfield


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think are the most important skills for a Civil Rights mediator?

Answer:
Empathy, compassion, the ability to see the complexity of Civil Rights issues, and to understand that they really are not Ė no pun intended Ė black-and-white kinds of issues. They are very complex issues. Within that complexity, the realization that there is goodness in people on both sides of an issue, and that people are essentially trying to live their lives in ways that are not threatening for them. I think these are some of the -- if you want to call them skills or forms of insights -- that I think a Civil Rights mediator has to have. And, a vision. I think if you have no vision, you canít ask good questions in a mediation process, or in a dispute-resolution process. You have to have a vision of a just society in order to be able to position yourself. At key times in that process, someone has to say, "What kind of world do you want to live in?Ē If you arenít clear about that yourself, the parties will certainly discern that fairly quickly, and I think that you will not be effective. I think Civil Rights mediation, perhaps more so then other kinds, requires a willingness to be an advocate for a certain kind of society that we live in. You have to speak to that. I donít think you could establish a position of neutrality about that. I think that would be hearsay.

Question:
Does that cause you problems?

Answer:
It never has me.

Question:
Did other people in the agency run into problems when they did that?

Answer:
They may have. I think it depends upon how you articulate that vision. If you articulate a vision that, to put it in the vernacular, "Black folk have been downtrodden and beaten all their lives, so now is the time to take over,Ē youíre not going to get very far. Thatís not the kind of vision I have in mind.

Question:
Do you articulate the vision, or do you keep it to yourself and try to move toward it?

Answer:
I think itís both. You try to move toward it, but there are times that if itís really, really working well, you donít have to say anything at all. Parties are moving toward it and you can have them all embrace it when they get there or as they develop an approach to get there. More often than not, I think you need to say something about that. Sometimes itís best said in caucus, but sometimes it can be said at the table. A lot of it depends upon how you know yourself. So, I know who I am and I know what I can say well, and I also know what I canít say well. In that area, I have a lot of confidence in myself that I can say this in a way that attempts to build an acknowledgment of that on both sides, and that doesnít come across as being particularly threatening. But, I donít think this is a teachable skill. I donít like to get involved to embrace this notion of mysticism in the conflict resolution processes. But I think this is something that you canít be taught. This is something that you need to feel, in some sort of fashion. This isnít a skill, but I think itís a preferred attribute. I see nothing wrong with being passionate in intervention. I donít ascribe to the automaton mode.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

you are doing all those things a good mediator has to do. The listening, drawing out information, taking good notes. At the outset you are more likely to be doing this on the phone. What is happening? Who is involved? You want to know what happened - - the history of the conflict. What are the issues? How long has it been going on? What has been done to date to resolve the problem? It's probably on any academic's list, any conflict map. Those sorts of questions are used to assess the situation.



Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think are the most important skills and attributes of an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
The capacity to build and gain the confidence and trust of the parties and those listening skills that help bring this about. The total integrity of what youíre doing, sitting on your biases, knowing they are there and not letting them get in your way. And effectively blocking them from getting in your way if you are going to mediate a case where your tendency is to be an advocate. To suspend judgment. Reliability, when you say you are going to be there, you show up; it counts for a lot. Again, all this contributes to the building of trust. Knowing that when you are listening to somebody telling you their problem, you are probably the first person who listened to them that well. That you care and are there for them. You are there for them because when you say, "Iíll be back tomorrow," you are back tomorrow. You find ways to be of assistance. Send them a news clip, send them an article, send them something so you connect. That builds trust and effectiveness. Do those things and you can get away with all kinds of mistakes. I can tell you, Iíve made many! The parties, as long as they trust me enough, they arenít going to let me screw up their settlement. If they basically feel good about my being there, they arenít going to let my mistakes louse up their settlement.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think are the most important skills and attributes of a mediator?

Answer:
The most important skills of a civil rights mediator? Apart from skills that I would talk about, the most important would have to be a clear understanding and empathy for civil rights law. A commitment to fairness and justice. Police officers get frustrated and say, "What are we supposed to do? We're supposed to watch every corner? We don't know what's expected of us. Are we supposed to know the law forwards and backwards?" I would say, "No, you're supposed to do the just, reasonable and fair thing. If you're being just, reasonable, and fair, you'll be okay. You'll make mistakes, but you'll be okay." Somebody asked, "What's that?" "Well, if you don't understand what just and reasonable and fair means, you have a problem." We all know that. We all know intuitively what's just and reasonable and fair. I think you have to have a passion for that. I don't always live up to it, but I have a passion for that, for myself and for other people. So in terms of civil rights, I would say that. In terms of mediation, you would need an absolute commitment to the belief that people really can be empowered to solve their own problems. My best skill is to facilitate that. Being a good listener is important. You don't know the tune if you don't listen. If you don't listen to them, both emotionally and verbally, then you don't know what dance to start with. If you can't empathize with people, with integrity, I don't think you can be a good mediator. Again, it doesn't mean that I agree with what your saying, but with genuineness, I can say that I understand. That's where the trust comes from, when people can hear me and trust that I really do understand. That in itself diffuses the potential for violence more than anything. Just the fact that they've been heard and understood. By anybody.

Question:
Even by somebody who can't do something?

Answer:
Yeah. It's an incredible gift to people to be able to truly understand what they're feeling. "I understand what you're saying. I understand you're hurt. I understand where you're coming from." How can they trust me to communicate in parties if they can't see in me some empathy for their position.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think are the most important skills and attributes of an affective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
I think you need an understanding of the history. I think you need to know something about the history of any problem you get involved with, not just the problem in its current form. You need to know something about the civil rights movement in general, the history of oppression and slavery and discrimination. I think those are things that are difficult, again, for the white community to grasp and to understand. You may know a young black person in your church whose parents might be richer than you are, and you can't understand why he's still discontent. For many white people, it's difficult to understand how the life of a person of color is shaped not just by his or her own personal history, but the history of his or her people. Even though there isn't slavery anymore today, and even though we don't have plantations anymore today, and even though you may have never said an unkind word to a person of color in your life, and have always been a generous, loving white person who hates no one, the history of what has brought both of you here today doesn't change. So, I think one of the most important pieces there is helping people get past defending themselves to seeing that there really is a problem. It may not be anyone's personal fault, and I keep saying, "I don't care who's fault it is. The point is, there is a problem here, so how do we begin to solve that? How do we begin to address that?" People don't look back far enough and again I'm talking primarily about white folks now, because they frequently perceive that there's no more discrimination and they don't realize that the history of discrimination still influences who you are today. And in addition to that, the subtle kinds of things that we were talking about earlier are still there, and white folks have no idea about those, for the most part. One of the "news magazine" shows did a wonderful piece once: they looked at a black college student and a white college student of pretty similar educational, social, and economic backgrounds. They had these two students separately perform a number of daily activities, though, and followed them with hidden cameras. Both of the students went to an interview, rented a car, walked through a store things like that. And it was amazing. The black student was watched and followed through the store, while the white one wasn't; the two of them were asked different sorts of questions in the interviews. Of course, nothing that the black student had to put up with was technically illegal, but if you're a person of color and this is how you have to live on a daily basis, then it's not hard to see that there's a fuse burning there. When a triggering event occurs, though, and things blow up, the white community is caught off-guard. They don't understand it at all, because they have no idea that these fuses are quietly burning. And that aspect that the fuses are burning more quietly and covertly these days means these problems are much more difficult to deal with. I think that one reason that people are so focused on blaming, is that if I can say to you, "It's your fault," than I'm absolved of any responsibility for fixing the problem. I used to think it was just defensiveness, but it's more than that. If it's not my fault, then I can pull away and forget about it. So part of the mindset that I find is important to engender is, "You know that it doesn't matter who's fault it is, it's a problem in your community, and unless you get together to fix it, regardless of whose fault it is, it's going to get worse. So it's my fault, blame it on me I should have been here, it's all my fault, I accept the responsibility. Now that we know it's my fault, what are you going to do about it?" Because that's really what we need to get to what they're going to do about it, not who's to blame for it. It involves shifting the focus of what we are really concentrating on. I'm not trying to minimize the need for accountability and acknowledging responsibility; that's obviously a part of it. But I do think that sometimes the focus on trying to decide who's fault it is, is just a cop-out and a way of removing yourself from dealing with the issue. Because if it's not my fault, I don't have to deal with it.




Renaldo Rivera


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
When you hire, what skills and attributes do you consider are most important in this work?

Answer:
Well I think the last one where we came to in our closure is. I think the most important one in terms of mediation work is that ability to empathize while still staying clear in what your role is. I also think for us and for CRS in the future, you need an ability to understand in basic ways populations of new Americans. I think there are going to be more and more flash points and flare ups. We've had the major tragedy now, but it affects immigrant populations disproportionately. Now with the changes in legal structures that we're having in America, it is going to continue to affect them disproportionately. So we are going to have conflicts between new arrivals and people and older civil rights populations as well as older Americans of all stripes and colors and new Americans. Being able to understand the dynamics of population change and being able to work with newer immigrant populations as well as old line civil rights populations and the existing dominant society population is critical. All three.

Question:
So this job has become much harder.

Answer:
I think we are going to be part of the bridge builders for those communications between newer groups and older groups in America, and that's where most of the action is going to be. So I'll be looking for that. I think I'll be looking for some ability to work conceptually as well as practically because CRS, even if we grow bit by bit, won't be the size we were in 1995 for ten years, even if we grew bit by bit, just to get back to where we were in 1995. We are only 51 or 52.

Question:
How many?

Answer:
Fifty four full time equivalents. We only have 52 people. People remember 100 and 150 CRS people. That's not coming again. If it comes again, I'd be happy to see it but it's not likely. So I need a degree of experience to have some insight to think through conceptually how to get the greatest impact and not just respond to the conflict and crisis response, but how do you build in systemic approaches so that communities are able to have the capacity to continue to apply the things that they need to do in the local areas. And how do we position ourselves, and I'm looking for people who would think about or are inclined to learn how to position themselves as CRS people so they are accessing key community opinion makers and leadership. So that we can guide the conflict processes better in both preventing them and then respond to them. It's a different way to do the work in addition to the skill of having to be on sight and present. So that we do more speaking, not just training, more speaking and shaping opinion. Chiefs of police associations, league municipalities, conferences with mayors, interest group populations, so we talk about CRS and we talk about the things that we see. I think that's what I'm looking for. I don't know how many I'll find, but that's what I'm looking for.




Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What are the most important skills or attributes of an effective civil rights or race relations mediator?

Answer:
Listening skills are fundamental, sensitivity to diversity is critical, and just having a good understanding of the basic premises of the civil rights movement and what it may have meant to disenfranchised people. If you don't have a sense of empathy, I don't think you can really work and get accepted. I think that might be a critical part of the trust. They want to know that you really and sincerely understand those movements, what they meant, and where they're coming from in some way. And trust of course. If you can't build trust you can't go anywhere in mediation.






Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The most important thing that I look at is what's been their history, what's their experience in dealing with race related-issues. So that's the first thing, to see if they have any experience. I must say I look for a person who is as mature as possible: being able to deal with a cross-section of communities, organizations, groups; that they were effective or successful in their work. Then the second thing is do they have the people skills, do they relate to people, and what are people saying about them. Then I get into the whole concept of their knowledge of civil rights and commitment. I try to get a sense of where they're coming from, their value system. From there, I think we can teach most other things. If they have been able to deal with people of different races and been successful, they have people skills, they have a commitment and their values are pretty much what I think they should be then I think other things can be taught but I don't think some of those prerequisites can be taught.





Bob Hughes


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What do you think are the most important skills and attributes of the effective Civil Rights mediator?

Answer:
I think one of the most important ones is the ability to conceptualize and to formulate. How to formulate creativity of course. Impartiality, having confidence in people, and communicating that confidence in such a way that helped strengthen the commitment of people to this process. I'm not sure. Nothing else comes to mind. I don't recall answering this question lately.

Question:
What do you think is your best attribute that makes you, or made you, an effective mediator?

Answer:
Stubbornness, focus, staying with it until we got it finished, not letting people give up. That's an attribute. I don't know how central that would be, but it helps. You're stubborn and unwilling to let your pride be eroded by failure.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What do you think are the most important skills of an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
I guess the usual is to be able to listen. Ask questions to clarify what they're trying to tell you because you don't know where they're coming from. When you're finished asking, understand what is relevant. We have to know what is relevant to them. What is relevant and who is relevant. But they have to tell us that. Also, I guess, have a sense that you work for them. You're there to try to help. You're going to tell them as much of the reality as you can give them. We're at their disposal up to a certain point. But they're going to be responsible themselves and we're just there to help them. That applies to everyone. Also, have empathy for your clients, put yourself in their shoes. Have confidence in yourself. Communicate all this effectively to all.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think your greatest strength is? What part of the process do you enjoy the most or get the most out of?

Answer:
Actually the beginning and the end. The beginning because it's a challenge. What am I going to do? Once there's a clear path, then the process is just the process. Then when they end it and it's successful, then it's a happy time. I also like the end because they're working together. As a rookie working with Dick Salem he had a thing every Monday our whole staff would sit down and talk about what they were doing, make comments, and what have you.




Werner Petterson


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
It sounds like you have a sense of, I'll use the word intuitive, an intuitive sense of the process, of people, what they are saying, what they're not saying.

Answer:
Yeah, you know, I think that's one of the things about CRS-- intuition. When most of us started at CRS, I mean all these things we are talking about now or have been talking about recently over the last 10 or 20 years, most of us are flying by the seat of our pants and a lot of it was just pure intuition. The only thing you had were people that had more experience in the situation than you were. There were probably one or two people that had the education to put this in some sort of intelligent form, but most of us were just absolutely flying by the seat of our pants.




Werner Petterson


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
So if you were giving advice to someone entering the field as a civil rights mediator, what are some things you think would be important to be an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
Well, I think on one hand you have to be a historian, you have to try to come to some understanding about what civil rights has been about and what it is today, but get into it with some appreciation for the history. I think that's something we always talked about the last few years that I was in CRS. People are coming into civil rights mediation, as a job, and maybe they're interested in mediation because there are plenty of programs in colleges, and CRS is a place where jobs are offered. So people come in without a lot of history and I think it's important if you're going to be involved in civil rights to have some history and understand what it's all about.

Question:
What would you say that civil rights mediation is about?

Answer:
I guess for me, coming in as a minister, I always thought it was a moral issue.

Question:
A moral issue?

Answer:
There are just some fundamental things that are right. The trick is to find solutions within the mediation process that helps make it correct. I don't know how you'd introduce that into the equation unless somebody brings that to the situation. Nowadays people do enter into the field with a much better understanding and there's a lot more discussion going on about the role of mediation. I think this is what has been talked about over the last few years. This whole thing about transformative mediation within civil rights puts things in a very different light. Civil rights mediation is always within a world of politics, and it's a rare, rare situation where you would have transformation. I think you make changes, shifts in power. I don't know that I understand transformative mediation. When I left CRS I did some interpersonal mediation.




Manuel Salinas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Any other things you want to add about what important skills are necessary for an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
I think the ability to speak with the group that you're working with, not at the group, but with the group.

Question:
How do you do that?

Answer:
Well, you listen to what they're saying, and you try to speak with the group in terms that they understand. And you're understanding what they're saying and you speak to them in the terms that they understand. Try not to use vocabulary that loses a person perhaps, or a term like "mediation," I didn't like to use "mediation" because well, what is that? Then you have to stop and explain everything. But then you say "let's try to work it out," everyone understands that. Basically mediation, you're trying to work it out. Same thing. So that's what I mean. You speak with the group, along with the group. Not beyond them, you don't have to do that.




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
How is civil rights mediation different from other kinds of mediation? What do you do differently with cross-cultural situations?

Answer:
It's different, from the point of view that you have to become aware of all kinds of cultural idiosyncrasies. You have to be aware, sometimes, of the cultures and what specific situations or words may mean to them. For example, let's take celebrations. Some people celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and other people celebrate Juneteenth. In fact, in some parts of the country you'll see people of the same race celebrating Juneteenth, but in other parts of the country they don't.

Question:
How else does cross-cultural mediation differ from other types of mediation?

Answer:
Well, I think it all depends. It only differs when you speak in terms of the issues and education. When I say civil rights mediation, I'm talking about becoming educated about different cultures as a part, as an ingredient to become a successful mediator for the cultures in conflict. The other thing would be that if you look at a mediation period, it's a situation where you're going to try and get people to agree. Cross-cultural mediation is much like other types of mediation in some instances. The things that you learn in civil rights mediation, are just things that, of course, make it easier for you to get your job done and that's what you want to do. The tragedy, a lot of times, can be for people who are mediators, who figure that all they have to concern themselves with is technical information. We all know that's not true. It's good to be a good technician, but it's also good to be a good human being, to reach down inside and pull out some things and have the empathy for different groups. I feel very strongly that empathy has a lot to do with it when you're mediating. It doesn't necessarily have to mean that you're going to be on the side of any particular group. You have to know what cultures and people have historically gone through about certain things. You also have to be aware of some areas of history, which is very important. You don't have to become a historian, but you do have to be aware enough to know that these things did occur. You have to develop a level of awareness, not to use against or for anybody, but for some type of equilibrium. Sometimes people think equilibrium is where you can find a steady course along that line.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Earlier, we started talking about building trust, being white, and being a woman. How did you feel about being a white woman and did that help you or hurt you in your interactions with other people?

Answer:
I think it's probably personality. Growing up in the mountains in West Virginia, I was pretty strong and independent. I don't think in the terms of being a woman or being white. I'm pretty self-confident, so I don't project that. I think that helps. People who didn't know me and didn't know what I was involved in, would ask, "Aren't you frightened?" My response is, "If I were overtly frightened by the job itself, I wouldn't be in the job." I tried not to be stupid. I tried to take precautions. A couple of time I've felt I was in danger. I would make sure I called back to the office and make sure that whoever I was around knew that people at the Justice Department knew where I was and who I was with. I tried to make sure I didn't stay in communities where I knew there was a threat to me. I would drive to another community to spend the night. I tried not to be stupid, but I wasn't frightened by the job and I wasn't frightened by being with people. I never felt uncomfortable about going into any community, but again, I tried to make sure that it was obvious, by the way I looked and by the way I dressed, that I was from the Justice Department. That was intentional. If I got to know people, I may not be so stark or so professional, but my first contact with people was always very professional. If they saw me coming into the community, they'd know that, "she's the one from the Justice Department." In terms of being a woman and doing the job, I think there were some hesitations about it because I was the first woman in the southwest region. I remember the regional director saying, "I used to wonder how you'd be able to handle some of the sheriffs up in Oklahoma, but then I saw this picture." One of the communities sent a picture to him with three or four sheriffs sitting around a table and me standing up telling them something. He said, "It looked like you were doing okay." What I discovered was that it was a disarming effect. When I came in, they weren't expecting a woman. I wasn't defensive about being a woman.

Answer:
People were especially open to talking with me almost to the point of confiding in me. I was somebody they could talk to. I think with a man, that wouldn't have been the tone of the conversation. It would've been more ego and positioning. They would confide in me things they wouldn't often tell any of the men. So I got more done because I was a woman. In the minority community, I never sensed that there was resistance because I was white. There might have been, but it wasn't overt. I didn't give it credibility. If somebody overtly challenged me, I just said I was there to help them and if I could not be helpful, then I would leave. My intent was to be helpful. In most instances, people don't really care once they trust the fact that you really do want to be helpful. Whether you're a woman or white or black, or green. If you're there to help and you've got some resources that will be helpful to them, they're willing to use that resource. I think the biggest thing for me, and it's been my personality all along, is that I'm not defensive about who I am. People perceive that and know that I'm comfortable with who I am. And I know my limits. I know that I don't know what it feels like to be black. I don't try to pretend like I know that, but I try to understand it, and I learned a lot. I remember thinking about some black men who talked about situations they'd been in. I thought about my brothers being in those situations and how they would've responded differently. Theirs would've been a different story. So I tried to learn how to at least empathize. I never pretended like I knew what it was like. I think people honored that. There was always a mistrust from everybody's perspective at the outset. "You're from the federal government, so you're here to tell us what we have to do. You're white, so there's no way you're going to be able to help us." So it didn't matter which group you went to, there was going to be a bias against you for one reason or another. That's part of the deal, that's part of establishing trust. You've got to be able to go beyond that and say, "Here's what I have to offer."






Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So it does take time and a boss needs to be able to understand that. That means that the boss has to have had street experience, mediation experience, and experience in the field that you're involved in. This way, he or she can understand what the dynamics are. They know you can't go in and say, "I'm going to mediate," and then a week later, "I have a mediation case and I've got to decide everything." That just doesn't happen. Perhaps on occasion, but in reality, not often. Then just because you said, "Eureka! Success!" That doesn't mean -- and I'm repeating myself -- that you don't have to have follow-up. If you want to find out what's happening, you've got to have the R&D that you've mentioned. If you don't have research, it isn't going to happen. And if you're afraid to try things out in the community, it's not going to happen. You can go over the same old trite things and all you do is you repeat the same things that you learned ten years ago. You've got to be willing to take a chance. That's where a lot of people stub their toes. They take a chance, it doesn't go right, and they tell themselves, "I told you so."



Leo Cardenas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What do you think are the most important skills or attributes of a Civil Rights Mediator?

Answer:
While they come from all walks of life, they all bring a very basic value: a belief that equal opportunity has to exist for everyone, but that everyone has to earn that equal opportunity.




Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I would go over to the hospital, police department, sheriff's department, the schools, and all of these different places because it's important to know the geographical area that they're talking about. It was very important for me to know where everything in town was located, so that way I didn't have to ride with the chief or the mayor. I could get by on my own so if they said, "Meet me at so-and-so cafeteria at such- and-such a place," or "Meet me at the school or at the police department or city hall," I would pretty much know where all these places were located sometimes.



Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What skills did you bring with you from the Army that enhanced this particular job?

Answer:
Consensus-gathering -- getting a consensus as to what needs to be done. The best approaches, they call it now best practices tactical agreements, strategizing and these kinds of things. Don't ever be in a hurry and rush into something unless you thoroughly assessed it, or feel quite comfortable with the best approach.




Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
No, no. All I have to say is that it takes a special kind of person to get involved in mediation conciliation. You've got to have some sort of commitment over and above the salary and the job title, because it's going to cause an awful lot of frustration at times, and you're going to say, "What the hell am I doing here and why did I get involved in this?" And at the same time, you're going to double your own personal commitment to take you through many of these situations. But then again, it's awfully rewarding when you can ride through an area and say, "Remember this and all the good people that this job has allowed you to meet?" I meet so many wonderful people. That's what I am grateful for.




Edward Howden


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think are the most important skills or attributes for a good civil rights mediator and what would you say is your greatest strength?

Answer:
I noticed in the letter that the director of our agency, at that time Gil Pompa, sent to the Justice Department in which he was asking I be given a certain special commendation, he said something like, "His tenacity and his creativity." One of the common terms in a lot of situations today, real estate, for example, is "creative", creative financing, creative this, creative that. By which most folks mean that something is a little out of the ordinary or maybe even out on the edge of things and even questionable. Another term they like to use is "resourcefulness." Obviously, if you see impasses and problems between folks you try to think of something that might be useful.




Manuel Salinas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What do you think would be the necessary skills, attitudes, qualities, and behaviors for someone wanting to be an effective civil rights mediator?

Answer:
I think the ability to listen, the ability to extract what are the real points that are being brought forth, how to lead the group toward their goals or toward a solution.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In the past 2 days you've mentioned a number of situations where you said, "well you have to know how to do this, you have to know how to read a situation or you have to know how to present information or you have to know how to do whatever." My question is, is how does one learn this?

Answer:
Number 1 is I'm not looking for a brilliant person, I'm looking for a person who has a view of people, who has been where they are at. You can have that and still not respect people from all walks of life.

Question:
So it's a mind-set you're saying?

Answer:
It is, yes.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
So I would have to add to the list of skills and attributes, a sense of theater?

Answer:
Oh yeah. Yeah. Sometime you are really dramatic. Sometimes really subdued, but not always. That time when I said, I stood and blocked that door, that was theatrical, you know. I'm no longer subdued. I said, "Nobody's going to get out of here until we have arrived at something unless they go out over me." And I said, "Now, I recognize the fact that as police officers, you really can go over me, but I don't believe you want to do that, and I don't believe you will do that.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
So a successful mediator has to be able to be used?

Answer:
That's what he or she is there for, to be used. You are a tool, you're the hoe. Now who would use that kind of terminology but me?




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So you have to find out what's in your heart; what's in there counts. And you rely on that, you rely on yourself, and then you rely on your God-given ability to work with people and understand people. Then basically you have it made, because those are the roots. Forget about mediation now, we're talking about people. Whether we're mediators or not, I'm saying, be a "people person" and you'll be able cut through all the rest of that.



Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Were you able to reduce those hostilities that much in other situations?

Answer:
Put it this way. That was one of my methods of operation that I went out for. Even though I was attempting to mediate something, I had an agenda myself. And one aspect of that agenda was to try to develop mechanisms, or suggest developing a mechanism within the mediation sessions that will speak to the issue of communication, keeping channels open at all times.







Copyright © 2000-2007
by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado