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GCD 11: Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Polarization and Bridging

16-19 November 2016

After much deliberation and a search for a suitable location that would enable as many people as possible to attend and that would offer a theme around which to dialogue as well, we met in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, in the southern United States. Once one of the British Colonies’ largest cities, Charleston developed into a center of trans-atlantic trade – and a coveted target of pirates. Charleston has firmly left this past behind itself and has become a center of historical, architectural and cultural exchange – including the illustrious Spoleto Festival held every spring, where performing artists gather from around the world.


‍The ‍Dialogue ‍in ‍2016 ‍took ‍us ‍to ‍one ‍of ‍North ‍America’s ‍oldest ‍cities: ‍“Charles ‍Town”, ‍in ‍what ‍is ‍today ‍the ‍state ‍of ‍South ‍Carolina ‍in ‍the ‍United ‍States. ‍Founded ‍in ‍1670 ‍on ‍the ‍banks ‍of ‍the ‍west ‍banks ‍of ‍the ‍Ashley ‍river, ‍the ‍town ‍was ‍moved ‍ten ‍years ‍later ‍to ‍its ‍current ‍position ‍east ‍of ‍the ‍river ‍to ‍allow ‍it ‍to ‍benefit ‍from ‍the ‍natural ‍harbour ‍found ‍there. ‍This ‍fostered ‍international ‍trade ‍and ‍exchange, ‍and ‍Charles ‍Town ‍attracted ‍a ‍mixture ‍of ‍ethnic ‍and ‍religious ‍groups: ‍“free ‍people ‍of ‍colour” ‍from ‍the ‍Islands ‍of ‍Bermuda ‍and ‍Barbados, ‍as ‍well ‍as ‍settlers ‍of ‍French, ‍Scottish, ‍Irish, ‍and ‍German ‍origins ‍migrated ‍to ‍the ‍developing ‍seacoast ‍town ‍in ‍search ‍of ‍fame, ‍fortune ‍and ‍- ‍above ‍all ‍- ‍freedom. ‍Later, ‍the ‍city ‍became ‍the ‍single ‍largest ‍port ‍of ‍entry ‍for ‍slaves ‍from ‍Africa, ‍a ‍bane ‍that ‍would ‍haunt ‍the ‍city ‍until ‍the ‍final ‍days ‍of ‍the ‍Civil ‍Rights ‍Movement ‍in ‍the ‍late ‍1960s. ‍The ‍benefits ‍brought ‍by ‍all ‍its ‍bustling ‍trade ‍profited ‍the ‍city ‍for ‍centuries ‍to ‍come, ‍and ‍Charleston ‍developed ‍a ‍strong ‍cultural ‍movement ‍that ‍continues ‍to ‍this ‍day. ‍During ‍the ‍civil ‍war ‍(or ‍the ‍“War ‍of ‍Northern ‍Aggression” ‍as ‍it ‍was ‍called ‍in ‍the ‍Confederate ‍states) ‍Charleston ‍was ‍a ‍staunch ‍antagonist ‍of ‍the ‍North. ‍Having ‍faced ‍its ‍share ‍of ‍natural ‍disasters, ‍including ‍a ‍disastrous ‍fire ‍in ‍1861, ‍a ‍tremendous ‍earthquake ‍in ‍1886 ‍and ‍several ‍hurricanes ‍(including ‍Hugo ‍in ‍1989), ‍the ‍city ‍is ‍now ‍beautifully ‍restored ‍and ‍features ‍landmarks ‍of ‍historical ‍and ‍architectural ‍significance. ‍


We met at an exclusive venue located on the eastern shore of South Carolina, only 20 minutes from downtown Charleston, which enabled us a myriad of opportunities to dialogue in small, medium or large groups. We catered most of the event ourselves, with everyone pitching in in their own fashion. One evening we visited a small restaurant in Charleston, and on another we had the pleasure of inviting Benjamin “BJ” Dennis to the GCD, where he indoctrinated us into the delights and history of the “Gulla-Geechee” cuisine and culture, with a narrated cooking and story-telling evening!  


‍Reaching ‍from ‍the ‍waves ‍that ‍rippled ‍around ‍the ‍world ‍in ‍the ‍wake ‍of ‍the ‍unexpected ‍election ‍of ‍Donald ‍Trump ‍as ‍America’s ‍next ‍president ‍(and ‍the ‍similar ‍shocks ‍occurring ‍in ‍several ‍countries ‍around ‍the ‍world ‍(e.g. ‍Brexit), ‍to ‍the ‍questions ‍we ‍were ‍asking ‍ourselves ‍as ‍practitioners, ‍as ‍we ‍grow, ‍develop ‍… ‍and ‍as ‍we ‍age. ‍We ‍were ‍invited ‍to ‍express ‍ourselves ‍creatively ‍in ‍the ‍hands ‍and ‍under ‍the ‍watchful ‍(and ‍cheerful) ‍eyes ‍of ‍concept ‍artist ‍ ‍David ‍Maris ‍, ‍a ‍concept ‍artist ‍from ‍Canada, ‍and ‍to ‍explore ‍the ‍racial, ‍social ‍and ‍spiritual ‍depth ‍of ‍Charleston ‍through ‍the ‍eyes ‍and ‍experiences ‍of ‍a ‍reverend, ‍a ‍social ‍activist, ‍and ‍a ‍writer ‍from ‍the ‍area. ‍Many ‍of ‍us ‍partook ‍of ‍exceptional ‍weather ‍to ‍soak ‍up ‍some ‍sun ‍while ‍discussing ‍with ‍our ‍peers, ‍to ‍stroll ‍the ‍beach ‍for ‍individual ‍reflection ‍or ‍a ‍private ‍conversation, ‍and ‍to ‍engage ‍in ‍late ‍night ‍dialogues ‍in ‍the ‍jacuzzi.


The 11th GCD officially began at 6pm on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 and ran until Saturday, November 19th at 12noon , whereafter most of the participants had to sprint to catch their respective airplanes back home. It was – like so many GCD’s before it – an experience to remember…

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