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The Jefferson City Human Relations Commission (HRC) members dubbed 2021 "the year of radical listening" for a new conversation series they're hosting.

Last month's Caffeinated Conversations: Hot Topics with the HRC focused around Asian American hate. This month's topic, in honor of LGBTQ pride month, will focus on transgender youth in sports.

"There was about eight people there," Commission President Susan Cook-Williams said of the first session. "I've got to say, sitting on a picnic table wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world for an hour, but it was, I thought, a pretty good conversation."

Topics included what to do as a bystander if witnessing an incident and things communities could do to address hate targeted at Asian Americans, she said.

The goal of the series is really to have a space where people can speak their minds on a topic and have a casual or constructive conversation about it.

HRC doesn't bring in an expert or guest speaker for the event.

"It's really just a chance to share and listen to one another, hopefully broaden people's minds a little bit on certain topics," Cook-Williams said.

Commissioners are there to help moderate the conversation and make sure everybody has a chance to be heard.

"We don't foresee it being a place really that people are going to come just to argue because we're not taking any action, per se, on anything," she said. "We're really assuming that it's going to be people that just want to get together and discuss topics, but yeah, it definitely could get heated. That's why we call it Hot Topics."

The topics come from commissioners paying attention to current events and having their own conversations, she said.

"With Asian American hate, that's been a really big thing the last year," Cook-Williams said. "Then the transgender youth in sports, this was one of the biggest legislative sessions throughout the country where bills were introduced, and it was being discussed, especially on social media."

The commission is always open to suggestions for topics, she said, either through its Facebook page or the city staff liaison for the commission, Gail Strope.

The event will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 12, at McClung Park.

The commission is also planning its next Stronger Through Diversity Speaker Series for later this month.

Cook-Williams said it will likely be the last fully virtual speaker series, but the commission hopes to continue offering a hybrid.

Cook-Williams said the commission is still selecting a speaker and narrowing down on a specific topic, but it will also focus on transgender experiences.

The speaker series began in 2019, she said, and has been virtual because of COVID-19 concerns.

"We find that more people are able to watch it," she said. "They may not watch it that night. Jeff City has a lot of things happening in the community, so people end up with conflicts no matter what date or time we choose. But we find that the number of watches and re-watches are a lot more than what would attend in person."

It includes a guest speaker and, most of the time, a panel discussion going deeper into the topic.

Cook-Williams said the specific topic isn't decided yet because the commission wants the guest speaker to have input in the decision.

The speaker series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 24.

"We hope people will start noticing and participating in our activities, and are always welcome to give us feedback on topics or things that they want to discuss in the community," she said.

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