Three Feet at a Time

Dr. Gregory C. Ellison 99C has carved out a niche with “Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice.” He and his animators work to change the world, three feet at a time. Experience it.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

Dr. Gregory C. Ellison 99C reads a passage about his grandmother, who taught him to experience all his senses in the "country dark." 

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More in the fashion of revival than webinar, The Rev. Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II 99C and 2016-17 Faculty Person of the Year, Candler School of Theology, paced the small conference room at the Miller-Ward Alumni House, working the space like a preacher. He wasn’t preaching the gospel of Christ, however, but the gospel of seeing your fellow man, which, while secular, is amazingly similar.

And it was a service.

Alternately compelling and moving, Ellison walked a small gathering of staff and an internet full of webinar participants through his method of working towards justice during “Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice,” hosted by the Emory Alumni Association in its faculty webinar series.

Detailed in a book of the same name, the current #1 best-seller in the Christianity and Culture space, “Fearless Dialogues” is Ellison’s method of creating unique and safe spaces to discuss taboo subjects like race and classism between unlikely partners.

More than 20,000 people around the world have taken part thus far: “I’ve worked with gang leaders and corporate gangsters,” says Ellison, who has presented to The Children’s Defense Fund, Leadership Atlanta and The International Women’s Forum, to name a few. “I was looking for a different way to have hard conversations.”

Ellison’s unique method has its origins in moments with his grandmother. She taught him the value of listening with all of his senses. And that it was important to stimulate the senses to have hard conversations. “When I would go to talk to her,” says Ellison, “she would say, ‘Well come on over here and stir this pot,’ and all my worries would come out.”

Ellison and Stephens

Dr. Gregory C. Ellison 99C and Taveres Stephens 18T work out their animation for the webinar.

That germ of an idea stuck with him, and Ellison has incorporated it into Fearless Dialogues. Ellison sets the mood with music and his style is interactive and engaging. He has put together a team of animators, which is the name he has given his group of collaborators. “They are not facilitators,” says Ellison. “They help bring conversations to life.”

Animator Taveres Stephens 18T is a student and a poet, one of the team of eight animators who work with Ellison in the Fearless Dialogue movement. Stephens will interject to create emphasis and often uses the information gleaned to improvise and create powerful pieces that summarize the work that was done.

Ellison sees it all as small steps toward working on an overwhelming societal problem. He ends the seminars by asking Fearless Dialogue participants to work on the three feet around themselves, to connect with anyone who comes into your orbit and to really see and hear them. “We’re putting a crack into the system,” says Ellison. “Our work is not just for us. It’s visionary. We are creating space for our children and their children and our great-grandchildren.”

Editor's note: Watch Taveres Stephens 18T improvise the closing poem, “Hear Me,” with Dr. Gregory C. Ellison 99C.

Did you enjoy this webinar? Join us again in December for Heart Healthy Diets: A Recipe for Life, featuring Dr. Laurence S. Sperling 85C 89M 92MR 97FM.

Also be sure to visit our Alumni Academy playlist on SoundCloud to hear any you might have missed.