Organization leader hopes new group will foster positive dialogue

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COLUMBIA- About a dozen people came together on a cold November night to discuss ways to better their community.

The members of the Columbia Red Boot Coalition met at a local church for its first official meeting in the city. Over refreshments, everyone said their name, their thoughts, and listened in effort to make change in Mid-Missouri.

"The Red Boot Coalition is a group of generally joyful and empowered people who are just frustrated with the current way people dialogue about politics, race, gender, and money," organization founder Molly Barker said. "We are trying to reframe the dialogue so that its more positive, and that we're engaged in a more positive way with each other."

Barker named the group the Red Boot Coalition when her daughter bought her a pair of red cowboy boots.

"The minute I put the red boots on people wanted to engage. They look at the boots and they automatically think you're a really friendly person, and I am," Barker said. "What happens is, it just opens up dialogue."

This is not the first organization Barker has created. She started Girls on the Run; a non-profit meant to empower young girls by training them for a 5K race. She started that organization in North Carolina back in 1996. It now has more than 200 councils in the U.S. and Canada.

During the Red Boot Coalition meetings, the goal is to have everyone sit in a circle and freely discuss certain issues. There would be a rotation of leaders and discussion topics.

For the first meeting Barker facilitated. Each member held a flyer with the 11 steps the coalition must follow.

Barker requires a script, which she prepared, for anyone who wants to start their own Red Boot Coalition meeting. The script is designed to allow people to stay on topic, and make it easy for anyone to follow along.

"The group is open to anyone and everyone. The hope is that we begin to broaden it, so that we have very diverse groups of people engaging on some very interesting topics in a way that is open and understanding of one and other," Barker said.
"It's really about building understanding between groups of people who are very different from each other."

The idea of the coalition came to Barker when she was asked to serve on a commission that explored dialogue between congressional members. She said she didn't understand why people high in leadership couldn't speak civilly with each other.

After going on a trip around the nation to meet and talk with everyday people, she discovered it wasn't just politicians, but people living average lives who could work on the way they speak with each other.

Barker said she wants to end dialogue in the political and everyday world that can be destructive and painful.

Member Dawn Brown will be facilitating the next meeting and said this coalition should matter to Mid-Missourians.

"We are in a position where there is so much divisiveness and so much polarization," Brown said. "People are being spread farther apart. I don't think that's a healthy place for us to be. I would like to see a world for my children to grow up in where people are working together and working to make our country and our world a better place."

Barker offers a children's coalition where younger people can learn to have peaceful dialogue and talk about issues that face them and their peers.

The group's website offers information on how to get involved.