Special to South Florida Times
Nelson Mandela, the first South African president elected in a fully representative democratic election, once observed that “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Those words resonate with Priscilla Dames, owner of Wingspan Seminars, a training and conflict resolution company – so much so that she was hired to lead a two-week rehabilitation program in Nigeria for former guerilla fighters.
The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria gets billions of dollars in oil revenue but many citizens live below the poverty line. That situation has caused conflict.
The training Dames offered came under the country’s amnesty program aimed at restoring normalcy to the violence-wracked Niger Delta region. She lead a workshop for 128 former members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
“There was a lot of anxiety among the group about trusting the government and learning how to live with those they were fighting,” Dames said. “My training focused on making them understand that their fight is valid but they must learn how to get what they want without killing.”
The Indianapolis native has been living in Miami for the past 30 years. She organizes public and private forums for businesses, educational institutions and organizations.
She got her trainer’s certification in non-violence from the University of Rhode Island and is pursuing a doctorate in conflict analysis and resolution at Nova University.
“Conflict is normal but there are healthy ways to deal with it,” Dames said in an interview after returning from Nigeria. “The first step is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Why is this person behaving this way? Your position may not always change but you learn about the other person’s. And reconciliation happens when both parties are getting something out of it.”
Conflict is especially common in the workplace, where people usually have high expectations of themselves, those around them, and the environment as a whole, she said.
“Most entities and individuals wait until intervention is necessary or conflicts have escalated to crisis or violence,” said Dames. “Prevention through education is really the best approach.”
As the main host of Conflict Corner, a show on blog talk radio, Dames also reaches out to the community, exploring family and youth issues.
She urges parents worried about violence in school to become aware of bullying, cyberspace and other trends that are capturing children’s attention.
“Most parents are not that involved – and they need to be,” she says. “Our youth are dying; we’re losing the battle.”
Juanita Conner-Raines, a clinical social worker in Miami, agrees that parents need to be especially attentive to warning signs of violence and harmful behavior.
“Kids are violent towards each other and themselves and that has an impact on schools,” said Conner-Raines, who talked about school anxiety on a recent Conflict Corner show. “Parents need to be there for their kids.”
Rick Holton, founder of Rick Holton & Associates in Coral Gables, worked with Dames in a youth leadership summit.
“Her background in education helps her engage youth by making them articulate and talk about life experiences. She makes them stand and talk,” said Holton. “She fosters an environment where change is possible.”
Miami is a perfect example of how challenging it is to foster respect in a community of diverse cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, Dames said.
“We brag about diversity but don’t take advantage of it,” she said. “The key element in building community and strengthening relationships is understanding that conflict is relationship needing a fix but, in this city, racial groups are looking after themselves instead of coming together.
“And that’s why Miami is not moving forward.”
For more information on Pricilla Dames’ program, log on to www.wingspanseminars.com. To get to her blog, log on to www.blogtalkradio.com/wingspan.