Orlando Speaks: Community Conversations

In a report issued by the Department of Justice, dialogue is called for as urgently needed to quell civil unrest and serve as a preventative measure to potential violence. Orlando Speaks, designed in partnership with the City of Orlando and facilitated by the Peace and Justice Institute of Valencia College, is an answer to that call. Under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer, and in partnership with Valencia College's Peace and Justice Institute, the City of Orlando is taking steps to bridge divides and create authentic dialogue between citizens and police. In response to concerns about excessive use of force and inequitable policing practices in communities of color and poor communities, the Mayor, Chief of Police and City Commissioners of Orlando agreed to bring citizens and officers together to have the difficult conversation about how we treat each other and how we can strengthen trust.


These custom designed community dialogues, originally launched as Orlando Speaks, and generally referred to as Our Community Speaks, establish a safe space for dialogue where authentic voices come together to share stories, fears, and concerns, with an eye toward finding common ground among two groups that often struggle together - police and citizens. Our Community Speaks is a series of interactive workshops that utilizes innovative communication strategies to foster ongoing citizen engagement and conversation between residents, the City and the local Police Department to better serve and celebrate the community's diversity. Workshops are custom designed so as to be timely and meet local community needs.

Recognizing that unconscious bias can be overcome by cross-cultural communication, Our Community Speaks creates safe spaces for authentic dialogue about our experiences of difference, including but not limited to race. By examining existing cultural and systemic structures, the experience increases understanding and positive change within the community. Having these conversations is critical to moving a City forward, bringing the community closer together, and ensuring that the City remains safe, inclusive and accepting of all.

The goal of Our Community Speaks is to bring voices to the table that don't often hear one another - and to create a setting where the truth can be heard - through dialogue not debate. Understanding that relationships across lines of difference are essential for the possibility of social transformation, Our Community Speaks works toward the following goals:

  • Create a safe space for open, honest communication
  • Strengthen interpersonal relationships through the sharing of personal stories and experiences
  • Develop trust and sensitivity to support interactions with one another
  • Expand citizen engagement
  • Increase awareness and understanding of policing practices
  • Strengthen police legitimacy

Surprisingly, many Police are eager to participate in Our Community Speaks, with volunteer attendance often exceeding the need. Citizens from all walks of life bring their voices to the table, demonstrating communities ready to take action.

The Case Study published in its entirety as Orlando Speaks: How Does a "Crucial Conversations" Model Emerge? can be found in the American Arbitration Association Dispute Resolution Journal Volume 73/No. 3 2018

Police officer at a table
Round table discussion
Round table with police
Speaking with orlando police officer


Our Community Speaks provides guidelines for talking that invite participants to speak their truth, suspend judgment and turn to wonder, among other practices. The program structures the time in such a way that everyone in the room is an active participant - not a mere bystander listening to others speak. "All People. All Voices. All Matter." is the vision for the work and for the Peace and Justice Institute (PJI). Cooperation and partnership between city government, including the Mayor, the Chief of Police, leadership from the local police department, community stakeholders and PJI fosters a meaningful program with positive outcomes.

Participant feedback from both officers and citizens has been overwhelmingly positive. One resident spoke about the event saying: "I recently had the pleasure of attending "Orlando Speaks" with my coworkers and members of our organization, Organize Now. All of us were incredibly impressed with the presentation and left feeling inspired and ready to take even more action in our community. Thank you for the work that you do in helping to empower our community."

Our Community Speaks creates authentic dialogue, strengthens relationships between police and citizens, and helps communities embrace diversity and foster inclusive excellence among us.

To read more feedback from Orlando Speaks, please follow this link.

Our Community Speaks is a fee based program. For more information contact Rachel Allen, Peace and Justice Institute Coordinator at rallen39@valenciacollege.edu a or call 407-582-2709.

Learn the story of how 2 women from different backgrounds met and became best friends through Orlando Speaks.

Orlando Speaks (OS) Data

Percent of participants who agreed or strongly agreed that they felt engaged during the workshop:

OS1 - 94% OS2 - 97% OS3 - 99.8% OS4 - 98.8% OS5 - 96%

Percent of participants who agreed or strongly agreed that the information covered in the session seemed relevant and pertinent to issues we face today:

OS1 - 94% OS2 - 94% OS3 - 97.7 OS4 - 95.4% OS5 - 96%

Of the 113 responses from the most recent Orlando Speaks (10-19-2016), 112 participants would recommend this event to others. This is a 99% positive response.

Throughout four sessions of Orlando Speaks, the most frequently cited words used to describe the event include:

  • Collaborative
  • Insightful
  • Engaging
  • Aware
  • Informative
  • Honest
  • Eye-opening
  • Understanding
  • Enlightening