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Open Letter From the Zeidler Group Board of Directors:
We know this is an unusual job posting. We are asking someone to take a leap of faith with us as a volunteer. Frankly, it's a humbling and uncomfortable position to be in, but we care too much about this organization to not at least put the ask into our community.
To understand why we’re taking this route, we'd like to tell you about the project we hope to get back on its feet.
For over 15 years, the Zeidler Group (formerly the Frank P. Zeidler Center for Public Discussion) has convened structured, reflective dialogues offering each participant two gifts: a venue for their voice to be heard and a prompt to listen deeply. In each dialogue, we ask our participants to do the work of listening deeply, so they know the value of being heard.
The Zeidler Group was created in 2005 as a volunteer organization including Mayor Frank P. Zeidler and members of his home parish, Redeemer Lutheran Church, in the heart of Milwaukee. The organization's first executive director was Rev. Dr. Lisa Bates-Froiland, and in 2013, Dr. Katherine Wilson moved into leadership. With Katherine, Zeidler Group gained non-profit status in 2015 and experienced a long and beautiful period of growth.
In times that were exasperating and overwhelming, as our community’s collective diet of communication became increasingly frenzied and polarized, the Zeidler Group had the honor of leading thousands of Milwaukeeans in purposeful conversation. We employ a circle methodology designed for small groups to discuss complex topics, led by a trusted, skilled facilitator. Over the years, we’ve trained over a hundred facilitators from all walks of life, which has been one of our most treasured accomplishments.
Over the years, we made our methodology available to our neighbors, seeking to build bridges across and within communities. This led to a dynamic and diverse series of conversations throughout our city, including dialogues around police/community relations, racial reconciliation, arts & culture, gun violence, mental health, interfaith issues, immigration and segregation in Milwaukee, among many others.
At the beginning of 2020, after a sustained period of growth, a major funder fell through and we made the difficult decision to restructure. As we prepared to launch our plan to rebuild, the pandemic hit. Working with our remaining staff and intrepid facilitators, we adapted and conducted virtual dialogues. However, our work is built around human connection, and as the pandemic dragged on, we struggled to reestablish venues for our work. Pardeep Kaleka temporarily held the role of executive director in 2020, and since early 2021, the position has been vacant.
When she started, much of Dr. Katherine Wilson’s work as the Zeidler Group’s executive director was as a volunteer. We did not expect this of her, yet eventually, she grew the work to not only sustain full time employment for herself, but also a small staff. Today, as we seek a new leader who would begin as a volunteer, our hands are not empty. We’ve built a track record of humanizing, meaningful dialogues throughout Milwaukee and beyond, and we have a community of facilitators eager to facilitate. We’ve canvassed past clients and collaborators, and without reservation, they are open to working with us again.
We also know that our moment is in dire need of healthier communication. We believe wholeheartedly that difference does not necessitate division and that the Zeidler Group’s dialogues have proven that we can move together towards a more pluralistic community.
We cannot expect a person qualified to lead our organization in these circumstances to lead without support. While we’ve learned that our efforts alone cannot breathe life back into the organization, the Zeidler Group’s board is ready to work alongside our future leader in any way we can. Our board includes many founders, as well as a dynamic group of newer members.
If you are interested in learning more, do not hesitate to reach out. Given our circumstances, we have nothing to hide and are happy to answer any questions you might have.
Board of Directors:
Mary Campbell, JD
Catherine Pederson, Ph.D.
Joyce Tang Boyland, Ph.D.