Common Ground keynote: Inspiring change in the community

Paulo Harris.
Paulo Harris. (Courtesy Photo)

Common Ground on the Hill has been a staple of McDaniel College and the City of Westminster for more than two decades.

As week two of the 24th edition of Common Ground kicks off Monday, July 2, two keynote lecturers will discuss how to institute change. The two speakers, Paulo Gregory Harris and Genard “Shadow” Barr, will talk about how they’ve worked to inspire change in underserved communities in Baltimore.


Barr, an addiction recovery expert and former gang member, features prominently in the HBO documentary “Baltimore Rising,” which follows police, community activists and gang affiliates as they attempt to institute positive change in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and ensuing riots.

Harris has dedicated his life to “helping as many folk as I can to fully express their brilliance, gifts, and unique perspective,” in an effort to better communities, per his website. He came up with a game called Cohado that focuses on working together, collaborating to better each other's lives.


Keynote attendees can expect to learn how to “take elements of (Cohado) and use it to enrich their own lives,” Barr told the Times.

The Times talked to Harris as he prepared to disseminate his and Barr’s message of change at Common Ground on the Hill, Monday.

Q: How'd you connect with Common Ground?

A: I worked with Jim Kunz many years ago at The Maryland Food Committee, an organization working on hunger and poverty issues. Jim now is a professor at McDaniel College, working with Common Ground on the Hill. He heard about Cohado and was taken by the message of unity that undergirds the philosophy of creating assets for the community by putting our collective pieces together to arrive at solutions that works on behalf of the whole community.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background, your story.

A: I grew up as a black kid in the 60s in an all-white suburb of Philly. That experience brought me face to face with the racial hatred my people have experienced here in America. I was beaten at the age of 13 by 6 kids to the point of hospitalization, I was denied access to my neighbor’s pool at the age of 10, all because of my skin color. Since graduating from MICA I have worked as an educator, the founding director of the Ripken literacy center, a designer of equity and community solutions and a facilitator of diversity initiatives throughout the US. Currently I am working to create an enterprise zone in a challenged neighborhood in East Baltimore. I developed Cohado as a tool to support bridging the divides that keep this nation from achieving all that we can through working together rather than against each other.

Q: What can attendees expect to learn about at your keynote? I understand that much has to do with inspiring change. What are some fundamentals of inspiring change?

A: In order to be, we need to first see. We learn by understanding the structures we are surrounded by. Most of our experiences in schools, in workplaces, in the games we play, in the way we gain access to resources are based upon a competitive, individualized mindset that is fundamentally about creating gains for ourselves in opposition to others, and we measure our success against others. The framework I offer flips that paradigm so that we see each other as connected aspects of a greater whole, then work together to ensure we maximize assets and minimize waste of any kind.

Q: What is Cohado? How'd you come up with it?

A: Cohado is a way to practice the Zulu principle of Ubuntu — that we are responsible for each other’s wellbeing. It assumes that there is enough, and that we can create abundance for all if we simply work together. Cohado teaches this ideal in the form of a game, but its principles can be applied in any moment and any context — from cooking a meal to designing regenerative communities. Most games are zero sum, meaning the gains of one are subtract from the others. Cohado is a plus sum game. If we align our pieces together wisely, the whole is literally and mathematically greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add about your keynote address and the ensuing class?

A: Come Play it Forward!

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