The Baltimore Sun
July 8, 2018
Rachel Brown will be the Common Ground on the Hill keynote speaker for week three, and will tackle conversations about communication’s role in increasing and reducing the risk for violence. Brown said via email she runs an organization called Over Zero.
“If you can remember from the days of doing fractions and division, any number over/zero cannot be divided. We work to help societies resist division and build collective futures,” she said.
Brown said Over Zero works to bring together academics across disciplines to solve issues, and design new solutions and learn more about how communication can be used to “build societies that are able to resist attempts at division — whether based on skin color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political preference, or any other piece of our identity.”
The Carroll County Times caught up with Brown to discuss her keynote address, which will take place at 8 p.m. July 9 in Alumni Hall at McDaniel College.
Q: Tell us about how your work began.
A: I started doing this work in Kenya, where I founded and ran an organization called Sisi ni Amani Kenya (“We are Peace” Kenya). Phones — text messages in particular — had been used to prepare and organize groups for violence during Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, and I worked with local peace activists to build new tools that used the same tool for peace. We built a platform to reach people over text message with civic education, invite them for events like political debates, and respond to rumors, misinformation, and tensions in real-time. With over 65,000 subscribers to our platform, we worked throughout the country’s 2013 election cycle.
In 2014 I moved back to the U.S. and was a Genocide Prevention Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for Prevention of Genocide, where I authored Defusing Hate: A Strategic Communication Guide to Counteract Dangerous Speech. That’s where I really dove in to exploring the knowledge that different fields and sectors — from neuroscience and social psychology to marketing — have to teach us about communication and conflict. Over Zero builds on that work: through trainings and capacity building, designing and seeding new projects and pushing research forward by fostering interdisciplinary connections.
I first started on my path towards all of this work in Maryland, so it is exciting to come back for Common Ground: I grew up in Owings Mills, Maryland. In 10th grade, I studied the genocide in Cambodia for a history project, and became passionate about preventing that type of violence and targeting of people based on their identity.