540 West Main has been located in Rochester for nearly three years and recently celebrated receiving nonprofit status.
The nonprofit is nicknamed a ‘communiversity’ – a community learning academy that teaches topics that range from art, culture, wellness and anti-racism.
“We usually are having classes where we’re intentionally trying to connect people who may not typically be together in the same room,” said Founding Director Calvin Eaton.
540 West Main is located exactly there, in the same neighborhood as the Susan B. Anthony Museum. It hosts classes three times a week, along with art shows and meet-and-greets.
“Susan B. Anthony lived in this neighborhood. Frederick Douglass walked these streets," Eaton said. "And for many people, it’s just connecting them from the east to the west side of the city, and what we want to do is have people stop here and make meaningful connections.”
Monday night’s topic was “how to understand and talk to people outside our circles,” by theologist Jamal Smith.
“People don’t talk to each other. They react. And that’s made even more prevalent with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube comments, (and) things like that,” Smith said.
Tom Harvey was one of the participants. It was his fourth class at 540.
“Sometimes they have interesting, contemporary topics that are worth discussing and learning about,” Harvey said.
The class sought to teach participants how to be more aware of why stereotypes happen and how to navigate them, and be less reactionary.
“Because of the times we live in now, everyone’s hypersensitive," Smith said. "Even over a TV show, people as soon as something is mentioned about that, it goes off. And when a trigger goes off, all rational, all logic goes out the window.”
Eaton agrees that communities are too divided right now, and he hopes to use his nonprofit and its classes to bring people together.
“How to have difficult conversations, how to disagree in respectful ways so we can hear each other, understand each other, but also move the conversation forward,” Eaton said.
These lessons are topics Harvey is still learning.
“With good active listening, people on opposite sides of the issue can begin to understand what the other side feels,” Harvey said.
All of 540’s programming can be found here.