Anyone can talk about problems, Hezekiah Brown says. What people have a harder time doing, he says, is coming up with effective solutions to problems.

But that’s the task organizers have set for participants in a two-day workshop in Elizabeth City this week: identifying positive solutions to nagging societal problems like racial injustice and police mistreatment of African Americans.

The Northeastern North Carolina chapter of 100 Black Men Inc. convened the first day of the session at College of The Albemarle on Tuesday. Invited were a diverse group of community residents from faith communities, business, education, community organizations and law enforcement.

Brown, a member of the local chapter of 100 Black Men Inc., told the group that solutions they identified would be especially suited to Elizabeth City but could also have relevance elsewhere.

“This is a historic moment for our city,” Brown said. While people other places are talking only about problems, Elizabeth City residents will seek and find solutions, he said.

“Very few people are having any discussion of what the solutions are,” Brown said. “This is why we are here today.”

Col. Curtiss Wrenn, president of the local 100 chapter of Black Men Inc., stressed the importance of finding solutions in his invitation to participants.

“We encourage you to ... come with an open mind willing to address issues and problem solve,” Wrenn said in the invitation.

Wrenn explained Tuesday that 100 Black Men is dedicated to outreach especially to minority youth, with a focus on mentoring, education, health and wellness, and economic empowerment.

Brown said he hopes the process participants follow during the conference will be replicated throughout the community. He said those working to develop solutions must include everyone from members of the business community and local government officials to youth, law enforcement, and educational leaders.

Effective dialogue, according to Brown, includes inquiring, learning and offering thoughts. He identified five steps for engaging in dialogue: using personal power in appropriate ways; paying attention and acknowledging your own and others’ assumptions, skills and opinions; telling the truth without blame and judgment; being open-minded and open to outcomes; and using creativity.

Brown cited Thomas Jefferson’s observation that open communication is the key to the success of the American experiment. People see differently, hear differently and react differently because everyone is different, he said.

“God made us all, but we are different,” Brown said.

Bishop Ernest Sutton of the local 100 Black Men chapter said he was excited to see such a diverse group in attendance. He said the two days would be spent working to make Elizabeth City truly a harbor of hospitality.

Sutton noted that the meeting was occurring in the midst of a pandemic — “not only a pandemic of the COVID-19 but a pandemic of our divided world.”

Like Brown, Sutton also said the conference’s goal would be to identify solutions, not just talk about problems.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our nation is falling apart, and it’s going to take wise counsel and extraordinary leadership for us to bring it back,” Sutton said.

Christian Lockamy, economic development director for Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, also addressed attendees, saying he’s excited about the community’s future.

“When I look at our community we have all the potential in the world,” he said.

Organizers are conducting the workshop with social distancing practices in mind. Participants wore masks and everyone’s temperature was checked as they entered the building.

The second day of the conference gets underway Wednesday morning.