I’ve long taken inspiration from what happened in my friend’s church some years ago. A few members invited their fellow churchgoers to engage in a year long series of intimate discussions about race; they wanted to create a safe space for a conversation that was frank and substantive.

They made real the oft talked about conversation on race it’s the same conversation that so many have called for in the wake of the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict. And it's the same conversation proposed after other racial incidents briefly captured national attention.

So far, frustration and anger have marked the public discourse about the role of race in the Zimmerman verdict. And since few people are comfortable talking about race, there are whispered chats in office cubicles, or tense, unsatisfying verbal exchanges in coffee shops and supermarket lines.

Can a national town-hall discussion break down the racial divide, and bring more light than heat?

Proponents of the national conversation say yes a serious, ongoing discussion would not only elevate the discourse about race, but also deconstruct the stereotyping and biases that so often prevent honest expression. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And these good-intentioned proponents are wrong.

Oh, I think we need to talk about race, but I no longer think ongoing, coast-to-coast symposiums led by intellectuals or celebrities or even the first black president make sense. Instead, we need many small conversations those whispered chats in office cubicles, and forthright talks in living rooms, offices, and places of worship in every community.

My hope is that these conversations would mirror the experience at my friend’s church. Their yearlong race conversation wasn’t easy the discussion was at times volatile and more than a few hurtful comments were hurled. In the end, they didn’t all see everything the same way that wasn’t the point. But they had a deeper level of understanding, and a comfort level they otherwise never could have had.

One important note: in order to take part in the church conversation each participant had to commit to stay in the group to the end no matter how tough it got.

If history is a guide, the whole notion of a continuing conversation about race will fade with the Zimmerman headlines. This time, though, I fervently hope some of us will find a way to keep talking.