Friday, February 17, 2017

From Diversity to Inclusion in Troy, MI

Last night I had the privilege to attend a Unity Forum here in Troy, Michigan. The event was sponsored by the Troy-Area Alliance Against Hate Crimes. I was not involved in the planning of the event, but I had a hand in forming the organization as leader of Troy-area Interfaith Group, in partnership with the Troy Police Department, serving as its first convener (it's really taken off since I handed off the baton! Thanks Jen and everyone!).  It was a powerful evening as members of the community gathered for food, fellowship, and a panel discussion. The panelists represented a cross-section of the community and its neighbors. The focus was on community, but especially what it means to be a safe and inclusive community when you have a rather diverse population.

From the surface Troy appears to be a predominantly white, affluent, suburban community. At one level that is who we are. Our community leadership is predominantly white, but the community itself is quite diverse. In fact, we're the most diverse community in Michigan. I learned something new last night -- we have the largest of foreign born residents of any city in Michigan. Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy. We tend to gather in our self-segregated enclaves, rarely reaching across our ethnic and religious divides. There are places, like the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which I once led, that provides a gathering point. But we need to take advantage of these opportunities to get to know our neighbors. Last night was one of those important gathering points. It was a great evening of sharing. Good questions, good answers. Good people! We even heard from a recently arrived Syrian refugee, who shared how grateful he was to be in such a welcoming and safe space (if only this were really true).

As I drove home, however, I realized one things was missing -- media coverage. If this had been a different kind of meeting, one where the point was exclusion, we might have had more coverage.

Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy, but if we are willing to listen to each other, maybe there is hope. As a person who is White, Male, Christian (Protestant) -- what is considered normative American -- it is incumbent, as my friend Steve Spreitzer, of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity Inclusion confessed as one of the panelists.

I'm going to leave you with a video that was shown at the beginning of the evening. It is a TED talk given in Detroit by Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr. It's a poignant piece, worth considering.

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