Over twenty years ago I was a new program director. My executive director wanted me to explore diversity programs we might be able to offer our members. She gave me brochures and pamphlets she had been collecting for years. Her personal favorite was a Philadelphia, PA based Green Circle Program started in 1957 by Gladys Rawlins. The program was being used by schools, youth organizations, Girl Scout councils and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to name a few.
While attending new program director training at the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) national conference center in New York, I met a Green Circle and Valuing Diversity facilitator trainer from Wichita, KS. My home was only 2 ½ hours away from her. We had found our program.
The first week back from the training I contacted my new friend and Green Circle Program ally. The dates for the next facilitator training were about six weeks away. I put together a program proposal and budget and set out to recruit a volunteer advisory group. First I needed a volunteer committee chair or at least a potential facilitator to take the training with me. With a little help from the membership directors we found a former leader, a woman of color who had helped with a council diversity program in the past. She agreed to go to the training with me.
Let me be clear. I was a novice in the “how to’s” of developing a valuing differences program and clueless when it came to understanding and identifying institutional racism. I have a very basic belief in equality of all humans. This deep conviction is drawn from family dinner table conversations regarding injustices perpetuated on Jews, Gypsies and other enemies of the Third Riech in German Occupied Countries during World War II and the Civil Rights movement playing itself out on the nightly news throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. What I did not have was the language necessary to be an intelligent articulate spokesperson on the importance of valuing differences programs to the development of effective leaders or the knowledge of how to develop and integrate a program like this into an organization.
My experience during the two days we were in Wichita “rocked my world.” I became uncomfortably aware of how people of color are ignored and overlooked. Both the white desk clerk at our motel and the white waitress at the restaurant where we ate looked at and talked only to me. They glanced at my companion only when necessary and other wise ignored her. We stopped at a mall and had fast food from a taco diner. As it happened I was the only white person eating there. I was not subjected to the same treatment my companion experienced earlier. We had not even had the first session of the training and my education had begun.
The two four hour trainings and the all day session with the regional Green Circle facilitator trainer were invaluable to me in my valuing differences and diversity awareness journey. My training with those facilitators laid the groundwork for years of effective work.
My most important take aways from those days in Wichita…. Our cultural environment incubates either prejudice and discrimnation or tolerance and understanding. We cannot ignore our differences, be they color, economic, environment, family, sexual orientation. Acknowledging and accepting our cultural differences will lead to less intolerance. Education will lead to less ignorance.
Color me convicted and committed to valuing cultural differences , eradicating institutional racism and changing his and her story………………
©2011 Susan Kendall. All rights reserved