Friday, November 6, 2015

Sunbury Founder's Donation Event- Diverse Voices Matter

November's Founder's Donation Event was in Sunbury.
We raised: $30
Number of participants: 2
Total average donation per person:  $15

Sunbury is a magnetic place, with many treasures: a great new central park, and riverfront, boating areas, great parks for the kids, amazing big historic houses and buildings. It is the home to Weis, Fort Augusta, the Marina, Packer Island, the Hotel Edison, the YMCA Arts Center, and Spyglass Ridge Winery.

It is hard to not notice the changes taking place in Sunbury, from the greening of the city, to citizen empowerment efforts, and business development. Diversity is also a clear change in the city- and as the Daily Item has always reminded us- diversity is a great asset.

The question is, are community leaders, and citizen activists thinking about how to grow the city with diversity in mind? If not managed well, diversity can turn into a liability.

If we think about diversity in the asset/liability context, we can see that our Country's race problems have hung in this balance since our inception, and throughout our history, which is why we have a debt in non white education, housing, leadership, justice, and economy.

At the Sunbury Founder's Donation Event I talked with participants about what I see as some key elements of Sunbury's community building and asked- "Are the doors open in these efforts for diverse members in the community to play meaningful roles?"

The key characteristics I highlighted, along some of the respective institutions that match them were:

Creating a Positive Identity (Historical Society, YMCA, SRI, business leaders, neighborhood
                                              groups, the Arts)

Citizen Engagement (SRI, Sunbury American paper, United Way Impact Councils)

Green Space (city officials, SRI, YMCA, citizen groups)

Creating an environment for business growth (SRI, city officials)

The Arts (YMCA, SRI, local citizens, Spyglass Ridge, businesses)

Paths to a voice for citizens (Sunbury American paper, United Way Impact Councils)

Diversity (Citizens, Business owners)

Are City officials, local businesses, schools, local papers, judicial systems, arts communities, business creators, and city planners making diversity part of their action plans? Are there paths for diverse voices, and leadership opportunities? If there is a path, are the gates open, or are they closed to meaningful roles for diverse members?

Here are some anecdotes I gathered from the community regarding diversity:

'This is really two towns- one of people who have lived here a long time, and one of the other people.'

Some businesses see the value in diversity and have expanded markets- like Weis (who has an amazing Spanish section, and expanded categories of black American products) and the Runners Roost (who boosted sales by simply putting a sign up in their window saying, 'Welcome' in Chinese, and describing their wares).

Two violent incidents have ended in prison time for black Americans in Sunbury recently: One, a black citizen was called a 'Nigger' and chased down the taunter with an unloaded BB gun to scare him. That young black man is in prison. In another incident- which has a very confused story- a black man was kicked out of a bar, later seen being chased by two other white men, who he had been fighting with in the bar. In the end the two white men had him down on the ground, and the black man stabbed them. The men were in critical condition, and the yound black man is in jail. In a recent hearing, a new narrative in the prosecution evolved claiming the black man is a leader in the Bloods gang.

Unprovoked, a black/hispanic man was hit in the head with a beer bottle and told to 'get out of here.'

A group of kids yelled 'Nigger' from their car, to a black female citizen walking down the street

A local business has a sign in Chinese reading "keep out"

Another business has a sign in their window berating the pants below the boxers fashion of black citizens. It is fair to have a sign asking to keep underclothes under your clothes- it is not to berate a single group in the community.

A Hispanic man was repeatedly arrested in Sunbury when I lived there a decade ago, for fishing off of the dam. He did not speak english and had no idea what he was being arrested for, but was arrested over and over again. At that time there was no interpreter to help the police- now, as I understand it, there is one shared interpreter for many departments.

Two simple solutions to curbing negative effects of diversity mismanagement, is having leaders model positive behavior, and provide positive messaging- shining a light on the benefits of Sunbury's diversity, and making new community members feel welcome and part of the city.

Diversity really is not new to the area. Diversity is as American as apple pie, frankfurters, Mrs. T's, pizza, chili, Ramen noodles, burritos, corn, and fried chicken. 

Here's another anecdote from my step father-in-law, who grew up in Trevorton- his family spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, and another segment of the community spoke Italian. When families were in the grocery together, they would always think the 'other' was talking about them, because they did not understand what the 'others' were saying. Now, they probably were just talking about bread, or what have you, but this is the kind of misunderstanding that, if not managed with good leadership, can lead to conflict, and violence.

Positive identity matters. Not just of those who have lived here a long time, and, like other rust belt communities feel as though the good times are in the past, but for new members of the community as well. If we have confidence in who we are, it is easier to identify and share what is great about ourselves and our community.

Leadership matters, community structure matters. Including diversity in action plans matters. Opening doors and creating paths for diverse voices matter.

Undoing Racism (TM) training is an effective tool to create action plans with diversity in mind. Steps can be as simple as making room, and opening doors.

The benefits of diversity are clear: increased civic engagement, increased critical thinking in schools, increase innovation, and performance and profits for businesses. Sunbury is a key location for business investment, and a diverse citizenry is a big part of that designation-but investors will ask- is how is diversity managed? Is it an asset, or liability?

I'll end with some statistics (check out the links below for sources):

Diverse businesses are 35% more likely to outperform competitors
Diverse businesses are 70% more likely to capture new markets
Every 1% increase in ethnic diversity correlates to a 9% increase in revenue
40% of citizens under 25 are not white
Business performance increases 80% in teams with high diversity levels
Discrimination costs $64 Billion a year in the US

"To succeed in this increasingly diverse environment, American businesses must select leaders who possess cross-cultural competence-the experiences of, and capacity to interact with- and understand the experiences of- a multiplicity of perspectives held by, persons of different races, ethnicities, and cultural histories." GM 

Sunbury's citizens are diverse. Whether our children's experiences with diversity in Sunbury will create criminals, or creators, depends on leadership, and community structure. Let's Undo Racism (TM) for a more prosperous future! Keep in touch for opportunities to engage in fundraising and training events as they come to the area.

Thank you to those who came out to the Sunbury Founder's Donation Event. If you would like me to visit your business or group, contact me: 



Benefits of Diversity