In the News
Group's anniversary to be part of celebratory week
Christina Killion Valdez
January 17, 2009
Diversity Council annual meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday.
Where: Radisson Plaza Hotel in Rochester, 150 S. Broadway.
Admission is free. Information, refreshments and entertainment.
The monumental week ahead is a time to celebrate advancements in race relations, said Kay Hocker, executive director of the Diversity Council, but also to get serious about making improvements.
From the observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday to the inauguration of the country's first ethnically diverse president Tuesday and the 20th anniversary of the work of the Diversity Council on Thursday, there is much to celebrate, Hocker said.
Yet she also cautioned, "There is still a lot of work to be done. There's been a spike in race-related hate crimes."
The Diversity Council formed under similar circumstances when groups of students experienced harassment that tended to be along lines of race and ethnicity, Hocker said. In 1989 a group of school district staff and community leaders formed a nonprofit organization called Building Equality Together. The group later became the Diversity Council.
The original vision was to eliminate racism. In 1994, as the Diversity Council, the group broadened its vision to eliminate all discrimination and its scope from students to the wider community, she said.
Funding came from local businesses through the Rochester Area Foundation, said executive director Steve Thornton.
"We were pleased with our ability to bring those groups together to provide resources to get this group more formalized," he said.
Through the years the foundation has continued to provide grants for the group.
"Unfortunately we didn't think that the issues would melt away after five years," Thornton said. "We knew it would be longer-term proposition."
The key element of the council's education and outreach, prejudice reduction workshops, started in 1996 with 300 students. By 2000 that number grew to 10,000, with students in Rochester and surrounding communities all going through the workshops. In 2008, the workshops were featured on NBC's "Today Show."
Yet, growth hasn't always come easily.
A racial attitudes survey done in 2006 showed a higher amount of racism than a similar survey in 1990.
"The survey found a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment," Hocker said.
Rather than deciding that their work wasn't getting through, she said, the results reinforced the need for more adult education.
Looking ahead to the group's 20th year, Hocker said, it plans to ensure the education it provides is valid and relevant.
Part of that is a new initiative called VOICES, Valuing Our Immigrants Contributions to Economic Success.
The program, part of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, identifies positive assets and values immigrants bring to the work force, Hocker said. It kicks off with a town meeting Feb. 5 and will continue with additional in-depth conversations with immigrants and refugees, she said.
The council also began a new partnership with Rochester public schools to teach parents that all students can succeed. Parent training is coordinated through the Efficacy Institute as part of the district's five-year plan.
"As a community grows everything changes," Hocker said. "If we want to continue to be inclusive and welcoming we need to do that through education and relationship building."
Now, she said, is a good time to celebrate and work on that with many groups eager to participate.
© 2009 Post Bulletin. Used by permission.