When I sent out the invitation to readers and community members to join me for a conversation about diversity in Cedar Rapids, I did not know what to expect. It was my first time organizing such a discussion.
My goal was to host an open forum where people could share what was on their mind when it comes to diversity. It is critical for us as a news organization to know what community members are thinking and what their concerns are so we can better address them through our coverage.
On Friday afternoon inside the cozy confines of The Early Bird coffee shop in downtown Cedar Rapids, a small group gathered over the lunch hour to talk about why diversity matters to them in the Corridor.
I had prepared a few questions for conversation fodder.
I asked the group if they felt that local government should play a role in promoting diversity and inclusion in eastern Iowa. Ruth Hairston, who is retired from working in sales at AT&T and information technology at Transamerica, answered yes.
Hairston, who is African American, shared what it was like growing up in the small town of Fort Madison, Iowa.
During the conversation, we talked about the need for businesses to understand how Iowa’s demographics are changing. We also talked about how understanding and embracing diversity within a company is not as simple as holding a one-time event and considering the job complete.
We also talked about whether there was a clear understanding of the term cultural competency within businesses in Cedar Rapids.
Brooke Lentz, district manager at Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa, said people often have a narrow definition when it comes to diversity and what it means.
Toward the end of the discussion, my colleague Sarah Binder, also a community engagement manager for We Create Here, asked the group what simple steps each one of us could take to promote diversity and make others feel accepted.
Anthony Brown, manager of community engagement and development at Cedar Rapids-based Diversity Focus, said simply, “Say hello” or smile at others as you walk down the street. Such simple gestures can go a long way when it comes to making people feel accepted.
We had a great discussion. I challenge each one of you — what are you going to do today to make this community more welcoming to diverse populations?