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Stories of diversity and inclusion

By Josey Landrieu

If you had a chance to tell your diversity and inclusion story, what would you say? What themes would emerge?

I am asking this because I am on a team that is putting together a digital media campaign about our efforts to reach new and under-served communities, our engagement with diversity, and how we've overcome barriers. To do this, I want to engage everyone in 4-H and beyond to help us tell our diversity and inclusion story.

We are thrilled to have this grant-funded opportunity; to share a diverse narrative of our work in youth development and we can do so by engaging staff, volunteers, youth, and partners! One of the reasons for sharing a diverse narrative is to overcome the opposite kind -- the "single story" that lumps many people into one, or many cultures into one.

The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life is about the journey, not the destination". In youth development we are often reminded of this. We often find ourselves caught up in the end goal, but what matters most in what we do is HOW we get to that desired outcome. When youth and adults come together in our programs, what makes a difference in the end are the relationships that are developed; what youth and adults learn from and about each other; and the skills that youth develop while working on projects, activities, and events that relate to their interests and passions. A journey-like metaphor is even more appropriate when we strive to work in diverse and inclusive programming environments.

When you think about your own journey:
  • What are things you think are worth sharing with others?
  • What themes, ideas, or strategies would you share in a short video segment that others could watch and learn from?
  • What barriers have you overcome, and how?
Please share a short snippet! And remember "If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." (Henry Miller).

-- Josey Landrieu, former assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech - any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
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  1. Pam Larson NippoltJune 27, 2013 at 5:14 AM

    If I had a chance to tell my diversity and inclusion story, it would be about my experience as a first generation college graduate and the opportunities that this privilege has brought to me. My family taught me to love the process of learning and respect the pathway of education. This privilege has put me in the position of “expert” several times in my life. As other first generation college graduates know, this can feel uncomfortable and awkward when you understand how little separates you from the “uneducated” and the “expert.”
    Several years ago, a colleague who was working with me to help young people resolve problems and conflicts with their families (to prevent runaway and out of the home placement incidents for adolescents) asked me to meet with a group of new immigrant Hmong parents who were concerned about their adolescent youth, their role as parents in the U.S., and about how to work with their young people to resolve family conflicts. We worked with many Hmong families through our program, my colleague was well respected in the Hmong community, and we both were confident that we had something of value to offer this group of parents.
    I was humbled by the intensity of those present and the concern on their faces; several raised their voices as they asked questions. Both my colleague and I worked hard to understand, beads of perspiration standing on all of our faces. This meeting was critical to them and to the wellbeing of their families. Their expertise in knowing how to face difficulties and their commitment to preserving their families was palpable in that church basement. I was not the expert.
    This project sounds exciting, Josey! I propose exploring beliefs about “expert” and “expertise” as you document the journey of diversity and inclusion.

  2. Many stories come to mind but I will share one that relates to youth work …
    In this story, I am thinking about the power of cultural immersion experiences. I was a high school foreign exchange student and I lived with a family in Berghausen, Germany. The experience was transformative. I remember having a general curiosity about culture as kid but that immersion experience piqued my interests in ways I never imagined. While in Europe and after I returned to the US, I remember sewing together in my mind the impacts of war, genocide, emigration, migration along with the beauty of languages, differences in educational systems, and the treasure of friendships across borders and oceans. It was a rich experience that showed me firsthand what it means to have worldviews, cultural understanding, empathy, and a sense of history. That experience accelerated my curiosity in culture that later played out in my education, work, research, travel and everyday life. I am so grateful for that opportunity.
    Not all immersion experiences need to happen in other countries. Spending time with people in other neighborhoods, parts of the state or country can have significant impacts on one’s development too. Including immersion experiences (with adequate preparation and debriefing) in youth programming, can help expand the worlds of young people and show the value of learning about one’s own culture and much more.
    I am excited to see how this project unfolds.

  3. Pam and Jennifer,
    Thank you so much for getting this conversation started and for sharing your stories. Pam, I think you bring up a great point (about "expertise and experts") that's worth discussing and learning from. As an immigrant myself; often times I've been put into that "expert" position or asked to speak for a very large group of people and we need to remember that although members of a group might share similar experiences; there is also a lot of diverse perspectives and worldviews within a single group.
    Thanks for sharing the expertise that the families brought to the table when you were working with them.
    Jen, I could go on and on about immersion experiences having experienced several myself and I couldn't be in more agreement with you that we don't need to travel far to have such experiences. Working with Latino youth and families here in the Twin Cities has allowed me to immerse myself in a world with so much to learn from. I think this work will help staff, youth, and partners look at the possibilities of immersing ourselves into environments that will flex our diversity and inclusion muscles!
    Thanks again for sharing and I look forward to have others join our conversation :)

  4. Josey, thanks for so beautifully framing the project we are undertaking!
    When I think about my own stories of learning about diversity and inclusion, I often think about the ways that I learned things through initially doing things "wrong" or inadvertently overstepping cultural boundaries I did not understand. Working with Urban 4-H in recent years, I have had many opportunities to work in our vibrant Somali community here. I think about the deeply gracious imam I approached because I wanted to speak with him, and when I extended my hand, he placed his hand on his heart, bowed, and said, "Out of respect for you as a woman and my religion, I do not touch you, but thank you for your gesture." He had simultaneously instructed me on an important principle of Islam and also done so in a way that made me feel honored, and we went on to have a great conversation.
    It has been a challenge sometimes to determine how much to alter programs to honor cultural and religious values, while still keeping them inclusive. One of the major lessons I have learned is to engage the affected people in making the decision. For example, last summer, a club that is majority Muslim youth was doing a gardening and nutrition project. When Ramadan came, we had to figure out how to navigate the fact that some, though not all, of the members would be fasting. We collectively ended up deciding to go ahead and prepare the foods we were learning to make (fresh salsa and pesto from the produce in their garden), but rather than eating it during the club, we packaged it up and sent it home with everyone so they could eat it after sunset with their families. I know there may have been some youth who chose not to come because just being around food would have been too challenging, and that is hard. But the group had discussed it and had decided before Ramadan that this was how they wanted to deal with it.

  5. Thanks Kathryn for sharing your perspective and experiences, especially from our urban 4-H programming. What I take away from the example you provided is the fact that the youth had the opportunity to exerience our 4-H program model within their cultural context. We often think we need to change, alter, etc. the programming and don't give me wrong, I do think that we need to be nimble and adaptable but the core essence of what a 4-H program brings (leadership opportunities, meaningful youth-adult relationships, citizenship education, non-formsl learning, etc.) doesn't change across cultural contexts!
    I look forward to learning more about your work with the Somali community and hopefully we'll be able to highlight some of our successes through the digital media campaign.