LIMA — As Lima Rotary Club President Tracie Sanchez begins each meeting and surveys the crowd, she has noticed that the members do not represent a diverse group, and that is a problem she said she is willing to fix.
“As a whole, we’ve talked about how can we pull other people and make ourselves a more diverse group,” she said, “We talk about this constantly, but we are not representing the African-American community. We do need to reach out more and get them to be a part of the Rotary Club to see what our goals and achievements are.”
Sanchez said that, despite the fact that the group currently does not have much diversity, anyone who is committed to serving the community is welcome to join the organization.
“Our door is always open so that anyone in the community that has those ideals and passions are free to contact me and we could have them as a guest to see if they would like to become a member,” she said.
A common desire
Millie Hughes, president of the Lima Kiwanis Club, agreed that, although there is not much diversity within its 50- member group, they are open to becoming more diverse.
“We don’t look in color,”said Hughes. “We also have student leadership clubs in every school and we recruit those students with no respect to race, gender. Whoever wants to be a member of the club is embraced and welcome.”
Adah Ellerbrock, Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce liaison for Lima Young Professionals, said that the organization has been accused of not being inclusive. She also said the mission promotes diversity, however, and they are willing to work towards accomplishing that goal.
“I think that a lot of people feel like we are only for a certain group, and we are really working on changing that and we really need their help with people opening up their minds and letting us let them in,” she said.
What are the barriers?
Ohio Northern University Sociology Professor Bob Carrothers theorizes that the reason why there isn’t greater inclusion or diversity in service groups is that members rarely venture outside of their own group and are afraid of accidentally saying something offensive or reinforcing certain stereotypes. He also said that another problem is that it has become more difficult to identify those who are racist or sexist because it is no longer acceptable for them to outwardly voice their opinions. Some people who claim that they want to be diverse are only doing it for the sake of meeting a quota, which only makes the new recruit feel uncomfortable.
“They don’t want to feel like the token member and the only reason that they are there is so that they can say ‘Oooh, we have a black guy,’” he said.
Diversity and inclusion is important, however, because it not helps people understand one another, but it also helps with making ethical decisions, according to radio talk show host host Londell Smith.
“You can’t make solid decisions on how to go about impacting that group if you don’t have their input, and having their input goes beyond giving them a survey,” he said. “I think its extremely important that specifically the black community is involved and included in a lot of these groups and organizations and committees, especially as these groups and committees are making decisions that are going to have an impact on the black community.”
Smith said that one solution to that problem is for the black community to step up and take the initiative and make themselves available.
“We have to come to the party because if they don’t know that you’re available, then how are they going to select you and choose you?” he said. “That’s the same thing with employment. You won’t get the job if you won’t apply.”
How to move forward
Bradfield Community Center Executive Director Kesha Drake said that groups would be more inclusive and diverse if leaders of these different social groups did a better job of informing the community about what is going and being more open.
“I think that it’s important to know your background and know where you are from and and know your beliefs and stand strong in it,” she said, “but I think if we all have an open mind on things when we come to the table, we can all pull and learn something new.”
Third Ward Lima City Councilwoman Carla Thompson said that it is her mission to make sure groups are inclusive and diverse.
“We’re missing out on some wonderful neighbors,” she said. “So I do a lot of leg work and talk to people and make sure they know about different events and organizations.”
Ellerbrock said that sometimes people just have to take the initiative and get outside of their comfort zone to create change. When she attended ONU, she joined the multicultural club, which empowered her and caused her to see the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“When we work together and we include everybody, the opportunities are endless of what we can do for the community,” she said.
Reach Camri Nelson at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @CamriNews.