Monday, April 27, 2015

The Role of Nonprofits in a Diverse Community

Diversity: Valuing, respecting, and appreciating the differences that make us unique.1

The makeup of our society is ever changing. People of different races, ethnic identities, religions, genders, ages, and sexual orientations coexist in our communities. The leaders we look up to emphasize the importance of diversity in our schools, workplaces, and other public places- but we are far from valuing, respecting, and appreciating the unique characteristics of those who are different from us. We choose hate instead of love, violence instead of peace. We focus on what makes us different, instead of embracing our shared humanness and appreciating people for who they are. All nonprofit agencies share a common goal: to meet one or more needs of the community they serve. Since the majority of nonprofits serve diverse populations, leaders of these organizations are in the unique position to advocate for the acceptance of diversity in our society. In addition, these leaders can recognize when the communities they serve are being mistreated, and can fight for justice for those without a voice.  

Take, for example, the recent, tragic death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson in Madison, WI. Robinson, an African American male, was fatally shot by a white police officer while unarmed during an altercation in early March. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is currently investigating the shooting. Since the time of the shooting, leaders from nonprofit organizations such as the United Way, Madison Metropolitan School District, Boys and Girls Club, and the African American Council of Churches  have banded together to encourage radical change in the way we view race relations in the Madison community. These nonprofit agencies care about the people they serve, and as a result are willing to take a stand against the injustice felt by the African American community.

So what can we, as emerging leaders, do to encourage diversity in our organizations? First, we can educate ourselves to become more competent about cultures and experiences different than our own. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” We need to recognize that we will never fully understand the experiences of those who are different than us, but we can learn to respect, value, appreciate, and learn from our differences. Next, we can challenge injustice when we see or experience it in our communities. Whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, or any other -ism, we can voice our opinions and demand equality for those being mistreated. Lastly, we can join forces with other leaders in our community to advocate for necessary change in our society, as demonstrated by the organizations involved in Tony Robinson’s case. By uniting with other agencies, we can increase the power of our voice and spread our message to populations we may otherwise be unable to reach.  

1 McNett, J. (2005). Diversity in the workplace: Ethics, pragmatism, or some of both? In C. P. Harvey & M. J. Allard, Understanding and managing diversity: Readings, cases, and exercises (pp. 241-252). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.