Ruth A. Canfield

 Micheal Guido

DIVERsCITY Awareness Dearborn-Dearborn Heights

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

The cities of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, under the auspices of the local League of Women Voters, have created a program which we hope will help promote understanding and communication among the diverse members of these two cities. The objectives of the program are:

  • To realize the impact that changing demographics have on today’s communities;
  • To identify our personal attitudes and behaviors toward difference;
  • To recognize how attitudes toward differences influence our interactions with
  • others;
  • To promote continuing dialogue;
  • To increase understanding of ourselves and our neighbors;
  • To encourage us to rethink our attitudes toward neighbors who are "different;"
  • To learn about levels of acceptance; and
  • To rethink our positions on the "awareness spectrum."

The program includes a video which we purchased from BNA (Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.) with permission to edit for our use. It also includes a slide show which presents diverse members of our two communities. We interviewed and taped these participants and then used some of their quotes in this slide presentation. The pictures for the slides were taken by a city of Dearborn photographer and put in slide format by staff at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. We have been fortunate to have had the expertise of two University of Michigan - Dearborn human resources staff members, Joyce Stilwell and Eric Bolling. Under their direction, volunteers have been trained to act as presenters and facilitators for these programs.

The program consists of five parts:

Part 1 - What Is Diversity?

Part 2 - The Reaction Spectrum - How do we react to different situations?
Video - Types of diversity discussed include, race, ethnicity, physical and mental disabilities and homosexuality.

Part 3 - Our "Behavioral Software" - Why we react the way we do.

Part 4 - Meet Our Neighbors.
Slides of diverse members of our community.

Part 5 - So What? Now What? Acting as a Change Agent.
Conclusion - Summary, Evaluations
(The program takes 1 and 1/2 hours including discussion.)

We also created a brochure which includes most of the participants in the slides. This brochure along with a list of local resources, an outline of the program, a diversity quiz and an evaluation form are given to participants.

The program was first previewed for community leaders at a meeting at ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) in September, 1997, and has since been refined and expanded to include group discussions. Since then it has been presented nearly twenty times to various community and business organizations, religious institutions and schools.

Our plan is to take this program to civic organizations and churches throughout our area. In order to promote this we have had committee members appear on a number of local cable shows and write articles for the local papers.

As an adjunct to this program, we sought ways to bring a discussion on diversity to our elementary school children. In conjunction with the Dearborn schools, we have a set of books which deal with various cultures and ethnic groups for different grade levels along with a description of each book and a guideline for directing discussion. During the month of March, which is reading month, we will have volunteers going to different classrooms to read the stories and lead discussion.

2. When was the program created and why?

In 1996 the National League of Women Voters embarked upon an effort entitled "Making Democracy Work." The goal of this endeavor was to create a new political environment that will restore all citizens to their rightful place at the center of our democracy. As part of this national project, the League of Women Voters of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights in 1996 began holding meetings with community leaders to discuss the following questions:

  • What are the most serious problems facing our community and the country?
  • How can we get more citizens involved in making our community a better place?
  • What community efforts already are working well and could serve as models for others?
  • What role do you think the League could play in strengthening our community and increasing citizen involvement?

One of the major concerns which came out of these discussions was the ethnic and racial polarization within our two communities.

From these meetings grew a DiversCity Awareness Committee of community volunteers formed to address this problem at a grass-roots level. The original committee met in January, 1997, and realized that in order to be effective and responsive to the community the committee itself must be diverse; so efforts were made to expand participation to include a diverse representation from our cities. Currently the committee consists of twenty members and includes representation from local civic organizations, the schools, the two city administrations, and the business and religious community. It also includes racial and ethnic diversity. Very quickly the committee recognized the wealth of opportunity that diversity has brought to our cities. It also became apparent that diversity encompasses many more situations than ethnicity and race. So it was decided to work on a process which might help us all to appreciate the diversity within our neighborhoods while at the same time recognizing the many things which we share in common. As a result, after much discussion and work, this committee, under the auspices of the local League of Women Voters, created a program which it hopes will promote understanding and communication among the diverse members of these two cities.

In a time of increasing diversity within our communities we also appear to be facing increased divisiveness. We all need to affirm our own individual and group identities while at the same time respecting and appreciating the identities of others. America’s strength has always arisen from her diversity. We have survived and grown because we are constantly faced with new people, new ideas and new visions.

The goal of this initiative is to create ongoing communication, understanding and respect within our communities. We can achieve our full potential, but only if we overcome the temptation to deny or diminish the humanity of our neighbors.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

From the beginning we have had an evaluation form which we asked each participant to fill out. The response on returning these has been very good—about 75 percent. Those involved in presenting the programs go over these comments at intervals and make adjustments to the program as indicated. We ask participants to evaluate those parts of the program that were particularly effective and those that were ineffective. We also ask them to rate on a scale of 1 to 3 how various aspects of the program helped increase their awareness of their attitudes and behaviors. And finally we ask them to rate the pace, content and facilitators.

Currently we are seeking professional help to conduct an attitudinal survey in both communities which could be used as a benchmark and then conducted annually so that changes in attitudes could be measured.

4. How is the program financed?

This program started with financial support from the League of Women Voters. At the beginning there was no clear plan for fund-raising. As we proceeded we requested support from community groups, religious institutions, and businesses—including Ford Motor company. Both cities have given support by providing printing, staff, and purchasing of materials. The city of Dearborn has also provided a place to meet.

We are now in the process of developing a proposal which would seek funding for the previously mentioned attitudinal survey and to make our own video using community residents. We continue to look to local businesses and organizations and the two cities for our financial base.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

From the beginning this was a community effort. The concerns of polarization came from the community and the committee is made up of community members and city representatives. The program has been presented to different groups based upon requests from these community groups.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

The major lessons which we have learned up to this point is that communities are anxious to work together and also, that it is not necessary to wait for financing to get started. There is a lot of good will in our communities and the important thing is to begin. However it takes the commitment and support of a city administration to give this community good will direction and stability.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

We would highly recommend that before anything begins you get input and involvement from the community. We believe that the main reason that this has worked in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights is because it was spearheaded by a community group and has continued to be run by a committee of community volunteers with strong support and participation by the cities involved. Working with the League of Women voters has allowed it to remain non-partisan and free from government distrust.

For more information, please contact:

Valerie Murphy-Goodrich
City of Dearborn
Human Resources Dept.
4500 Maple
Dearborn, MI 48126
Telephone: (313) 943-2058
Fax: (313) 943-2371

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