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Key to diversity outreach: get out of your cultural comfort zone


Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Across the country and right here in Washington, demographics have and are changing rapidly. The 2010 Census  has illuminated the increase in diversity in the United States. It has been projected that by the year 2050 in the United States, Caucasians will be in the minority. It is important to remember that diversity is not just about race, but includes gender, socio-economic status, age, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

Diversity is also inclusive of everyone. I have personally heard Caucasian people say, “I am not diverse… I don’t have a culture”. This is far from the truth. We all bring an individual uniqueness to the world. We all have a range of experiences and background story to share. No two people are exactly the same and that is what true diversity is all about.

Non profits and businesses and cultural outreach

Many businesses and organizations are faced with the challenging task of doing outreach, whether it is recruiting diversity to boards, councils, and group membership or to the workplace. In addition, non profits, community organizations and even churches often feel the need to increase attendance at events and in programs, especially if the surrounding community have increased its diversity. Handing out flyers and translating marketing materials into different languages is a good start, but is far from enough. Relationship-building plants the seeds of understanding and provides the spark to encourage collaboration. Find the key members of communities who can give insight into the issues and needs of that community. Don’t rely on googling a race or culture to learn how to approach and interact with them. Some of this information is helpful and can provide general and historical information, but too often we fall back on stereotypes like “most Asians are quiet or studious” and “most Latinos are Catholic.”

Face to face, eye to eye contact is required to really create a meaningful connection. I recall once hearing from a Caucasian woman who said she was forming a discussion group and the first topic was to be immigration. I asked her, “Did you invite any immigrants to your group to participate in the discussion?” To my astonishment, she said “No.” I wondered, “How can you have a meaningful discussion about immigration with no immigrants present?”

Effective outreach is an ongoing mission, which means visiting churches, grocery stores, schools and even setting up booths at community events where diverse populations are. Go to them. Do not expect them to come to you. Get out of your own cultural comfort zone. Break your normal routine. Instead of shopping at Safeway, do your grocery shopping at a Pakistani grocery store. This kind of effort also shows that you are sincere about making new connections and forming new partnerships.

Exploring the “ethnic” media

Another way for businesses and organizations to make connections is by connecting with the diverse media, which includes traditional and social media. Not everyone watches KIRO News and reads the Seattle Times. In the Puget Sound area, there are over 50 culturally-diverse newspapers, websites, television and radio stations, some of which that print and broadcast news in various languages. . Check out some of these sources and if you are having an event, send your press releases to this branch of the media.

Remember, appreciating and understanding diversity is an enlightening, lifelong journey, full of surprises, revelations and new relationships.

When kidnapping your parent is the right thing to do


Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

One evening, I could feel my anxiety increasing. It had become apparent to me that I would have to leave the Seattle area the next morning, fly to Los Angeles and bring my mom Lillian back home with me.

It was October 2009. I had received a call from my one of my Mom’s closest friends who said that she was very sick, weak and could not get out of bed. In the summer of 2009, my mother had been diagnosed with Chronic Leukemia, a serious disease that would require treatment and monitoring. Now, it appeared she had a serious respiratory infection due to her compromised immune system. Mom also suffers from high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol and advanced Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Although I had been urging her to move from Los Angeles to Seattle for several years, she had always resisted, craving her independence and not wanting to leave her home. However, now she was very ill. It was obvious she needed to be close to her family here, which included my wife and my 18-year-old son. My wife has been very involved, as well, in caring for Mom. She is definitely in the right place.

I found myself faced with a dilemma that many children of elderly parents face – when to step in and take significant control of my parent’s life. Even at 53, I still feel that intrinsic respect you have for a parent. Deep down, I feel like I wanted approval for decisions I had to make, especially one that will uproot my Mom permanently from her home, friends and familiar surroundings.

I began to remember stories from other friends who had to fight with their parents and virtually kidnap them due to their deteriorating health. I also remembered the news stories about parents becoming very ill while alone in their own homes, and, of course, that commercial where an elderly woman falls and there is no one to help her.

Mom had lived in that house with my Dad since 1965. He passed away in 1999, but the lingering memories provided comfort for my mother. Who was I to take her away from that kind of emotional security? The fact that she was lucid only made it harder to make that decision to relocate her.

Since moving to Seattle, she has seen a several doctors, been hospitalized three times and undergone chemotherapy four times. Her health is more stable now, and she lives with my wife and me. She no longer drives and still suffers from her other health problems. She takes 12 different medications.

My anxiety is still present. I continue to worry about her health. Her blood pressure can get dangerously high; she has trouble walking at times, and tires easily. I work full time and have family responsibilities and as a male, I also feel I must suppress my emotions and try to stay in problem-solving mode. I feel responsible for making the right decisions and, in the process, make decisions that everyone will be happy about. I am a problem solver. However, it is impossible to make decisions that everyone will be happy with and solve all the problems.

As an adult child of an ailing parent, I can only show her love and rely on my own personal wisdom and intuition. Fortunately, mom finally agreed to put the house in Los Angeles up for sale and two months ago it sold. She is ready to write a new chapter in her life here in Seattle. So, I guess some of my decisions were right after all.

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Kevin Henry
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A native of Los Angeles, CA, Kevin P. Henry has been a journalist for over 30 years, first getting bitten by the writing bug while in college during the early 1980s. A graduate of California State University, Northridge, Kevin began writing features and news for the Los Angeles Daily News, and eventually  went on to write for the Los Angeles Times,  Billboard Magazine, Diversity News and Seattle Woman Magazine. As a writer, he has also written copy for radio, print advertizing and websites. Kevin was also the host of Voices of Diversity, a weekly public affairs program on KBCS-FM, 91.3 and has hosted radio programs on other Puget Sound area radio stations since the early 1990s.  As the Cultural Diversity Coordinator for the City of Bellevue since 1994, Kevin currently coordinates cultural arts /education programs and events. His other jobs have included managing the University of Washington Speakers Bureau from 1988 - 1994, working as a receptionist in a psychiatric clinic and a few gigs as a stock photography model.