For her consultation sessions that address diversity and inclusion, Diane Ford often begins by asking a question:
“How many races really are there?”
Many of those in attendance at the inaugural meeting of the Accepting Our Neighbors group provided her with this answer: One.
“That’s absolutely right,” Ford said, “but I usually get, ‘There are hundreds. Countless.’ And I like to start it with the foundation being set that we are all one race.”
The lifelong Bethel Park resident served as facilitator for the new group’s May 30 gathering, which attracted about 15 residents from local communities, including Peters Township, to Upper St. Clair Township Library.
Ford also was on the panel for a similarly themed discussion in November at the library, scheduled in response to the murders the previous month at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill.
“We had a really, I thought, productive conversation about where we are in our society with some of these troublesome issues,” said Walker Evans, programs and outreach services librarian.
He organized the panel discussion with leaders of Upper St. Clair Parent Teacher Council, the umbrella organization for parent-teacher groups in the school district, including Suzanne Wynne, president, and Batool Nulwala, first vice president.
“What we decided we wanted to do to continue the conversation that we began in November was to start a group that would meet monthly and could involve community dialogue and could involve guest speakers from various marginalized communities,” Evans said. “Our goal, really, is to understand one another better and to figure out what we can do, what we maybe should do, to be better allies to people who are facing discrimination in our community.”
Plans call for Accepting Our Neighbors to meet for monthly discussions, with the next one scheduled for 7 p.m. June 27 at the library.
“We share a desire to learn about the experiences of people from different cultures, different races, different sexual identities, different economic backgrounds,” information circulated about the group states in part.
Walker said he had offers from some of the first meeting’s participants to serve on an advisory committee to help guide the group’s direction.
“I’d be very happy to have as much community input as I can,” he said.
Ford, whose family members have lived in Bethel Park since 1927, runs a consulting firm that provides services such as organizational analysis and development, coaching, strategic planning, leadership development, change management, conflict resolution and team building. She is under contract to work with Bethel Park School District for the 2019-20 academic year.
During the Accepting Our Neighbors meeting, she told about a neighbor in his 20s who died a few years ago following a motorcycle accident. He was an organ donor.
“Because we are all the human race, anybody who was able to receive his organs – no matter what they looked like, no matter what they believed and no matter whom they loved – were able to be recipients,” she said. “They were able to receive something from this young African-American male.”
For more information about Accepting Our Neighbors, contact Walker Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.