Embracing & Celebrating Diversity Day 2018

By Scott Hopkins, Senior Marketing Analyst, Carrier Corporation

Need an Ally, Be an Ally

On Wednesday September 12th, the 2018 LGS Class unsuspectingly entered the Syracuse City School District Professional Development Center with little idea of what the design team had in store for them.  Sure, they knew they were going to hear from some great speakers and local leaders, and they probably had an inkling that they would participate in some fun and fulfilling activities.  However, the design team had deliberately kept some of the day’s events and activities vague in the agenda with the intent of adding a little shock value.

And shock value is what the class got!  The class was welcomed in a different manor than the other class days they had experienced up to this point.  In lieu of saying our hellos and catching up with classmates over the usual coffee and breakfast choices, we were welcomed by Beth Broadway, Executive Director of Interfaith Works, with a pleasant but short “Good morning, please go sit where you belong”.  Once everyone had settled in to where they perceived they “belonged”, things got started and people began to realize there was more to this opening than grabbing a seat for the day.  The tables we had chosen from as to where we belonged were labeled and representative of various regions (Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Latin America, etc.). Beth then led an exercise where the tables had conversations amongst themselves surrounding race, religion, gender, etc. and how those experiences have impacted our lives.  Beth then brought the conversation together to the entire group where it was pointed out that some tables had much more of a selection for breakfast (coffee, juice, water, bagels, fruits, granola bars) while others were left with limited items (water and crackers).  At that point our discussions veered into the direction of privileges, with the food choices representing those who have had more or less.  It was a great eye opening and thought provoking start to the day.

Our morning then transitioned to our first speaker, Matt Read, Visiting Assistant Professor at Lemoyne College where he teaches advertising, public relations, and creating advertising.  Matt was a fantastic speaker.  We had him for almost two hours but it felt like it was only a matter of minutes since he started.  He spoke about his personal experiences with diversity while working for major advertising firms in New York City.  We heard fantastic stories where diversity was used in great ways and others where the attempts fell on their face.  One of the highlights of Matt’s portion was where he went through a series of commercials that were intended to provoke powerful feelings on various topics relating to diversity.  Matt would setup the commercial, give us some background on what we were going to see, we watched it as a class, and then conversations took off from there.  People were emotionally moved by some, humored by others, or even offended.  But a commonality amongst all the advertisements was that they incited some sort of emotional response in relation to the brands style of communicating their ethics.  Powerful, humor-filled, energetic, emotional, the list goes on and on, but one thing is for sure, Matt’s portion of the day was one people won’t forget any time soon.

Are you hungry yet from reading about the amazing first half of the day the class experienced?  Well good, because it was on to lunch.  Instead of having the class lunch catered as has happened in past classes, the design team decided they wanted to represent as many different ethnicities as they could and went the rout of a pock luck lunch!  Some design team members made dishes representative of their background, others reached out to local restaurants and food trucks for their dishes, and of course Robin contributed a dish as well.

With their bellies full of foods from around the world, the class settled back in for our next speaker, Maxine Thompson, former Chief Diversity Officer at SUNY Upstate Medical University, and more importantly, mother to one of our amazing LGS classmates, Kristin Thompson.  Maxine led a discussion centered on “unmasking our ugly truths”.  We started with a powerful video that opened our eyes to prejudices we may not know we are making based on first impressions of behaviors and appearances.  This led to another great conversation amongst the class.  People shared personal experiences and feelings from times when they either pre-judged or had a judgement made about them prior to actually encountering the other party.  The second half of Maxine’s portion was even more powerful.  Maxine placed short scenarios around the room on posters.  They were truly thought provoking things, some of which included being a parent seeking asylum who is separated from your child at the border, an African-American male being pulled over by the police, or a person of Muslim faith on a flight.  The class was asked to get up out of their seats and stand next to the person we would least like to be.  Once we were next to who we least wanted to be, we took turns explaining our choices.  I know I am not alone in saying Maxine did a fantastic job in leading some very impactful activities.

Our last speaker for the day leading a discussion about how we can be “Ally’s in our own Backyard” was Rickey Brown, Executive Director for the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance.  Rickey led things off given a quick background on what he does to promote the employment of minorities in the upstate area.  It didn’t take long for a classmate to interject that they have a need for candidates for multiple positions and just like that, LGS networking magic happening before the class was even over.  Rickey wrapped the day up for us fielding questions from the class on different opportunities we have to get more involved with opportunities to be better allies for those around us in the greater Syracuse area.

All in all, it was truly an inspirational day that will stay with the class for a long time.  Our thanks to Syracuse City School District for hosting us at their Professional Development Center!