I have had several interesting experiences lately with various friends that illustrate the preciousness of the gift of diversity.
Recently, a retired gentleman of high intellect and worldwide experience expressed his desire to interact more with people “not like me.” He does, indeed, live in a basically white, professional world. As we talked, I urged him to contact Community of Hope in Garner or a similar outreach program. Garner is blessed with diversity. Many ethnicities, races, religions, economic and educational levels live together in relative harmony. Quite a few neighborhoods are integrated and diverse as well, with few problems. Garner Magnet High School, where I taught many years before retiring, is a model of a diverse educational community.
Teaching in such an environment has proven to be a great gift. Just the other day a close friend said, “I was at the movies and a group of Muslims came in. It made me so nervous, I almost left.” Surprised, I asked her to explain. She replied, “Who knows what they were there for? Wouldn’t it make you nervous?” Giving my opinion that they were probably there to watch a movie, I went on to share my experiences teaching and working with many delightful Islamic students over the years. While I’m sure I didn’t change her viewpoint, I am also sure my reaction made her think.
Lastly, a meal in a local fast food restaurant with a western Wake area friend strongly brought home the value and importance of diversity. We’d stopped in for a quick bite on the way to a concert in Raleigh, and I was happily chatting, enjoying my chicken, when she stopped me. “This place is really weird. Do you really come here often?” Well, yes. I like it, the staff is great and the food good.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, confused. She leaned over and whispered, “This place is full of Hispanics!”
Sincerely taken aback, I looked around. Well, yeah. Hispanics, blacks, whites, people dressed up and folks obviously coming from work in dirty clothes. That’s when it really hit home, the importance of experiencing diversity, working in a diverse setting, living among people “not like me.” Proximity and interaction reduce fear and increase comfort. One learns not to be afraid in normal situations where many different people congregate and interact. Life is good, people are friendly and smiles are shared. Diversity teaches us that people are just, well, people!
Given the enormous importance of truly knowing those different from ourselves, I find the increasing separation in our schools, neighborhoods and communities cause for concern. Getting to know and be comfortable around the “others” is a gift and treasure we must not lose.
Sandra Still lives in Garner.