When I first attended the University of Kentucky in 1969, I joined a choir called the Black Voices.
We traveled to various churches and gave concerts throughout the year to a variety of audiences.
At one of our concerts, a minister spoke of diversity and inclusion, characterizing the various cultures and colors of people on this Earth as fingers on a hand that held the world together.
He said by segregating one finger because it was smaller or the thumb because it was fatter, the hand would become dysfunctional. The world would then fall apart and the hand would have no reason to exist.
Nearly 40 years later, that image still sticks with me.
We are all in this together.
That simple and yet complex philosophy that still hasn't quite caught on is why two years ago Charlene Walker started MOSAIIC, the Multicultural Opportunities, Strategies and Institutional Inclusiveness Conference.
"It's about becoming aware of cultural diversity and bringing people together," said Walker, vice president for multiculturalism and inclusion at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, or BCTC. "The reason we are having it is to show people that the community college and other universities can spearhead this movement."
The conference will be held at BCTC at 470 Cooper Drive Thursday and Friday.
Coincidentally, today and Monday, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education is meeting in Lexington and the agenda will include a review of a diversity study that could help educational institutions statewide develop a better means of embracing all cultures at all levels.
Having two agents of education focusing on the same issue can only be good, said Yvonne Blanchard Freeman, the keynote speaker at the MOSAIIC dinner Thursday at 6 p.m.
"Changes have to come from the people in position to affect change," Freeman said. "They have to be risk-takers."
Freeman is the chief executive officer of the Alliance for Global Education and Leadership Inc., which partners with teachers and educators in Asia, Israel, Africa, Latin America and the U.S., to develop and implement educational strategies.
As she has traveled the world, she has found that educational systems elsewhere are outpacing ours.
"In China and Vietnam, they don't need us," she said. "Their education system is superior to ours. They speak many, many languages. That is what we are up against."
Freeman said diversity and inclusion are now economic and not simply social or moral.
"Our inaction to move from rhetoric to response is no less a form of national suicide," she said. "We have got to change. We have got to keep the dialog going. It is all about America redefining herself."
Freeman said she was struck by a quote she found in Kentucky's statewide diversity study the council for postsecondary education is reviewing. The quote is the answer given by an unnamed college or university administrator, when asked what their institution's diversity goal is.
"The ultimate goal of inclusion will be achieved where diversity is not just a race, culture or gender issue, but a human concern. Therefore, creating a holistic view where human differences and similarities are welcomed, valued and utilized at every level of the institution."
To do that, Freeman said, we must have honest dialogue and systemic approaches that will move us as a nation forward into the global arena we are a part of.
We have everything it takes to make an impact on the world, she said. We've done a great job with our young people, who willingly embrace other cultures.
What's left now is for the rest of us to be trained, including those with roles in government and higher education.
"We can ignore diversity all we want but it is here and it is not going any where," Freeman said.
Total cost for the two-day MOSAIIC conference, including dinner, is $100, with discounts for groups of three or more.
Call 859-246-6439 for more information, or e-mail Walker at Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.