Hendricks County Group Encourages Open Conversations at Events
Writer / Melissa Gibson
In 2002, Sam Carman and other members of the Danville Unitarian Universalist Church recognized the increasing diversity in and around Hendricks County.
“We felt it was a very good thing, but could see that not everyone agreed,” Carman says. “We started looking for ways to prepare and smooth the way for growing diversity.”
After holding a public meeting, Carman says the group could see the effort wouldn’t be a church initiative but rather, a community initiative as people from all walks of life attended, showing support.
The Alliance for Diversity was formed and as a trained diversity facilitator, Carman and the original group began by holding a celebration event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — still one of their main events today.
Natalie Brake joined the Alliance a little over three years ago as a representative of the Avon YMCA but as her employment changed, she stayed with the group and became one of the co-chairs.
“I thought it sounded like fun,” Brake says. “At my first meeting, I was so inspired and even though I left the Y, what they were doing really meant a lot to me.”
The Alliance meets every other month in the cafeteria at IU Health West and members take turns presenting issues they feel are interesting and pertinent to current diversity issues in the county.
“I think the Alliance is a good balance between opportunity and celebration and in a very respectful way,” Brake says. “That can be difficult to do when you have so many different viewpoints and experiences.”
Perhaps their most popular event, the MLK dinner, includes approximately 300 guests and a unique experience for all.
“We used to have a keynote speaker, songs and some cookies and punch,” Carman says. “One year, we had trouble pinning down a speaker and a member suggested a pitch-in dinner.”
The Alliance provides several ice breaker games to get the ball rolling. Each guest is handed a multi-cultural bingo card, prompting discussion to find someone who knows a same-sex couple, someone not born in the U.S., someone multi-lingual and so on.
Various maps are posted of the county, state, country and world, prompting people to pin their origin and creating a colorful visual example of how diverse we really are.
In 2017, there were 21 different counties, 21 states and 15 countries, all pinned during that single event.
“It’s a good way to circulate and get to know people, and last year, we left business cards at each table so you could exchange information if you wanted to continue your discussion,” Carman says.
The 2018 plan is to scale down the food portion to multi-cultural desserts only and reintroduce a guest speaker and other ways to educate. The education needed as Carman puts it, is “more than just food.”
“The cultures of a lot of people living here are not represented well,” Carman says. “But the people are here, their children are in the schools and they are living in the community. I think the events we have raise awareness on some level and start a conversation.”
That conversation, Brake feels, is the important avenue to relieving cultural bias and fear.
Regarding children and teaching them differently than perhaps many older generations were taught, Brake says too many parents tend to shy away from the discussion.
She says parents tend to be embarrassed when kids ask questions about skin color, attire or religion, and, therefore, they learn it’s something we don’t talk about.
“It’s okay to talk,” Brake says. “Keep it age appropriate of course, but this is your opportunity to be very honest in a respectful way.”
The Alliance for Diversity is ready to get those tough conversations going. “We encourage people just to talk,” Brake says. “We don’t all have to be the same to be Hendricks County. We don’t all have to agree, we just want each voice to be heard.”
Upcoming events include a meeting on Oct. 17 in the IU Health West cafeteria. The MLK event will be held on Jan. 15, 2018.
To stay connected with the Hendricks County Alliance for Diversity, check out their website and Facebook page at hcad.weebly.com/index.html.