Diversity & Inclusivity Celebration provides hope for Roanoke Valley

Points of Diversity – front row from left: Katie Zawack, chair, and Jonathan Zur, president and CEO of VCIC; board members on back row: Deneen Evans, Juliet Jordan-Lowery, Ray Bemis, Grace Church, Councilwoman Anita Price, Lynn McDowell and Freeda Cathcart.

Friday night, March 22, dozens of people gathered at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture to support Points of Diversity’s first fundraiser Taste of Diversity. Katie Zawacki’s opening remarks reported that during the first four years of the Points of Diversity work in the Roanoke Valley, they have: Trained 30 facilitators for community dialogues; Provided 2 Youth Summits; and Held 18 cycles of Study Circles.

This provided the foundation for Roanoke City to be the first city to receive a Virginia Humanities grant funded by Kellogg for their current Changing the Narrative series. There are still several seats available for youth (eighth grade to high school seniors to attend the April 7 event at Roanoke College contact roanokevalleypointsofdiversity@gmail.com to sign up.

Roanoke City Council member Anita Price welcomed everyone to Roanoke and to the Harrison Museum of African American Culture. She acknowledged that Roanoke still has important work to do to address persistent segregation and is excited about serving on the Points of Diversity board and the work they are doing to heal divisions.

Ray Bemis spoke about the benefits of participating in Study Circles for the individuals as well as for the community.

Jonathan Zur, President and CEO for Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, spoke about the importance of having community dialogues to build relationships between people with different experiences and perspectives. He shared how part of his family was able to escape Nazi Germany while other members were killed by the Nazis. He reminded us that we are working in difficult times with the resurgence of white supremacy groups and the rise of mass terrorist attacks against marginalized communities.

Zur encouraged people to move from proximity, to relationship, to empathy, to justice. He spoke about how Points of Diversity was providing opportunities for people to be able to get to know one another and others in a safe environment and begin to break up the “silos of systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia.”

Zur told a story of an elder Jewish man who was excited to see the movie “Hidden Figures.” He had grown up in the community where the characters in the movie had lived and worked. He was shocked to see how his community was portrayed and was angry that the movie wasn’t accurate. After reflecting about the proximity he had been to the people in the movie, he realized he hadn’t been in close relationship with them to learn what their experiences were actually like.

A true justice movement must have a foundation of “nothing about us without us.” Those who are marginalized in our society must be placed at the center to seek solutions to problems affecting them. He used Richmond as an example of a city working to address systemic issues successfully by using the foundation of “nothing about us without us.” You can view Jonathan Zur’s entire inspiring speech by going to the Points of Diversity Facebook page and clicking on videos to find it.

People are invited to become involved with Points of Diversity by participating in Study Circles, training to become a facilitator, tabling at community events or participating in a Changing the Narrative event. Please contact Points of Diversity by emailing roanokevalleypointsofdiversity@gmail.com or calling 540-525-1245 to get involved!

The Taste of Diversity fundraiser was made possible by the generous support from members of our community and the following local restaurants and suppliers: Alejandoros, Blue Ridge Beverage, Cafe Asia, Cedars of Lebanon, Full Moon Cafe, Montano’s, Taaza and Wildflour.

You can make out a check to VCIC adding Points of Diversity in the memo and mail to: Points of Diversity c/o VCIC, 5511 Staples Mill Road., Suite 202 Richmond VA 23228 or donate online by going to http://tinyurl.com/DonateToPOD as donations are always appreciated to support non-profit Points of Diversity’s work.