Celebrate Juneau's diversity

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

Since August 2004, I've served as Chair of the Juneau Diversity Committee, a volunteer group of about 30 very different people working together to plan the First Diversity Appreciation Week, March 28-April 3, 2005 in Juneau. Our motto is "Diversity, The Heart of Our Community."

During Diversity Week a variety of events have been scheduled that will celebrate the heritage of the many people who make up this cultural quilt we call Juneau. There will be dance and choral groups at Centennial Hall, school and museum activities, a slide show with current and historic images, games for kids, ethnic foods, storytelling, oratory, an interfaith gathering, interviews and articles. We've arranged for well-known speakers, and have encouraged many other organized events throughout the community. For a full calendar of events visit www.JuneauDiversity.org

Diversity can be compared to a patchwork quilt where differences-skin hues, ethnicities, languages, art, customs, and styles of dress - co-exist. In the "Quilt Analysis," our community is the common under-layment, the backing, on which all else rests. Our values, customs and faiths are the batting, the stuff inside each of us that we can't see, but which gives the quilt its substance. Respect, understanding and appreciation are the threads that bind us together, the means by which we learn to accept and value one another.

The quilt that is our community needs some mending. We have holes left by members who have died or moved on, fraying and unraveling due to misunderstandings, conflict and intolerance, and even extra patches with no place to go. We need to give some attention to the care and maintenance of our quilt; we need to renew our appreciation of one another so that each of us knows that we are valued members of the community.

We have come a long way since the days of my childhood in Juneau, a time when my well-educated, church-going, hard-working Tlingit elders would be challenged by segregation, mean-spirited individuals and a community that tolerated such practices.

Today we live in a community that can be proud of its more tolerant, open-minded acceptance of people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, recent events have shown that lurking not far below the surface are the old problems of misunderstanding, fear and intolerance.

"Diversity Week" is about learning to appreciate and respect our differences, about striving to always treat each other respectfully.

Recently, a group of approximately 75 JDHS Theatre Students worked together to bring the community the play "Once on This Island." Through the process of working side-by-side, for a common goal, these students came to know one another as individuals; any labels they had for one another disappeared. This is a model we can use to make our community a place where everyone is valued.

What does this have to do with Diversity Week? It is about proving to ourselves that we are the accepting community we think we are; that we enjoy learning about and participating in the many cultures represented by our patchwork-quilt of a community. It is about building bridges of understanding and acceptance.

Please join us.

• Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker is a life-long Alaskan with a passion for Juneau.

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