Column/How alike are we?

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

I received a public service announcement by fax this week regarding the National Diversity Conference, which will be held Oct. 17-18 at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel.

The event, which is the sixth annual, is sponsored by the Alabama College System Human Resources Management Association.

The press release got me thinking about the subject of diversity. It comes up a good bit here in Selma – almost a buzz word. In fact, it is a “feel good” word in the sense that we can wrap just about anything under it and make it look better.

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Ask local leaders if they believe diversity is a good thing and 99.9 percent would reply in the affirmative.

We say that. But do we really believe that?

We’re taught in Sunday School that “faith without works is dead.” So let’s look at our works – the physical evidence of what we really believe.

Most of our schools are segregated, including our largest public high school and our largest private school. (Realizing, of course, that there are a handful of white students attending Selma High). Is that evidence of how much we believe in diversity?

Two of our county high schools are also predominantly black. In the last school year, Keith was 100 percent black, Southside High School had four students who were not black. And what about C.H.A.T. Academy and the School of Discovery?

This is not to say it is an intentional move on anyone’s part to keep the schools segregated.

But if we really believe in diversity, why hasn’t something been done to allow our children to go to school together?

And what do we really mean when we use the term “diversity?”

The dictionary definition of diversity reads, “The fact or quality of being diverse; difference. A point or respect in which things differ.”

The dictionary definition of diverse reads, “of a different kind, form, character, etc.; unlike. Of various kinds or forms; multiform.”

Of course our differences are multiple: black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jew, Muslim, old, young, married, single, physically or mentally disabled, gay, straight, wealthy, low income.

Who would we consider to be the least accepted in our community?

A black, gay female would certainly have the odds against her in just about any place on the planet. If she were low income and overweight – think about it. Would she be discriminated against at the workplace, in her church, among family members?

Selma is considered an “inclusive community.” Our city council approved a measure that says we are and we have a sign that is moved around the city that states, “We are an inclusive community.”

It’s a great premise. It’s a noble goal. In fact, it’s one we should all be working toward.

But it’s disingenuous to say that we are, as of now, a diverse community.

On Friday nights this fall, white families will sit in bleachers watching their athletes perform on the field. Across town, black families will do the same. Very seldom will the invisible line be crossed.

This is not to say there are not areas in our community where there is a mix. Most civic groups are mixed, as are many churches. Dallas County High School and Central Christian Academy are integrated.

The ball fields where the city recreation league plays is a place where everyone comes together.

We’re getting there. There’s just a lot more work to be done before we’re at the point where we don’t even think about our differences – only what we have in common.

Tammy Leytham

is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.