A Sikh businessman had purchased a local gas station and the obligatory ribbon cutting photo appeared in the News-Banner. Shortly afterwards both the mayor and the businessman were mailed anonymous copies of the photo. The hand written caption read, “We don’t wear turbans in Bluffton. We speak English.”
[Mayor Ted] Ellis was stunned. “I always knew there was an undercurrent, but this was a graphic illustration of that,” Ellis said. Ellis invited the man to his state of the city address in 2004 and outlined his goals to promote diversity and understanding in Bluffton.
In the wake of that incident, the United Way of Wells County obtained a grant and formed a committee to look into ways of making the city more inclusive.
That initial group struggled to gain traction and craft a cohesive message. “We had trouble developing a message that would get traction,” Ellis said. One thing that quickly became clear to the committee and to Ellis was a matter of semantics.
Using the term, “diversity,” seemed to be a code word for race, where saying, “inclusivity,” led to a broader dialog on many issues. Soon the committee identified the biggest issues of inclusivity in the community as tolerance for religion and understanding the values of those living in poverty.
Ellis said the key concept behind inclusivity and getting people to understand what is at stake is getting people to connect and feel involved. Ellis said that nearly everyone can recall some time in their life when they felt excluded, or left out.
By getting people to remember what it felt like to be excluded, Ellis said he hopes to promote a dialog[ue]. [Link]
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