Voices of Inclusion Blog

A Pledge to Stand Together in Richmond

  On December 17, 2015, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities joined with nearly 100 religious and organizational leaders at the Islamic Center of Virginia to stand together against Islamophobia and xenophobia.  At the conclusion of the press conference, this pledge was read: Upholding the ideals of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” enacted into law by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786… We stand together. In response to recent divisive and hurtful rhetoric that targets members of our community… We stand together. With our Muslim friends, neighbors, and colleagues who have recently faced an increase in bigoted words and actions… We stand together. With the immigrants and refugees who today call this country home… We stand together. Celebrating the diversity of religions and belief systems as a source of strength… We stand together. Recognizing that we are all at risk when one group is unjustly targeted… We stand together. In the face of efforts to promote fear of people considered to be “the other”… We stand together. Sharing a commitment to understanding, peace, and justice… We stand together. Acknowledging that these words must be backed up by inclusive actions… We stand together. Today and in the future, we pledge that in the Richmond region and beyond… We stand...

Remembering Dr. Allix B. James

The following message was written by Jonathan C. Zur, President & CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities on September 27, 2015: Dear Friends of VCIC, With great sadness, I write to share the news that Dr. Allix Bledsoe James passed away overnight. He was 92 years old. Over the course of his life, Dr. James served in a number of capacities at Virginia Union University, including student, Professor, Dean, Vice President, President, Chancellor, and President Emeritus. In the community, he cumulatively served more than 50 organizations in his 92 years. He was the first African American person elected President of the Virginia State Board of Education, first African American person elected President of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, first African American person elected to a corporate board in Virginia, and first African American person elected to chair the National Conference of Christians and Jews, among many other distinctions. We are so fortunate that Dr. James was involved in the work of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (formerly the Virginia Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews) for more than five decades. He is an emeritus member of our State Board of Directors, represented the Virginia office on the national NCCJ board for several years, and he holds the distinction of being the first person to receive two awards from our organization: Dr. James earned the Humanitarian Award in 1975, and he was presented with the Jeffrey B. Spence Award for Interfaith Understanding when that recognition was created in 2009. Dr. James was also a leading force and substantial...

VCIC’s Work Spotlighted at Richmond Public Schools Press Conference

The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities was invited by Dr. Dana T. Bedden, Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, to participate in a press conference at Huguenot High School on March 2, 2015.  This event included a public apology from administrators regarding a February 2013 incident targeting Latino students.  VCIC’s work with Richmond Public Schools over the last few years was noted by several school division leaders as an example of efforts to foster a more inclusive school and division.  Below are remarks shared by VCIC President & CEO Jonathan C. Zur at the press conference: “At the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, we know that more inclusive schools are more successful schools. Research shows that students who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to show up, do their homework, raise their hands, and perform at higher academic levels. And that is the work we do each day. In recent years, VCIC has been honored to work in partnership with Richmond Public Schools to foster a climate of increased welcome and inclusion for students from all races, classes, and national origins. These efforts have been supported by generous grant funding and have included intensive, ongoing professional development for educators at Fox and Greene Elementary Schools, Brown and Elkhardt Middle Schools, and Huguenot High School on culturally relevant instruction, support for inclusive policy changes and programs, and student leadership training including VCIC’s “Break the Cycle: Be the Change” assembly at Elkhardt and Huguenot last November. We are especially proud that the new student HEART program (Huguenot Engagement and Research Team) was catalyzed by a group of Huguenot teachers who...

#MoreThanAStereotype Campaign

Every day, people are bombarded with stereotypes. Ideas of who we are and what we should be. Limitations put on us based on our gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or class. Labels that limit people in the world, whether they’re accurate or not. In 2015, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities joins with affiliates across the country to launch a national social media campaign titled #MoreThanAStereotype. This campaign is for EVERYONE. VCIC wants this campaign to go viral, bringing in participants from across the Commonwealth and the nation who want to show that each of us is more than meets the eye. HOW DO I GET INVOLVED? Download the poster template (11×17 version or 8.5×11 version) or contact our office to get a poster.  You can then print the template, write down a stereotype that you defy, and take a picture of yourself holding the sign. During the week of January 5, 2015, post your picture on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #MoreThanAStereotype, and tag VCIC: Facebook – Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities Instagram – inclusive_va Twitter – @inclusiveva Together, let’s show the world that we are...

Recent Headlines Expose Disparities in Virginia Schools

It seems that we are reminded every day of the need for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities‘ work.  From workplace harassment to community unrest to disparities in educational outcomes, the need for focused and sustained work on issues of diversity and inclusion remains. This weekend, three headlines about Virginia’s schools particularly stand out: “Feds: Norfolk Schools Ignored Bullying, Harassment” – This cover story in The Virginian-Pilot describes “a federal investigation [that] has found Norfolk Public Schools negligent in handling complaints in middle and high schools about sexual harassment and treatment of students with disabilities.” “High School Arrests in Henrico Vary With Race” – This article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch exposes the fact that 80% of students arrested in Henrico County Public Schools are black, even though black students make up only 37% of the students in the district. “Lynchburg Hopes to Remove Obstacles to Black Students’ Success” – This article in the News & Advance outlines efforts underway in Lynchburg City Schools to address the fact that “a disproportionately small number of black students [are placed] in the division’s advanced and accelerated courses.” VCIC’s Educational Equity Initiative and Emerging Leaders Institute programs provide a range of interventions to address these and other achievement, treatment, and opportunity gaps.  We look forward to working more closely with these and other school divisions to ensure that Virginia’s schools are inclusive for...

Supporter Spotlight: Eric Luu

Eric Luu, a 2012 Connections Institute graduate and rising senior at Glen Allen High School, is completing his required internship for the Center for Education and Human Development at VCIC this summer and fall.  He is also raising funds through the “20/20 Campaign: A Vision for a More Inclusive Virginia.”  These are his reflections: Hello! My name is Eric Luu, a senior in the Center for Education and Human Development at Glen Allen High School. Currently, I am an intern at Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC), and honestly, I’ve been anticipating my internship all summer! The reason for my excitement dates back to when I was first introduced to this organization in 2012 when I attended Connections, a program made and facilitated by VCIC. Many people will tell you Connections is life-changing, eye-opening, and incredibly impactful. I am one of those people! What I had experienced at Connections was a humongous leap in character. I came in to Connections unaware of how prevalent and influential racism, gender stereotyping, and gender roles were in everyday lives, especially those who had been impacted negatively from it. Hearing people’s stories, understanding my own, and learning about how to better both myself for my own sake as well as society’s sake spoke to me in ways no one had spoken to me before…because no one had introduced these types of conversations to me before! If anything, I learned that humanity has hope, because if I was able to connect so strongly with other individuals in a week, then I can surely do the same for the rest of my life. Interestingly enough,...

20/20 Campaign Supports a Vision for a More Inclusive Virginia

As we approach another school year where the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities works to reduce bullying and stereotypes, VCIC is once again holding the “20/20 Campaign: A Vision for a More Inclusive Virginia.”  Beginning on August 20 and running for 20 days, program alumni, volunteers, and VCIC board and chapter members are raising funds to continue educational programs that prepare thousands of young people every year to promote understanding and respect. Students at last week’s Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute shared why they think VCIC programs make a difference.  Watch below or on YouTube. You can join the effort by either making a donation to a fundraiser or creating your own page and finding 20 friends who want to donate $20 over the 20-day...

Advice for Future Connections Institute Delegates

The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Instituteis a five-day residential program during the summer that allows high school student participants (called “delegates”) to break barriers, deal with biased behavior, and develop an action plan to reduce prejudice in their schools. In addition, delegates gain insight into their own lives and values.  Many past participants call the program “transformative,” “powerful,” and “the most meaningful experience of their lives.” In preparation for the 2014 Connections Institute, we asked past delegates to share their advice for new participants.  Here is what they had to say: “I would say the sooner you trust and know that this is a very safe place where you can be yourself and learn, the sooner you will have the best experience ever.” – Reid “Be open! And absorb as much knowledge as you can but most importantly have the best time of your life because it is something you will never forget!!” – Brendan “Enjoy every second you have there because it will honestly be the best week of your life.” – Meg “Don’t be afraid to dive in and participate! The more effort you put in to learn and grow, the more you’ll get out of the experience.” – Katie “Speak up! If you’re shy or scared of people’s reactions, know that your opinion will matter to the closeness of the group, and the things you’ll learn.” – Mac “Really take time to inhale the information and perspectives of everyone around you, be open minded and get to know the people.” – Brooke “Keep an open mind, talk to everyone and enjoy the...

Diverse Boards Make Better Decisions

Previous articles on this blog have shown how leveraging diversity makes individuals and groups smarter.  Recently-published researchreinforces that fact with a look at decision-making and risk-taking by boards that are diverse.  The authors found that diverse boards of directors are “more likely to pay dividends to stockholders.”  Furthermore, they are less likely to engage in “excessive risk taking,” though they may be reluctant to take low-level risks as well. Agus Harjoto, associate professor of finance at Pepperdine University, Rini Laksmana, associate professor of accounting at Kent State University, and Ya-wen Yang, assistant professor of accounting at the Wake Forest University School of Business, studied over 2,000 companies during a 13-year span.  Looking at a range of aspects of diversity, including gender, race, age, experience, tenure, and expertise, they found that, “On the one hand, diverse boards could reduce the level of corporate risk taking, discouraging innovative and risky projects. On the other hand, if firm management is overly aggressive in its use of corporate funds for investing in risky projects, our results suggest that more diverse boards could perform better oversight of corporate risk taking than less diverse boards.” Similar positive outcomes can be found for non-profit boards and committees that are diverse.  To support such efforts, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities is pleased to once again partner with Nonprofit Learning Point to teach “Building Diverse Boards and Committees.”  The class takes place on September 12 in Richmond.  Register...

Supporter Spotlight: Carmen Foster

A series introducing the individuals who promote and lead the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ work. Carmen Foster’s relationship with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities goes back decades.  That’s no surprise, as her work for justice and understanding has been a lifelong commitment, following in the footsteps of her father and others who came before her. The most recent example of her never-ending passion and thirst for learning is the completion of her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Carmen’s dissertation, titled “Tension, Resistance and Transition: School Desegregation in Richmond’s North Side 1960-63,” wasrecently profiled in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Through her research, Carmen explored Chandler Junior High School, the “first previously all-white city public school to enroll black students.”  She interviewed students and teachers from that time period and pored over archival records. “I’ve always been interested in confirming the stories and experiences that I had as a young black child who was part of the first wave of students that integrated Richmond public schools in the ’60s,” Carmen notes.  However, she acknowledges that her research also exposed many aspects of Richmond’s history that she didn’t know.  Of particular curiosity to Carmen was how Richmond navigated a public persona of civility and politeness throughout school integration, even as black students experienced great harassment and even violence. Ever the storyteller and educator, Carmen’s work continues, now speaking at public events about her research.  She is also considering writing a book based on her...

Virginia’s Child Poverty Rate Worsens

Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes the “Kids Count” survey, a look at data and statistics on the educational, social, economic and physical well-being of children across the country.  Recently released figures for 2014 show mixed results in Virginia. Among the improvements for Virginia’s children are an increase in the number attending preschool, a decrease in the number of children without health insurance, and improvements in the number of high schoolers graduating on time. However, of particular concern is the fact that the child poverty rate worsened to 15 percent. Additionally, “the number of children whose parents lack secure employment grew to 25 percent.” These figures mirror national trends, and have great implications for schools and youth service providers. Overall, Virginia moved up two spots to 9th in the country based on its data.  Unfortunately, that is likely as much factor of other states doing worse as it is Virginia improving. No matter the state, our kids deserve...

Diversity Continues to Grow in America’s Schools

For the first time in American history, white students will not be the majority when the nation’s schools open for the 2014-2015 year.  Of particular note for schools is the rapid growth of the Latino student population, which is over one-quarter of all students in America’s schools.  School demographic figures preview overall population trends that show that, by 2042, people of color will become the majority of the U.S. population. Why does this matter?  These figures have significant implications for the demographics of the educational workforce, the curriculum being taught, the practices, policies, and traditions, and the overall school climate.  And, as test data shows, there are huge gaps in terms of educational outcomes for students of diverse racial backgrounds.  Additionally, disparities exist in terms of placement in gifted programs and special education programs, along with suspension and expulsion rates. Schools are often on the “front lines” of changes in American society, and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities is actively working with a number of schools and school divisions to ensure equitable educational opportunities for...

Navigating Diversity Reportedly Makes People Smarter

Businesses are increasingly embracing the idea that “inclusion inspires innovation.”  That was the message that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook shared in a recent tweet and video link.  What has been less promoted is an argument that diversity makes people smarter.  Gregory Rodriguez, founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square (a project of the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University), recently shared his thoughts about that premise in the Washington Post. Rodriguez begins by sharing the often-referenced work of Robert Putnam that shows that “if you live in a more diverse community, you’re less likely to trust the people in it.”  However, the silver lining, as Rodriguez notes, is that millions of people “overcome the social distrust that diversity can foster.”  And in so doing, more thought and brainpower is required to navigate the multiple perspectives, experiences, and worldviews that can exist in shared community. He cites a number of studies to promote this premise.  These range from the data that homogeneous juries consider less information than diverse juries, and that diverse groups engaged in problem solving more accurately assess their level of performance than homogeneous groups (who report higher levels of success than is often accurate). Of course, the presence of diversity alone does not make people smarter.  As we note in many Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities programs, it is the leveraging of diversity to foster inclusion that is the heart of Rodriguez’s argument.  We say over and over that “inclusion requires intention” — and as Rodriguez tells us, that intention is actually making us...

Supporter Spotlight: Cora Marie Billings

A series introducing the individuals who promote and lead the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ work. Trailblazer. Humanitarian. Role model. Visionary. Jeopardy answer. The number of descriptions for Sister Cora Marie Billings goes on and on. And this month, she can add “cover story writer” to her accolades.  ”America,” a 115-year-old national weekly magazine published by the Jesuits of the United States, featured Sister Cora on the cover and included an article by her in their most recent issue.  In it, she explores her family’s history with the Catholic church, and how she has carried on a legacy of working for inclusion through her faith. Throughout her career, Sister Cora has held a number of roles within the Catholic Church, including teacher, campus minister, director of the Office of Black Catholics, pastoral coordinator, and anti-racism educator. The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has also been the beneficiary of her time and talents.  She continues her long service as a VCIC Richmond Chapter member, and Sister Cora also formerly served on the State Board of Directors.  Many remember her co-directing countless Metrotown Institute programs (now called Connections) across the state, helping high school students explore issues of diversity and build bridges across lines of difference throughout the 1990′s. Sister Cora’s optimism shines through in all that she does.  To that end, she closes her article with this powerful charge: “Through all these challenges, I have tried to let people know that the Catholic Church is for everyone. I have hope in the future, because in my 75 years of life, I have seen how far we have progressed. I try to be...

Youth Diversity in U.S. Highest Ever

For several decades, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has facilitated intensive learning experiences for high school students to explore issues of diversity.  While there has always been a need for such programming, figures released this spring about rates of diversity among American youth shows that the importance of our work is greater than ever. According to analysis in the Christian Science Monitor, “Never has America’s under-18 population been more racially and ethnically diverse, new census data show. A bare majority of children and youths are white, compared with 62.6 percent for the general population.”  The article referenced a study conducted by Kenneth M. Johnson, Andrew Schaefer, Daniel T. Lichter, and Luke T. Rogers, all with The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.  These authors found that, “for America’s children and youth, the future is now.” What may also surprise some people is that the growth cannot be attributed to immigration.  Instead, “the growing child diversity is fueled by U.S. births.  More than 95 percent of the children in each major minority group were born in the United States.”  Geographic shifts are also notable; no longer are racial and ethnic minority groups almost entirely concentrated in urban and coastal areas.  Instead, there is a significant amount of suburban and rural growth. It is clear that students will need, more than ever, to have the ability to work across lines of difference.  At the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, we are proud to meet this need across the...

Complicated Racial Categories

A few years ago, the Science Museum of Virginia hosted an exhibit titled “RACE: Are We So Different?” The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities was pleased to train Science Museum employees and work with student groups and educators who visited the exhibit.  One of the biggest take-aways for visitors was that racial categories have no scientific basis.  New analysis of U.S. Census categories and changing responses from different social groups further reinforces that point. A recent report from the Pew Research Center notes that “millions of Americans counted in the 2000 census changed their race or Hispanic-origin categories when they filled out their 2010 census forms…”  While there is no single explanation for why these changes, possibilities include changing self-identification, evolving social understandings of racial groups, or confusion with the questions on the census form. At the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, we see youth and adults alike grapple with the increasingly complicated and fluid nature of racial categories.  This struggle has likely existed throughout our 79-year history.  For as Gene Denby noted in a recent NPR article, “We tend to think of a race as a static thing, but it’s always been much more slippery. American history has seen lots of immigrant groups that were the targets of suspicion and even racial violence — Jews, the Irish, Germans, Italians — gradually subsumed into the big, amorphous category of whiteness.” SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: How have you seen racial categories change in your...

Using Advisory Periods to Build School Community

The work that schools have to do to prevent and respond to bullying increasingly extends past the schoolhouse door.  As educators and administrators grapple with social issues such as cyberbullying, new and innovative strategies are emerging.  One such approach was recently profiled in the New York Times. Facing History School in New York City engages students in critical analysis and problem solving of major social issues throughout the curriculum.  The idea is that, “by looking at case studies about social injustices, students try to understand the circumstances and decisions surrounding these events and then relate that back to their own experience and communities.”  In doing so, historical events can be linked to current issues such as cyberbullying.  The academic coursework is supplemented by “advisory periods,” regular meetings of same students and educators with structured topics and discussions during the four years of high school. The model links to many of the principles promoted in the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Educational Equity Initiative.  A few years ago, one participating middle school saw a 74% decrease in discipline referrals over 12 months after implementing a “One Book: One School” program that included a school-wide reading of a book about bystanders and regular advisory group meetings. The school climate markedly improved as students and educators built relationships and fostered a sense of belonging. In both the case of this middle school and Facing History School, “the ultimate goal is to encourage students to be both good students as well as civic...

Islam is Reportedly the Second-Largest Religious Tradition in Virginia

Christianity is by far the most common religion practiced in Virginia and the United States.  But do you know what comes next?  In Virginia, as is the case with nineteen other Southern and Midwestern states, Islam is the second-most common practiced religion, according to a new article in The Washington Post. They referenced research from theAssociation of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), which conducts a US Religion Census every ten years.  ASARB offers a county-by-county breakdown of congregational membership. Their 2010 census is the sixth time reporting such information, with previous releases in 1952, 1971, 1980, 1990, and 2000. However, the data is not universally agreed upon.  Some argue that the second-largest group nationally is actually those who do not identify with any religion.  And a 2008 U.S.Religious Landscape Survey from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranks Judaism ahead of Islam. The reason for that discrepancy, according to Religion News Service’s Mark Silk, is that “the U.S. Religious Census relies on reports of actual synagogue membership, and many self-identified Jews don’t belong to synagogues; while the reporting Muslim bodies provide estimates of mosque...

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