Brave conversations about inclusion

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The Levine Center to End Hate next week will host its fourth Annual Summit to End Hate titled “Brave Spaces: Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations to Restore Empathy and Authenticity.”

The event will bring together business leaders and employees to explore the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Through action-oriented workshops from experts in DEI, human resources, and organizational development, the summit will train participants in how to have essential dialogues, tackle unconscious biases, and develop inclusive leadership.

“This year, Brave Spaces is dedicated to better understanding how our local businesses and nonprofits can play a role in ending bias and hate in the workplace and in the community,” says Monica Gebell, executive director of the Levine Center.

“We want to focus on how to, within the workplace, allow people to show up authentically,” she adds. “Which means really tasking our managers not to just do the performative DEI work, but to really allow individuals to feel safe enough to be themselves.”

“Performative work” often comes in the form of “check-quity,” such as checking a box or meeting a quota, rather than equity, which is truly supporting employees’ needs. Although much of the mainstream discussion around DEI is focused on racial inclusion, Gebell says it is much wider than that and can include people with different genders or sexual orientation, ethnic, linguistic, or faith backgrounds, and people with disabilities.

“Managers and people in positions of power need to understand what we mean when we say inclusion,” she says. “It’s not about just tolerating someone, but about truly including them.”

Efforts toward equity sometimes require talking about delicate or uncomfortable topics. Even good-natured attempts to be inclusive can run a risk of making an individual from a marginalized group feel like they’re under a microscope if done without a plan.

The concept of inclusion itself is being questioned and attacked by some individuals, which prompted the Levine Center to focus on the topic. Gebell pointed to anti-DEI comments made about Port of Baltimore commissioners after a container ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing the bridge to collapse.

“I think the subtext was that people were hired (as port officials) who weren’t necessarily suited for the job but hired because they were minorities,” she says.

The Levine Center event—slated for Tuesday, June 11, from 8 a.m. to noon at the Memorial Art Gallery—will also feature two addresses: an opening keynote by Rochester Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bob Duffy, and a closing discussion with Emmanuel Acho, host of the Uncomfortable Conversations podcast, with Smriti Jacob, Rochester Beacon managing editor. The first 250 registrants will also receive a copy of Acho’s latest book, co-written with Noa Tishby, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew.”

The Annual Summit to End Hate was born out of a 2020 event with civil rights expert Eric Ward following the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daniel Prude in Rochester. Other events have touched on anti-Asian hate, antisemitism, white supremacy, affirming LGBTQ+ identities, and more.

Future efforts to continue this work include a “Brave Spaces to Work” certification for individuals and businesses looking to learn about anti-hate strategies as well as a “Breaking Bread” series of conversations shared over a meal created together. The two events so far have touched on Jewish and Asian American Pacific Islander identities through food.

“Both of these were truly beautiful and we’ve created a momentum where people want to go to the next one, learn more about another culture in a safe environment that is inviting and humorous,” Gebell says of the cooking events. “Food is the universal denominator after all.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

5 thoughts on “Brave conversations about inclusion

  1. A great analysis of “America’s Cultural Revolution” is a book by that name. Author is Christopher Rufo. You will learn of the powerful links between economic and physical security and our shared societal beliefs, and the danger of anger and guilt to every society.

    • I know of two instances in Rochester where POC were hired internally to lead DEI efforts but were tokenized in the process–and they caught on to that (too late), and so the people that the companies thought they were “uplifting” wound up demoralized. What’s the solution.

      • Let’s see….you know of two instances. No company name nor government entity. Just two individuals and no other information. Applying a solution to your example would require specific information, which could then be acted upon. Factual information is required in order to suggest a solution.

    • You know Howard, I spent a 28 year career in medical imaging at the director level. That journey required management, teamwork and a compassionate attitude. Department meetings were a monthly effort. Anyone could bring up any issue or concern with one condition….provide a solution to said concern. Solution based meetings. Those meeting rarely failed me. But most importantly those meetings never failed them. There were times when I thought…that aint gonna work out very well. That said, they would work hard at making it happen. The following meeting adjustments were made and we moved on. They did that, not me, they did that. I just created the venue that would allow for solutions to be directed at problems. I think we could all do better with solution based meetings. I never had time nor tolerance for hate. The media fans the flames of hate. They never provide a flicker toward a solution. As a matter of fact solutions are not in their print nor vocabulary. It doesn’t pay the bills.

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