Tolerance and Diversity are Good Things


Email Sandra Nichols

  "We have an opportunity here to show our children — and the world — that diversity is not our challenge, it is our blessing."


t has been requested that I do another column about diversity and tolerance. To that I say, thanks for asking. I believe the time is right to talk about getting along with our fellow denizens of the planet.

Let's talk about opportunity and brotherly love. Let's talk about solving problems and working together productively into the world of tomorrow. And let's consider living together in peace and respect for our culturally and linguistically diverse neighbors.

Consider, if you will, the expression, "Let's all speak with one voice." I hear this a lot, understanding the underlying theme being one of solidarity and single-minded purpose. Speaking with one voice has its advantages. There is power when individuals unite and work together.

Speaking with one voice also has a down side. It suggests that those who speak with a different voice don't belong. The fact is, we do not all speak with one voice, nor even with one language. And if we all felt and spoke exactly the same, wouldn't that be boring? The best we can hope for is to sing in harmony, not with one voice, but with many voices. It sounds fabulous that way!

We have an opportunity here to show our children — and the world — that diversity is not our challenge, it is our blessing. Let's revel in it. Share the joy with me that I feel when a student realizes that he has learned to speak English and has made his mama proud. Share the joy when a 6-year-old with broken, blackened teeth gets dental care and a brand new smile. Share the joy when your child includes in his or her circle of friends, some who speak just a little English.

Since a recent article in our local newspaper, I have been approached by many people, all fellow residents of this community. Some of these people have spoken with loud voices. Some have whispered in my ear.

Now, most of those who have whispered have indicated support for the concept of sticking together rather than building additional barriers between fellow human beings. Some have promoted reaching out across racial barriers. These barriers become non-existent as you choose to ignore them. All of a sudden — or gradually — it dawns on people that we have much more in common than we had thought.

Those that have shouted have said, "Don't stir things up!" Some have said, "You use language that is way too strong!" Some have said, "I am offended by what you say."

I respond: It is not my intent to offend. I recognize that where you live doesn't define what you believe. I recognize that there are many fine people in every community. I have heard from residents of all segments of our community who passionately support cross-cultural connections. Some of the strongest supporters of equal opportunities live to the north, to the east, to the west and to the south of me.

My intention is to open the door of communication, rather than stand silently by while others speak.

Recently I attended a diversity-training event that stimulated many deep thoughts and grave comments about our community and how we live together. Some high school students spoke spontaneously about their personal experiences with diversity. They spoke freely about having witnessed peers using racial and sexual epithets to humiliate other young people. They reflected on the devastating effect hate language has on some students' chances of having a nice day.

Of course, the vast majority of young people would never dream of using hate language. The students who spoke expressed regret that prejudice would rear its ugly head in any form in our community. One youth said that generally there is no one who steps forward to rebuke the offender or stand up for the victim. This tragedy has several players: the victim, the offender and those who stand silently by. As a teacher, I make this pledge: I shall not stand silently by.

The diversity event began with music from my younger days. This music speaks to the heart and soul. And with these words, I will conclude this outpouring of hope that is my Thanksgiving column: "Come on people, Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another right now!"

Sandra Nichols is President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2003