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USA City Launches Diversity Campaign


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Elk Grove was once a largely homogenous rural town, but an influx of people of color over the last decade and recent attacks on ethnic and sexual minorities have thrust the topic of cultural diversity into the spotlight. On Monday, the city launched one response to those changes: a citywide diversity-awareness campaign.

The campaign asks residents to take a “diversity pledge” promising respect and tolerance and includes media ads—some on Elk Grove Patch—celebrating the city’s varied population. There’s even a custom-made fluorescent-green bracelet, already spotted on the wrists of some city council members.

“We wanted a call to action, where people can take a minute out of their day and remember and support cultural diversity,” said city spokesperson Christine Brainerd, who planned the campaign at the direction of the city council.

Elk Grove is one of hundreds of cities nationwide to take on such a campaign in the last five years, said James Hunt, a past president of the National League of Cities who helped craft that organization's diversity program.

He said rapid growth and changes in demographics have caused tension in some U.S. suburbs.

“Suburbs can be more insulated, and they were designed and created as a way for white people to flee the cities,” Hunt said. “Twenty-five years later, they notice more diversity, and that’s hard.”

Cities are developing the campaigns in response to contentious national debates over immigration and gay marriage, and local governments whose ethnic makeup doesn’t match those of the communities they serve, Hunt said.

In Elk Grove, the 2010 census showed the population more than doubled in the past decade. The numbers of whites fell from 59 percent to 46 percent of the population, while numbers of Asian, black and Hispanic residents tripled.

Campaign a response to hate crimes, mayor says

In March, the town made national headlines after two Sikh men were shot by an unknown gunman while on an afternoon walk. Both died, and police are investigating it as a possible hate crime, since the men were wearing traditional Sikh attire, including turbans.

The incident was followed by the beating of a gay man in the parking lot of an Elk Grove bowling alley in June, also deemed a hate crime by law enforcement.

“With all that’s happening in Elk Grove lately, with the two Sikh gentlemen murdered and the young man being beaten, it’s time we wake up,” said Elk Grove Mayor Steven Detrick. “We have to have ongoing education and celebration of different cultures.”

Detrick said a wave of hate-based attacks at the national and international levels in recent years—including the massacre carried out by a right-wing extremist in Norway last month—points to a need for better cooperation in diverse communities.

"This all overlaps," he said. "We're not isolated from anybody these days."

The pledge reads in part: “I respect my neighbors for the things in common and for our differences. I resolve that we all need to get along to make our community the best it can be.” It can be signed online at ElkGroveDiversityPledge.org.

The city is promoting the pledge in local schools and the city newsletter, at fire stations and other public buildings, and at participating businesses and churches.

Darshan Mundy, public affairs director for the Sikh Temple Sacramento and a leading spokesperson for the Sikh community in the wake of the March murders, said the campaign is a positive step.

"We should have respect for all human beings, and I'm hopeful we can all live peacefully," said Mundy. "We should not hate based on our color, but we should be helping each other all over the nation and the world."

No simple solution

But national experts in diversity training cautioned Elk Grove against adopting a simplistic solution to a complex issue.

“You’re dealing with one of the most difficult issues in the world,” said Hunt, a former mayor of Clarksburg, West Virginia. He said Clarksburg was “blindsided” by racial undercurrents when the city’s first black mayor was elected in 1999. The city embarked on a long process of diversity awareness and training.

Hunt recommended Elk Grove also look at hiring practices for public employees, especially the police force, and commission appointees.

“Hiring practices in the city are more of a gauge than pledges, campaigns or any dinners you can have,” Hunt said.

Pledges and campaigns "need to be part of an overall program of education," said Nina Grotch, associate director of the Central Pacific Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco, which runs a "No Place for Hate" program in schools and cities and has helped pass hate crime laws in 47 states.

"It's important for parents to talk to kids, and for people to talk about this in the workplace and in schools," Grotch said.

Brainerd said the campaign, which cost between $7000 and $10,000, was not meant to be a panacea, but a starting point for discussion about the city’s rich cultural heritage.

That discussion could also include the formation of a multicultural commission, something Detrick has championed. The commission would be tasked with diversity education programs and organizing a multicultural festival in Elk Grove, Detrick said. The council gave a favorable nod to the idea, which Detrick expects get another hearing before the end of the summer.




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