Making New Year’s Resolutions Count
Events in the last month have reminded us that despite countless efforts to create environments that are welcoming of everyone, there is still much work to be done. Instead of celebrating diversity, we witnessed an all-out offensive on those who were different, with devastating consequences. Jews in Pittsburgh came under attack because of their religion. Transgender Americans risk losing legal protections by a threat of the president to rollback rights. And anti-immigrant and anti-migrant rhetoric is used by candidates running for office as a way to garner support.
So instead of focusing this last column of 2018 on what appears to be a lack of progress, I decided to take a different approach and look on the bright side—something my good friends would not expect me to do.
Even though the country seems more divided than ever, I want to shine a light on what everyday citizens are doing to bring people together, when it could have been just as easy to throw in the towel. In doing so, I offer you my twist on New Year’s resolutions in hopes that one of these three examples will serve as an inspiration to build bridges in your own life.
Intentionally stop and ask someone you barely know at your workplace how their weekend was.
Ever been in an elevator with the head of your organization and have them say hello to you by name? It happened to me when I was working at Accenture, and I remember feeling a real sense of belonging since I was one of 6,000 employees in the DC office.
That’s exactly how a Nashville elementary school custodian, Mr. Patton, felt when all of the faculty and students recently honored him, not only because of his outstanding work but also because of his kindness to others every day. His decision to engage with everyone instead of keeping to himself made him a role model, showing that regardless of our differences we all deserve be treated with respect.
Intentionally do something that helps find common ground with those of opposing views.
Being Jewish, I understand what it’s like for someone to hate you because of your religious beliefs. That’s exactly how Eboo Patel felt growing up in Chicago. As a Muslim born in India, he experienced taunts and discrimination because of what people assumed about his background.
It led him to study why religion caused so much violence around the world, and he determined that creating human connections could help transcend differences of race and culture.
So in 1998 he founded Interfaith Youth Corp (IFYC) which works towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions can find common values to build a shared life together. As noted on its website (ifyc.org/about), “IFYC partners with American colleges and universities, because campus is where educators and students engage the complex ideas that will shape our country’s future.”
Intentionally share a cup of coffee or a meal with someone different than you.
When I was five years old and my oldest brother, Steve, was entering 11th grade, we moved from Cleveland to Philadelphia. Research has shown that students who relocate are more likely to feel isolated, which can lead to negative outcomes such as abusing drugs and attempting suicide.
That feeling of isolation is why Haitian immigrant Denis Estimon, at a high school in Boca Raton, FL, started a club with friends called "We Dine Together." Their mission was simple: to make sure no one spends time at lunch eating alone, something Denis experienced when he came to the United States. Club members like Jean Max Meradieu, who was on the football team, said he got to know so many different types of people by participating. By investing time to learn about someone else’s life experiences, you enrich both of your lives.
Don’t just take my word for it. I encourage you to see for yourself how these people are changing hearts and minds, by going online and searching for the videos that bring these stories to life in heartwarming and hopeful ways.
For my part, in 2005, I decided to become a Career Mentor with The Posse Foundation, an organization that is helping to identify and train the leaders of tomorrow who reflect the true diversity of our nation. Had I not intentionally spent time with students who came from households very different than my own, I never would have learned that we had far more in common than I thought. We shared a common desire to be accepted and treated fairly at school and at work.
I am constantly amazed to see how even small ripples can become waves of change. As trite as it may sound, by working together I know we can and will make a difference. Our communities are counting on it. ▼
Wesley Combs is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding Principal of Combs Advisory Services, working with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality and opportunity in the workplace and community.