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Building Bridges of Understanding
By Karen Bolsen
“E pluribus unum,” the Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one” adorns U.S. currency, the seals of the President, Vice President, Congress and the Supreme Court, and is prominently displayed on the seal of the great state of Michigan. “Out of many, one” has taken on many contexts throughout our nation’s history from the onset where many states became one federation, to times when civil rights were legislated for all Americans, to today where we are learning to thrive together in integrated cities—cities that were once separated along racial or cultural lines.
Preparing Students for the Global Economy
In a global economy where people of all backgrounds now work together, we also see the advantages of living, learning, and playing together in one healthy, diverse community. Farmington and Farmington Hills, served by the Farmington Public Schools District, educate families where 95 different languages are spoken in the homes of students. Residents are from every culture, race, and major religion. We believe we are preparing our students to participate in higher education and the working world with more knowledge and experience in dealing with people who are different from themselves. These abilities are critical tools our children need to realize successful futures.
Multicultural Multiracial Community Council
For twenty years, community leaders from many backgrounds have proactively worked to achieve the goals of the Multicultural Multiracial Community Council (MCMR) in Farmington/Farmington Hills. This mission aims to “recognize that all people are integral to the community’s health, harmony, and successful future. We explore and celebrate our differences and embrace our commonalities.”
The MCMR, together with the Commission on Children, Youth, and Families, created a video exploring its diversity. The video celebrates the community, highlights the variety of languages spoken, the ethnic makeup, and its embracing quality that attracts people to make their homes here. Former Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett makes this video commentary, “We have embraced and delighted in the diversity of our communities. The committee has had a real impact on how our community develops, the kinds of businesses we are able to attract, and the kinds of families that choose to move here.”
Citizens and Government Both at the Table
This proactive work arose out of a call to action in response to ethnic conflict between high school students in 1988. What started as a meeting to resolve a specific crisis evolved in 1990 to become a council comprised of school and government officials, religious leaders, residential grassroots members, as well as businesses and community organizations. Current MCMR Council Steering Committee members include both city’s mayors, both police chiefs, and the public school superintendent. Every community will have human relations challenges to overcome. Having grassroots citizens and governmental leaders at the same table month after month, year after year, builds trust and relationships that help in emergency decision making, policy development in respective organizations, and in long-term community bridge building efforts.
The Multicultural Multiracial Council’s Steering Committee has worked hard to build bridges of understanding with each other and throughout the community. These efforts have extended to developing guiding principles and further explaining the mission and how it fits into community life. These principles are:
To achieve the Council’s mission and guiding principles, significant educational programming is conducted. Heritage Week involves a swearing-in ceremony of new citizens, a festival, cultural competency workshops, movie viewings and discussions; the annual Rainbow Breakfast honoring community members who achieve the MCMR’s goals (which just celebrated its 14th anniversary); an annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. involving a day-long celebration/educational exploration at our library in a terrific mix of serious review of civil rights history, its current implications and a tribute to art in many forms; student diversity conferences for all three of our public and one parochial high schools developed by our Student Diversity Council; and an annual cultural luncheon.
This mix of celebration and educational exploration into diversity topics keeps the community working towards its goal of inclusion and proactive advocacy for sound human relations. The Council also works to develop honest conversations between student groups and adult groups that move the community beyond polite and into a better understanding of our often segregated histories. It is this mix—fun, celebration, and sincere focus on learning about each other as fellow citizens—that makes our community unique and successful.
E pluribus unum—out of many, one. A noble goal for our local communities, our metro Detroit region, the State of Michigan, and our country.
Karen Bolsen is director of the Multicultural Multiracial Community Council of the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills. You may reach her at 248-474-9944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.