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The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio's 63rd Annual Humanitarian Award Dinner

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Later on Thursday, November 30th, we attended the 63rd Annual Humanitarian Award Dinner of the "The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio" an organization which Ms. Margaret W. Wong strongly supports. We have been attending this gala for several years now and just like past years, the event took place at the "Renaissance Cleveland Hotel" and was widely attended; we, ourselves, sat at table #80 so considering each table occupied by 10 people there must have been at least 800 people there.

It was particularly interesting for us to go right after hearing Bishop Nelson Perez talk about the need to keep trying to obtain inclusivity and diversity, as frustrating as it might be at times, because the results can be grand. Indeed it is the mission of the Diversity Center "to eliminate bias, bigotry, and racism in America through education and advocacy" and its programs target people of all ages.

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We were particularly pleased to learn that a prominent theme of the Diversity Center for this year is immigration. As the program notes stated, "we aim to investigate the context of immigration through American History via historical and individual accounts of the societies left, struggles endured and successes achieved by those brave enough to take such personal risk. It is within the stories of those societies, struggles and successes that we will develop an understanding of how immigration has come to influence the cultural, economic, political and social landscapes of our nation."

Accordingly, in the course of the evening we talked to two young people named Kaila and Rysheen about programs pertaining to immigration that they have attended under the auspices of the Diversity Center. We learned that these programs featured testimonies regarding the struggles of both documented and undocumented immigrants about the difficulties of coming here and adjusting to a different culture. In addition, the participants (most of whom have lived in the U.S. since birth) took the citizenship test and very few of them passed it which illustrates just one example of the challenges faced by the foreign born.

Of course, there were fine speeches by such people as our good friends, Ms. Peggy Zone Fisher, President and CEO of "The Diversity Center"; Mr. Cipriano S. Beredo, III, the Chair of its Board of Directors; Dr. Ronald M. Berkman, Ph.D, the President of Cleveland State University; as well as Mr. Tony Weber, Board Director of "Goldfarb Creative Media" who introduced a short film featuring young people expressing their viewpoints on what it means to be an American and what they feel this country should stand for. Along these lines, most of what was said in the various presentations throughout the evening touched upon how important it is that we continue to pursue our goals of justice and equality during these troubled times, how important young people are to our future, and how all of us have a moral obligation to give back to our community.

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Certainly the two people selected to receive the 2017 Humanitarian Award, Mr. Randell McShepard, Vice President of Public Affairs at "RPM International Inc.", and Mr. Bernie Moreno, the President of "Bernie Moreno Companies" (who immigrated to the U.S. from Columbia with his family when he was five years old) are excellent examples of people who have succeeded in the U.S. and have used their success as a vehicle to help others achieve their own potential. Other worthy award recipients were Mr. LeShun "Ship" Collins (Educator Award), Dr. John E. Betterson, Jr. (PWC LeadDiversity Alumni Award); and the SAFE Club (Students Advocating for Equality) at Rocky River High School (Student Citizenship Award).

From the acceptance speeches of Ms. Erin Pontikos, SAFE's faculty advisor, and Miss Haley Reash-Henz, one of the students involved, we learned that the SAFE Club was founded several years ago by "students who wanted a place to discuss current events and be active in the community." From the program notes we read that "each month there is a topic of focus like Diversity 101, Body Positively, Mental Health, Understanding World Religions, Healthy Relationships, Women's History, and LGBTQ History. Students plan programming around the topic and then members engage in a discussion or an activity."

We wish we could feature a photo of Ms. Pontikos, Miss Reash-Henz and the other SAFE students accepting their award but, alas, our photos didn't come out well due to our position in the room and the lighting which was also the unfortunate case with Mr. McShepard and Dr. Betterson and we apologize for this.

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We did, however, get a photo of Mr. LeShun "Skip" Collins and his lovely wife when they first arrived. Mr. Collins, a practitioner of health and physical education, has been working with students in the Orange School District for over 20 years now. Mr. Collins gave an especially moving speech in which he spoke of how much he values working with young people and "building positive relations during this troubled time". He contended that it is the responsibility of all of us to bestow upon others that no matter what their background is or their income level, there is always potential for a life of meaning and to guide them down the right pathways. What's more, each night Mr. Collins asks himself, "did I do enough today, or should I have done more?"

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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