'Diversity in Motion'

07/30/2009
By From the Lowell Sun

By Dennis Shaughnessey

LOWELL -- Whether by design or coincidence, even the small bags of cookies given to guests at yesterday's "Diversity in Motion" seminar at UMass Lowell were a mix.

Vanilla and chocolate. Nuts and no nuts. Chocolate chips and white chips.

Representatives from local businesses, nonprofits, government entities and educational institutions heard from several public and private leaders from across the Merrimack Valley during the forum and panel discussion at Cumnock Hall.

Ron Marlow, assistant secretary for Access and Opportunity with the state Executive Office of Administration and Finance, said diversity is a process that doesn't stop with a head count.

"I don't represent all males and I don't represent all African-Americans," said Marlow, whose job it is to review existing state programs and policies that may unintentionally limit access or individual efforts to advance economically. "I represent a particular perspective and a set of experiences -- hopefully unique enough that it adds to the value of what I do, separate and apart from any other African-American in the same place."

Stephen Crosby is an original signer of the so-called "Commonwealth Compact," the mission of which is to establish Massachusetts as an inclusive, honest and supportive community of and for diverse people by acknowledging the commonwealth's mixed history and population. It was launched last year with the support of more than 125 institutions across the state, including UMass Lowell.

"The challenge in raising awareness about the need for diversity rests in a commitment from leadership," said Crosby, whose background includes 40 years of experience in policy making and nonprofit leadership. "It's a difficult challenge, but you don't need a middle-aged white guy talking about the importance of diversity. We are talking here about our own self-interest. Diversity will raise the level of economic vibrancy."

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan pointed to the university's growing enrollment, which represents a more diverse student body every year.

"But I still think we can do a better job," Meehan said. "We need to attract people of color into the Merrimack Valley and give them a reason to stay in the Merrimack Valley. We lose too many young people that are born and raised here, but go elsewhere upon graduation."

In addition to Marlow and Crosby, the panel discussion included Rosa Lee Hunter, a consultant and owner of RLH Enterprises; Commonwealth Compact Deputy Director Colleen Richards Powell; and UMass Lowell's director of the Center for Women and Work, Meg Bond.

"Diversity is the intersection of a will and a dream," said Hunter. "Can you look at me and see someone who has the confidence and ability to be part of your organization? The answer is usually 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure.' That thinking needs to change but it cannot occur in a two-hour session."

"Instead of thinking about the state or the region as a melting pot, think of it as a salad," said Marlow. "Each ingredient is vital and unique by itself, but collectively it completes the intended purpose."