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The Importance of Diversity & Inclusion

posted by Chris Sparks on Friday, June 12, 2020

Bruce Springsteen exploded onto the music scene in the mid-1970’s, although he had been working as a musician for some time before that. His songwriting was lyrically complex - at least lyrically dense - and spoke of deep feelings, of not fitting in, of being a lonely outsider, and of aspirations of escaping the life he had for a better life.

He was and is an astute commentator on American life. Then, over time, he found fame and success. He also entered treatment for the serious mental health problems that had plagued him and he began to make peace in his life and to be really truly happy, for the first time. This changed his perspective, naturally.

In his song “Better Days,” released in 1982 Springsteen wrote "Now a life of leisure and a pirate's treasure/ don't make much for tragedy/ but it's a sad man my friend who's livin' in his own skin/ and can't stand the company."

As his life became fulfilling and he became more contented, he seemed to question his own credibility as a spokesperson for his generation. Springsteen was and is a brilliant observer of culture and movements within our culture. But as his life changed he became concerned about his perspective, his credibility, and his voice on certain issues.

When we realize that we lack a truly informed perspective we should always proceed with caution, listen more than we talk, and challenge ourselves to learn. So I am proceeding with caution into the next topic, diversity and inclusion.

Exceptional Persons, Inc. was founded in May 1957 on the principles of community inclusion and recognizing and respecting diversity. And later on supporting the needs of families using child care and the providers that serve them – with a focus on the needs of children.

We have been on a sixty three year journey to support people with disabilities to find their voice and take their rightful place in their communities. Theirs is a story of fighting for human rights and struggling to have opportunities equal to others in our country.

We have long argued that communities are strengthened when the gifts and talents of all are embraced and appreciated. When diversity is recognized and celebrated.

The events we have been witness to over the last few weeks, and, sadly, many times before, have illustrated that we have a lot of work ahead of us to address and eliminate racism and racial injustice in the United States. We recognize that many people we serve, and even many current EPI staff, have experienced violence and discrimination, and many carry with them these traumatic memories.

We watched in horror the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers. This must have been even more traumatic, and re-traumatizing, for those who have experienced violence and persecution in their lives.

We know that this monstrous act represents but a small minority of the injustices people of color have experienced over time, including the pervasive, generational impacts of structural discrimination.

We add our voice to the many offering compassion and empathy, and calling for justice, and looking for a better path ahead. We want our organization to be part of the solution so we are actively seeking specific ways we can become more welcoming and embrace diversity through:

  • Ways that we can advance the cause of genuine equality.
  • Ways that we can stand for what is right against those that marginalize and victimize others because of their differences.
  • Working to create a group of people within the organization to work on diversity and inclusion - charged to determine specific and concrete actions that would make the organization more welcoming and inclusive. This work includes consideration of persons served, of course, but also of staff, and the broader community of which we are a part.
  • And further to evaluate relationships and assure partners and vendors likewise uphold the worth of all persons.

We must stand against hate and intolerance and violence. We cannot be silent. We want to do more to eliminate racism and discrimination in our culture and to help assure all are safe, welcomed and accepted into community.

About The Author

Chris Sparks served as EPI's third ever Executive Director from 1998 until 2022.