New Orleans is no stranger to the divisions between class, race and education levels that challenge our prosperity. True to our long history of civic engagement and community activism, the Junior League of New Orleans is addressing these issues head-on through the establishment of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

The Committee’s goals are to “give members an opportunity to come together to discuss recent events and how they impact us as women and mothers. Sometimes just having an open conversation can help you process your own emotions,” said Membership Council Director Alice Glenn.

Tasked with addressing diversity and disparity in a city historically bifurcated by both, this Committee is creating platforms to discuss these sensitive topics for JLNO members and community leaders. The first of such engagements was “Dialogue on Diversity,” held August 16 at JLNO Headquarters. Inclusion Chair Cree Jones said, “The [Diversity and] Inclusion committee wanted to host the event for members to have an open and safe dialogue on the racial tension due to recent events in Baton Rouge and Dallas. It was meant for the members to hear different perspectives as they relate to each other.”

The discussion was opened by a thoughtful warm-up exercise by trained moderator Cedric Scott (husband of JLNO Treasurer April Scott), which allowed the group of about 30 women to consider the frequency and limitations of first impressions and how those impressions shape our engagement with others across our community.

“I would have to say I had a wonderful time being a part of such a needed conversation in today’s culture climate,” Cedric said. “To witness this level of engagement from the JLNO is what will keep us moving forward and socially connected. They definitely moved the needle!”

This introspective exercise focused on the analogy of an iceberg – the idea that the surface only shows the tip of who a person really is – and opened the door to a fuller conversation with the evening’s panelists: Timolynn Sams Sumter of One Degree Impact, Harpreet Samra of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and Sustainer Lulu Freiberg also of LCCR.  

Guided by the firsthand experiences of daily inequity and injustice that these women experience, the discussion centered largely on how to address the most sensitive issues – including  racism, policy, community violence, politics and terrorism – with children. Timolynn said, “There has to be intentionality in how and when you talk to your child. You have to meet them head on.” Through the panelists’ extensive professional and personal experiences as advocates and mothers, tough questions were met with realistic answers.

Harpreet cautioned parents, “Tread carefully with the conversation, but answer their questions.”  

In addition to the difficult decisions and discussions parents must confront, we face numerous barriers as a community and a plaguing feeling that we can and should do more. To that end, Timolynn pushed the participants to consistently think outside of the systems we operate in. If you see an issue you want to address or a conversation that needs to be had, Harpreet advised, “don’t be afraid and don’t hold back.”

For JLNO’s part, the conversation around diversity has just begun. Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Alice Jones said, “I’m very proud of JLNO’s growing diversity in membership and want to do everything we can to ensure that we are not only meeting our members’ needs, but offering opportunities to grow and improve our own personal well-being. Hopefully this event was a small first step.”  

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee is planning another panel discussion this spring and is looking to partner with other women’s organizations in 2017 for additional programs and activities.