As I reflect upon the holiday season, I am reminded of a very special gift that I received last year from one of my faculty members. I have worked closely with this gentlemen for eleven and half years, but this gift caught me quite by surprise. I regularly give my staff and faculty Christmas gifts, but I don’t ever remember receiving a gift from this faculty member before. My curiosity was further peaked when he told me I couldn’t open it until Christmas day. That meant I had to wait approximately two weeks from the time he gave it to me. However, I was compliant, took it home, placed it under my Christmas tree, and waited. Although I am far from being a child, the unexpected gift made me more anxious than usual for Christmas to come that year. When I finally opened the gift on Christmas day, I was really surprised when I took the wrapping paper off, and it revealed a box that said “United States Mint, American Liberty 225th Anniversary Silver Medal.” It was too official for it to be a gag gift and given that it had a significant weight to it, I knew whatever was contained inside the box must be really special. Even though I had to go through several layers of official wrapping to finally get to the contents, I was not disappointed to say the least. My eyes were almost brought to tears when I saw, a silver coin representing Lady Liberty with cornrow braids and African American features.
On April 2, 1792, the Senate and House of Representative enacted the Coinage Act which officially made such commemorations a reality. It had taken 225 years to have an African American woman represented on a liberty coin. However long it took for this recognition to occur, I am glad that it did. I do wonder how many people are aware of its existence. According to Mint designer Justin Kunz, “Introducing an African-American Lady Liberty underscores the diverse heritage of this Nation, and reminds us that liberty ought to be maintained for the rights and protection of all people without respect to race and ethnicity.”
Why was this gift so endearing to me? First, because my colleague and dear friend who gave it to me later told me that when he saw it, he had to get it for me because it represented who I was and the work that I have been doing. Second, this person also happens to be, a white male, who recognized and appreciated the years of dedication I have given to make our university a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus community. As an African American woman working in higher education for over 35 years, I know what it is like to be marginalized and discriminated against. However, it is not often that we are validated for the work that we do by our white colleagues, especially when it comes to diversity work. I do what I do because I am passionate about diversity and social justice, and not for recognition. Nevertheless, receiving this special gift, further validated my belief that not only is our work important but we are also making a visible difference that others are recognizing. This is why I am an inclusion practitioner and social justice advocate. This is one of the important “Whys” of my work. I believe that all people should be respected and valued regardless of their race, ethnicity or cultural background.
If you would like assistance in supporting and growing your organization in the areas of diversity, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation to discuss how I can meet your diversity training, assessment, strategic planning, and coaching needs.
Let me know what your WHYs are. What are the reasons you do the work you do? Have you faced challenges with diversity in the workplace? What have they been and how have you handled them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and comments below.
Roberta Wilburn is an Inclusion Practitioner with over 35 years of experience working in higher education, and as a consultant in public and private K-12 schools, government, non-profit and community based organizations. She has conducted diversity, equity, and inclusion training regionally, nationally, and internationally. She is the author of books, chapters, and journal articles. Her work has been recognized with local and national awards. Some of her awards include the 2017 Insight Into Diversity Giving Back Award for Administrators in Higher Education, the YWCA Women of Achievement Carl Maxey Racial and social Justice Award, and the Heartwood Award for Cultural Enrichment and Community Service.