By Kyle Henderson
My mother asked, “What’s that?” She was speaking to Dr. Warren Pulich, a renowned ornithologist and our teacher. He could identify almost any bird by sound. It was amazing. We could stand quietly in the woods and hear 15 different birds. This early morning we were on a bird watching trip with him. He turned his head to listen to what my mother had heard. He tilted his head ever so slightly and looked back at her. “That is a cow Mrs. Henderson.” She was embarrassed but good hearted about it, and for many years afterward we joked about the incident.
This week, I walked into a meeting and realized I had not heard what I thought I had heard. I thought I was meeting with a group of black leaders who were joining our community’s efforts to pass a local school bond election. I had misheard. These leaders were meeting with us to express their dismay at the process that had produced the bond. They felt that their voices had not been heard in the development of the bond proposal. They felt they had not been asked to participate in the process.
Diversity is such hard work and we are not good at it. The planning committee of 100 people was 20 percent ethnic, which mirrors our larger community. The white people looking at it were proud. This was the most diverse, intentional group ever formed. I looked into the eyes of friends and leaders who talked about what it was like to be left out of the process and then to be expected to pay taxes to support the decisions. I was sad and embarrassed. I had not been part of the 100 person task force and was frankly relieved that I did not have another set of meetings to attend. I was more than happy to let them make the plans.
The chasm seems so wide and our experiences so different. It was clear to me that I knew my perspective was going to be represented; therefore I had no worries about who was in the group. The leaders of the black community could not have felt more differently. They were certain that their views would be neglected and that their concerns would be overlooked — and they have history on their side.
The damage has been done. I made them a pledge to try to be a change agent. We got on each other’s calendars, we made some plans. We have a long way to go until we all are heard and hear the same thing.