Harrison Phillips, from left, Beth Ann Nissen, John F. Kostyo, Jerome Gray and Mary Ellen Coleman are shown at the Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center, where all but Coleman are board members. According to a recent survey, one in five Hancock County adults are “tired of hearing, reading and/or learning about diversity.” Phillips believes the only way to truly understand each other is through interaction: “Diversity is going to make this community better.” (Photo by Randy Roberts / The Courier)

Staff Writer

One in five Hancock County adults strongly agreed in a recent survey that they were “tired of hearing, reading and/or learning about diversity.”

Those working to promote diversity here offered a variety of thoughts as to why this might be. Above all, they said, keep talking — and, especially, listening.

The 2018 Community Health Assessment for the first time asked questions about diversity. Among the findings: 64% of adults strongly agreed they felt comfortable being themselves in Findlay. Twenty-nine percent somewhat agreed, 5% somewhat disagreed and 2% strongly disagreed.

Twenty-one percent of Hancock County adults strongly agreed that they were “tired of hearing, reading and/or learning about diversity.” Thirty-nine percent somewhat agreed, 22% somewhat disagreed and 18% strongly disagreed.

Thirty-six percent of employed adults felt their employer was very committed to the promotion and advancement of a generally diverse workforce. Thirty-seven percent felt their employer was moderately committed, 21% felt they were slightly committed and 6% felt their employer was not at all committed.

In the past year, 5% of adults attended a culturally diverse event just about every week, 9% just about monthly, 22% several times during the year, 22% once during the past year, and 42% never.

A total of 21% of respondents strongly believed the Findlay/Hancock County area welcomes and embraces diversity. The figure was just 13% of those under 30, but 31% of those 65 and older. Twenty-two percent of those with an income of $25,000 and 21% of those with an income above that amount strongly believed this.

Bringing down walls

The University of Findlay is a highly diverse section of the community, and includes many international students. And Robert Braylock, director of intercultural student services at the university’s Buford Center for Diversity and Service, said it’s “not uncommon” for his office to hear students say they feel comfortable on campus, but have a different experience out in the community.

Braylock, who is black, said when he himself was a student, there were some places in town he wasn’t as comfortable. International students may also face a language barrier if they encounter, for example, law enforcement, he said.

Braylock said he wishes 21% of people weren’t tired of hearing about diversity, but that at least indicates the community is talking about the issue. “You can’t be tired of something that you’re not hearing about,” he said.

He said it’s “very discouraging” that 42% of adults had never, and 22% had only once, attended a culturally diverse event in the past year.

“That’s an easy step,” Braylock said. “The literature that we consume” can be diverse, he said. If you only read books written by white men, and the same with the music you listen to and the art you enjoy, consider changing this. In addition to events here in Findlay, there are many museums in the surrounding area that offer diverse art and education, he said.

LBBTQ+ Spectrum of Findlay, along with the Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center and the Cultural Connections group, created the survey questions related to diversity.

Dr. Jasmin Bradley of Spectrum said typically these surveys ask, “if you are yourself part of a minority, how do you feel in your community?” Organizers wanted to “flip” the question: “I think the more pertinent question in Findlay” is, for those who are not themselves part of a minority, “how do you feel about diversity?”

She has heard anecdotally that Findlay is not welcoming. But Bradley, who is married to a woman, said that has not been her experience.

Bradley said the young people, those who will “contribute to the future of Findlay, value diversity.” But she advised not to write off the older generation, either. “We need to meet them where they’re at.”

The Rev. Juan Salinas also said he personally has not experienced much prejudice as a Hispanic person. He has lived in the community for more than 30 years and said it has “come a long way.”

“I believe Findlay is doing everything it can,” said Salinas, pastor at the “multicultural” Church of the Living God. He also serves as a Spanish-language court interpreter.

At his church, Salinas preaches in English, and an interpreter repeats the message in Spanish. If English is someone’s second language, they may understand most of what is being said in English, but maybe not every word, he said.

Salinas encouraged people to talk to others in their community, to bring down walls on both sides.

John Simmons, a board member at the Black Heritage Library, said the organization was thrilled to get to survey about diversity in the context of health. He said the two are related, because feeling like an outsider will add stress to your life.

Don Essex, another board member, said it’s hard to tell why 21% of citizens strongly agree they’re tired of hearing about diversity — but sometimes he feels that way, too. While “I want equity and not to be excluded,” he said the conversation can sometimes feel forced.

Essex said he didn’t experience much racism growing up. Then he served in the military, where he saw women and minorities in command. But later he discovered “what bias looked like.”

At a place he once worked, he’d hear people say “We’re not going to hire minorities if they’re not qualified.” That’s not what seeking diverse candidates is about, he said. And, board member Jerome Gray said, that statement itself means you’re presuming minorities are indeed unqualified.

Gray said understanding why people feel the way they do “takes an honest reckoning.”

Black Heritage Library board member Harrison Phillips said the only way you improve a situation is through interaction.

Gray said there are few or no black people serving in certain roles — like police, or as teachers — in Findlay.

“Diversity is going to make this community better,” Phillips said.

‘This is real life’

Braylock said current conversations about diversity are “the same ones that we’ve always needed to have,” since the United States was founded. He said we have never as a country “thoroughly addressed our relationship” with Native Americans, or with black people after slavery and Jim Crow laws.

“I don’t think we’ve had serious conversations about that,” he said.

And, he said, people may not realize the lasting impact of things like generational poverty — if your grandparents didn’t have resources, then your parents started out with less, he said.

One challenge is that many of us “don’t want to listen. We want to talk.” But instead, we need to “be quiet and listen more,” Braylock said.

There may be a lot of emotion behind what is being said. “For a lot of people, this isn’t a theory. … This is real life.”

So if there is anger or pain behind what someone is saying, try to understand why. “We don’t always have to agree,” but we need to be respectful, he said.

Braylock said some students are “very much being affected” by immigration policies, for example that their families cannot come to the United States for milestone events. Higher education in general is seeing a decrease in international students, perhaps because they are “aware of what’s being said” by those in political office. “It makes a difference,” Braylock said.

Bradley, who is from the United Kingdom, said she suspects because she is white, she is “automatically assumed to be a legal resident of the state.”

Salinas differentiated between immigrants who come to the United States legally and those who do not, saying the latter “might feel a little intimidated.”

Braylock said a lot of influential organizations in the community are focusing more on diversity, including the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation, the ADAMHS board, and employers like Marathon, Cooper Tire and Blanchard Valley Health System.

Bradley said people “do get tired” of being told they need to be diverse. And “we all kind of rely on PowerPoint presentations a little too much these days.” Sitting through one of these might not change someone’s mind about diversity, she said. “It takes deeper conversations to have deeper impact.”

“People, connections, stories — that’s how we change hearts and minds,” Bradley said. Learning statistics is great, but “we’re humans, at the end of the day.”

Bradley said some people might say “Why do we need gay pride?” But she has also heard people say, about Spectrum, “I’m so glad I found a community that I can connect with.”

And she said the agency has been hearing a lot of feedback from people who are not themselves LGBT, but are allies of that community. “Young professionals and the future leaders of tomorrow” want to live in a diverse community, she said. “Don’t be afraid to be an ally.”

Bradley said Findlay is respectful for the most part, but residents may not realize that minority communities need a little more support. For her to walk into a business with her wife and children may create a little more anxiety than for a family with heterosexual parents, so they may need a little more reassurance, she said. But, she said, older members of the LGBT community in Findlay talk about experiencing more discrimination in the past.

Braylock said he suspects when the survey is repeated in three years, the percentage will have shifted. “Because we’re actively working on this,” he said.

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