Yesterday the library had a small Juneteenth celebration. I was glad I read the entire email explaining the origins of Juneteenth, because just looking at the date, my first thought was – “Is this a summer solstice celebration?” Turns out it is a commemoration of the slaves being freed in Galeveston Tx in 1865 and is also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day (see Wikipedia). And a part of our little celebration included a questionaire/survey that we were encouraged to fill out.

I’m still thinking. The first question was “Was does Diversity mean to you?” That in a space about large enough for 2 lines. Whoa!

My first reaction is “diversity is good”, but that’s not going to tell anyone what it means to me or how I came to that conclusion. In the context of this celebration, one feels compelled to address the word “diversity” wrt to Black-White relations in the US. That’s just not going to cover it for this global learner. And so, I’ll try to sort out my thoughts on this.

Diversity: the Oxford English Dictionary as 5 definitions, none particularly helpful as they seem to be self-referencing as in

1. a. The condition or quality of being diverse, different, or varied; difference, unlikeness.

or this

b. with a and pl. An instance of this condition or quality; a point of unlikeness; a difference, distinction; a different kind, a variety.

So I go to OED and try diverse, the noun and find something a bit more to the point:

1. Different in character or quality; not of the same kind; not alike in nature or qualities. (Formerly also written divers: see DIVERS 1.)

OK – there’s more, but you get the gist, I think.

My take on diversity is that is keeps life going. Plain and simple. In biological terms, a gene pool that lacks diversity can be wiped out by a single pathogen. In cultural terms, a monolithic society works somewhat the same way – get at the overwhelming common creed, belief, social structure, and down it goes. And, the one that I deal with most often is the office. Heavens – what if we all worked in my eclectic style? Or if we all worked in my boss’s style? Both scenarios would be far less effective, possibly disastrous albeit for different reasons.

And so, LaShawn: what does Diversity mean to me? It means a healthy society with respect for the individuals and their histories, gifts and different approaches to solving problems or resolving issues. It means that those who are descended from slaves can work side by side with those descended from slave-owners. It means that none of us can see the whole picture – no one religious approach, no one moral code, no one menu for dinner. It means that, to paraphrase St. Paul: We are many parts but all one body. And the gifts we have we are given to share [with all for the good of the whole.] If everyone was an eye there would be some real problems in functioning; same if all were ears, or arms or hearts or noses.

Diversity makes it incumbent upon me that I, in my eye-ness, depend on your ear-ness, and both celebrate the difference and learn something more about how to be a bit more of an ear without losing the fact that I am an eye (or a nose or finger or bellybutton.) And the same goes for each of us.

Diversity makes life happen. I look across the our tiny congregation at Mass on Sunday mornings, and I see in the 50 – 60 faces african american and african native, latinos from at least one, if not several different Latin American cultures, faces of different Asian ethnic groups, those who grew up as Roman Catholics, and those who were raised in various protestant flavors of Christianity and even a man who, despite his Jewish heritage has joined our faith. We are rich and poor, uneducated, blue collar, college professor and successful business people. I know of nobody who has come from an Islamic or middle eastern background – although I have no doubt that a person like that would be welcomed. I have no doubt but that some of us find ourselves uncovering our somewhat buddhist approaches to life. And those who often use the feminine when referring to our God intermingled with those who can only refer to Him.

And so, I find that I just can’t answer that question in the space provided. And I find that I probably will struggle with the rest of the questions on that little brief survey.