Columbia mayor proclaims inclusion day at downtown march

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COLUMBIA – Activists marched through downtown Columbia on Saturday to celebrate the city’s improved inclusion of all people. 

The event marked the end of the first leg of a passport journey, where participants tested themselves for implicit bias during community events that fostered unfamiliar situations and tough conversations. The process started in January.

Nikki McGruder, the director of Inclusive Impact Institute, said the journey is not over.

“We’re celebrating the completion of the first leg and what we’re doing to just build a beloved community, an inclusive community, one where every citizen feels like  they have a place,” she said.

McGruder said diversity can be found anywhere, but inclusion is rare.

“I’m not just here. I’m not just being acknowledged in the room, but you value my contribution, you value my voice and what I have to say, and you’re creating an environment where I belong just like you belong,” she said.

Brianna Jackson said she helped plan some of the passport events and participated in the march. Jackson said she is passionate about making a difference in her community.

“[Inclusion] means providing a space where people can be authentically who they are, as they are, and still be celebrated,” Jackson said.

She said it is important to be visible to the community and the march is a symbol of community action.

“Coming together, seeing that we can identify, moving toward it, facing it head on and moving in the direction of the future, moving toward something, moving forward. That’s why we’re marching,” she said.

Jackson said the city did not listen when minorities previously asked for inclusion and that is why it needed to improve.

“Columbia was a perfect place to demonstrate that they were willing to learn, willing to change, and they were willing to be a part of a bigger conversation and a bigger piece of humanity as a whole,” Jackson said.

McGruder said Columbia was in headlines for the wrong reasons in 2015 during the Concerned Student 1950 movement.

“This is an opportunity to change that. We’re not just going to have all of our laundry exposed and not do anything about it. We’re being intentional about the growth and the change that we want for our community,” McGruder said.

McGruder and Mayor Brian Treece said Columbia is the first city they know of that is doing this kind of inclusive work.

Treece said the words “diversity” and “inclusion” get used interchangeably, but he said it is a process to get from one to the other. Before a community can have diversity, it must have the opportunities for different people to be “at the table," he said.

“But it’s not enough to just have a seat at that table. They have to have a voice at that table that has the same equity that everyone else does,” Treece said. “And only when you have that equity do you really have diversity.”  

Only with diversity, Treece said, can everyone feel included. He said the city is making progress.

Treece named Aug. 25 Inclusive Excellence Day.

“As a mayor, I’m proud to lead a city like Columbia,” he said.

Even though there is improvement, McGruder said, no one’s journey toward understanding their biases should end.

“We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if we’re going to make any real and intentional change,” McGruder said.

McGruder said the next leg of the journey will start in January 2019 and she said she encourages residents to participate.