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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Values Diversity Celebration committee has announced its theme for the upcoming breakfast.

The theme for the 2018 celebration is “Forward in Unity: Embracing Our Beloved Community.”

Sarah Dresser, the manager of cultural affairs, said, "I think the past several years, the committee has really tried to find a theme that is maybe honing in on some issues that are current and also serving as a jumping off point for conversations and for inspiration."

The Columbia Values Diversity Celebration aims to bring people together throughout the community to share breakfast and a special program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Addressing certain topics that are current that people could kind of walk away from with some inspiration and maybe some calls to action depending on what their community involvement is or what they're involved in with their jobs. That’s really the overall mission for the event and what we’re trying to achieve from changing the theme every year as well,” Dresser said.

Dresser said a program affiliated with the overall event gives attendees another perspective.

“Well the student writings program has gone on for a number of years. And I think its intent is to bring those young voices to part of the dialogue that is at the celebration. It’s not just the adults in the community,” Dresser said. “It really is interesting to see from very young fourth grade students to seniors in high school what their perspective is on these different issues and sometimes, you know, really complex issues.”

Columbia Public School District's 4th through 12th graders will submit writing samples under one page.

Michelle Baumstark, community relations director for CPS said, “The school district has been a part of the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration really since its inception. It’s something that we feel is really important to be involved in as a school district and certainly something to engage our students in.”

Hundreds of students submit writing samples, however only 50-60 students writings will be compiled into a published book. The students, residing in Columbia, can attend a public school, private school or be home-schooled and be eligible to submit a writing sample or poem.

The event has been going on for more than 20 years and is funded by the City of Columbia's Office of Cultural Affairs event budget. The planning committee volunteers its time to judge the writings and receives sponsorship to publish the book, which cuts down on expenses.

Baumstark said CPS doesn't participate in judging the writing submissions but it strongly encourages its students to submit them.

“It’s something that we promote district-wide for students to participate in. And I think if you were to look back at some of the writings that have come in, I think as a community, we should be very impressed with the work that our students are doing and their level of understanding of what diversity means to them, what it means to our community,” Baumstark said.

The 2018 Columbia Values Diversity Celebration will be held on Thursday, January 11, 2018, from 7:00-8:45am at the Holiday Inn Expo Center. The program will include performances representing the rich diversity of the community, live music at the breakfast, and the presentation of the 25th annual Columbia Values Diversity Awards.The event will also host a keynote speaker that will be announced at a later date. The committee is expecting about 1,000 people to attend.

Writing submissions are due November 13, 2017. You can access more information including the writing guidelines, writing suggestions and previous years' videos on the City of Columbia website.