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Community leads in efforts to create safe, inclusive city
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On Feb. 9, 40 leaders and citizen of the community came together for the second Roundtable on Inclusion and Diversity.  Those sound like lofty words but when you consider how much Turlock has been in the national news lately (from recent settlement of Syrian and Afghan refugees, to coverage of growing hate speech around town, to protests at the university and at City Hall, to reporters writing about where Colin Kaepernick grew up to understand his stand around Black Lives Matter), those lofty words take on a real, urgent meaning.    The City of Turlock and Stanislaus State brought leaders together for this roundtable to listen to each other and reflect on what could be done to make sure Turlock is a safe, inclusive city for all its residents.   Again, this can sound rather lofty, yet in my view this small act of gathering is actually rather unprecedented for this community.

Turlock has a long history of diversity-primarily through religious and ethnic diversity.  Yet leaders have not typically gathered together to build relationships and listen to the concerns of others in the community.  Instead, Turlock has, by and large, celebrated diversity by maintaining various (separate) cultural centers and record-number houses of worship.   With these roundtable dialogues, leaders coming together from across the community-including religious leaders, City officials, community organizations, and Stanislaus State-and spending a day together listening, building trust, and learning from one another marks a significant new direction for Turlock’s response to its growing diversity.

This effort began two years ago as a response to growing ideological divides and increasing violence across our communities and this country.  In February 2016, a unique partnership began between the University and the City when the first roundtable was held.  It was an experiment where approximately 25 leaders met and began to discuss how Turlock values diversity and whether it is an inclusive community.  In the few hours we gathered, some of the group saw that leading from our common ground, rather than emphasizing on our differences, could better support a thriving, loving community.

Last month’s roundtable went considerably further than the first by having frank, honest conversations around sensitive issues of race, hate crime, class, and religion.  Tough questions were asked of the 40 participants; and no matter which side of the political and ideological aisle leaders are on, participants were vulnerable, took risks, and had constructive dialogues.  The honesty and humility each person brought into the room left many of us feeling inspired that we can do more together especially as we expand the circle.  There was an emerging sense that Turlock’s strength may reside in efforts to value diversity and work to include more voices and perspectives within the community.  These efforts are to be celebrated rather than feared. 

As the City and University continue to lead this joint partnership, both are committed to building more social cohesion to support a thriving community.  Their efforts may at times appear invisible as we go about our day to day responsibilities and life in Turlock, yet behind the scenes progress is being made.  For example, the University has established a campaign “We Stand Together for Unity & Inclusion” in addition to numerous other initiatives around diversity and inclusion led by the President’s office. The City recently passed a resolution denouncing bullying, harassment, and racism and sent a copy to residents.  These may be small gestures to some, but they are an essential starting point to demonstrate leadership and acknowledge and begin to bridge historical differences.

At a time when our country feels more divided than ever and as we face challenges on endless fronts, it is promising to know that residents and leaders in this community see value in these dialogues and want to expand the table to include others.  The group acknowledged the need include others especially those who are often invisible and excluded in such conversations and those who may not want to be at the table to listen to perspectives of others.   As the moderator of these dialogues, I continue to believe that listening and building trust, not just with those who agree with or look like us, is a powerful act.  In my view, these dialogues are foundational, a starting point to make Turlock a City that truly values its diversity and begins to demonstrate what it means to be inclusive.  Those who gathered for the Roundtable and are ready to engage deeper are to be commended for their leadership, courage, and service to this community.

— Dr. Lynn Murphy is a Turlock native, a graduate of Turlock High, a former Stanislaus State student, and holds a PhD from Stanford University. Lynn has worked in various capacities over the past 24 years as a bilingual teacher, researcher and scholar, large-scale funder, and global movement builder in the U.S. and across the developing world. She currently works as a philanthropic advisor and strategic consultant, mainly focusing on ways to work “across the divides” to better understand and make social change. This is the first in a three-part series on addressing inclusivity and diversity in Turlock, with the next two editorials written by Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn and Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.