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Soiseth: Turlocks effort to be the most inclusive city in the Valley
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This past February, a group of about two dozen pastors, students, civic leaders, elected officials, and activists came together for a day-long summit about how to make Turlock the most inclusive city in the Valley. The discussion was frank and to the point: we all agreed that Turlock is a great city with a rich history of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities, but we need to do more to highlight these differences in a positive light. 

For this task, Turlock has a great partner in President Ellen Junn of Stanislaus State. Ellen, as she insists on being called, might be a transplant to Turlock, but she has already demonstrated a commitment to making sure Stanislaus State is a strong partner in building upon our city's diverse heritage. We both agree that as important as improving Turlock’s roadways or improving educational opportunities for students might be, our city must also invest in the creation of a cohesive, unified community. 

Turlock is very diverse, with houses of worship representing almost every religion, with Assyrian, Mexican, and Portuguese dance halls, and with residents that can trace their heritage back over 100 years living side-by-side with immigrants and refugees that have moved to Turlock just six months ago. On this last point: I’m often asked about my stance regarding refugees moving into Turlock. These men, women, and children are fleeing some of the worst parts of the world, with war raging, economies devastated, and real persecution threatening their very lives. I spent almost four years of my life working in one of these locations—Afghanistan—and I saw some of the worst of humanity.  

My faith was a main driver in signing up for the mission in Afghanistan to serve strangers in a country halfway across the globe, and it has also been a main driver in working to make Turlock a more welcoming, inclusive community for refugees and long-time citizens alike. By conversing with and loving members of all different cultures and faiths, my own faith is not threatened, but strengthened. 

Even if we have few similarities and we have few threads of commonality, Turlock is united in purpose as we strive to create a place that represents all that is great in America. From flying 1,000 new American flags that represent Turlock’s deep patriotism, to honoring the sacrifices of Turlock’s active duty military personnel and fearless veterans, to encouraging Turlock’s youth to

become tomorrow’s leaders, the city has made great strides in celebrating its diversity and its heritage.

Our town is unique and I know that we set the tone for inclusivity and the celebration of diversity. One new joint initiative that Ellen and I will be creating this summer will be a "Task Force for Inclusivity," which will be a group of concerned Turlock residents, civic leaders, and elected officials joining with Stanislaus State students, faculty, and staff that will spearhead the effort to neutralize hatred and address new ways of making our city even more inclusive of those that might be different.

My favorite quote on any monument in Washington, DC is etched in the National Cathedral, where it says: “For all religions, and none.” We need to keep in mind that we are a city for all religions, all cultures, and all backgrounds—including those that don’t even adhere to one group or another. This inclusivity is what unites us as a nation and will allow Turlock to move forward as an even stronger city well into the future.