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Columbia Honors Leaders in Diversity Efforts

Aviva Okeson-Haberman
Keynote speaker Kevin Powell tells the audience that America needs to do a better job educating students on African-American history at an event honoring community leaders in diversity and inclusion on Monday, Jan. 11 in Columbia, Missouri.

Lincoln University interim President Mike Middleton grew up in a segregated Mississippi. He lived through the lynching of Emmett Till, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the March on Washington.

“Until you’ve lived with the segregated drinking fountains and bathrooms and the daily marginalization in every aspect of life — the way you see your parents and yourself being treated with no logical explanation except racism and the way you see your community disadvantaged by that kind of white supremacist mentality — you don’t know.” Middleton said. “It’s hard to read it in a book and get a complete understanding of what that does to a community and to our country.”

Middleton was among 11 other individuals and seven groups nominated for the 2018 Columbia Values Diversity Awards. The city held a celebration Monday, Jan. 11 recognizing the work individuals and groups played toward creating a more inclusive and diverse community.

Keynote speaker Kevin Powell said more education on segregation and the civil rights movement is needed in order to create an inclusive community.

“We cannot continue to throw out words like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ if that diversity does not include the education that you have,” Powell said.

This education includes conversations that are uncomfortable, he said.

Middleton said the award ceremony recognizes leaders in diversity efforts and helps attendees network.

Mayor Brian Treece presented Brian Jones and Stacye Smith of Shelter Insurance and Veterans United with 2018 Columbia Values Diversity Awards.

Jones said Shelter Insurance sponsored an expo where minority and women contractors could network with larger businesses.

Columbia is a good place to address issue of inequality, Middleton said.

“We’re a small enough of a population. We’re a manageable city. We’ve got intelligent people all over the city. We’ve got resources.” Middleton said. “We ought to be able to solve these problems if we just get ourselves on the same page and do the work that needs to be done.”

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