Let America Be America Again




DeWayne Street is the former Vice President of Workforce Advancement at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. In this role, he was responsible for ensuring that the employees in Goodwill’s retail stores and staffing programs were diverse, properly educated, and trained for their role. Previously, DeWayne worked with the State of Wisconsin Workforce Development Department as Deputy Administrator of Employment & Training and Superintendent of the Department of Corrections/Thompson Correctional Center. Additionally, he continued his passion for advancing diversity initiatives with his own consulting business, Midway Diversity Solutions, which he founded in 2000 and continues to operate. In his consulting work, DeWayne focuses on creating inclusive, culturally competent organizational cultures.

… O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be! …

These are the words of Langston Hughes. They are just as prescient now as they were when first published in 1935. The struggle for our nation to truly be a place where all citizens are valued and respected remains largely unfulfilled for many citizens. The forces of history, economic angst, and the shifting demographics have all coalesced to produce the current state of increased marginalization and fear. It is during such times that leaders need to emerge to push society and organizations forward toward increased understanding and shared progress. We need to summon such courage in this hour and in this place. The consequences of not doing so are painful to contemplate for those who believe in equality and civil rights.

Historical vs. Contemporary

Austin is becoming more diverse with each passing day. Like our nation, this has not come without a price. Increased marginalization, both racial and economic, have marred our journey and have forced this generation to challenge America to be America once again. How do we create space for a new type of dialogue on the issue of marginalization, one that will make it operational and not just aspirational? This starts with understanding historical drivers and patterns of marginalization and their contemporary manifestations. For too long, marginalization has been viewed through a contemporary lens. Once we examine it through a historical lens, only then will we be able to determine the genesis of the problem and properly address it. Every problem has a history.  Once you know that history, you can solve the problem. Marginalization is no different.

Our Role in Diversity

In addition to understanding the history of marginalization, each of us must be willing to examine and confront our own biases. As Howard Ross states in the book, Reinventing Diversity, bias is not bad; it is acting on it that constitutes the offense. Part of the challenge is to control our individual biases before they go operational. This starts with admitting that we all struggle with it and that no one group has a monopoly on it. It is a common problem that requires a common solution. We can no longer engage in a one-dimensional dialogue on this issue where voices that are perceived to be privileged are muted. It will take every voice to be heard and valued as we seek to become the nation that Hughes demands we become. We must do this not only for ourselves, but for those who will come after us.

Let’s leave them a better society than we inherited.

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