Jefferson County talks diversity, inclusivity

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By Deborah Swearingen

Nearly 300 people gathered last week to discuss ways to carry the topic of diversity and inclusivity to the forefront of conversation in Jefferson County and beyond.

Hosted by Jeffco Human Services, Jeffco Human Resources, Jeffco Public Library, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and Boulder County, the One Community Summit, held Oct. 19 at the Arvada Center, featured a keynote speaker and various breakout sessions centering on diversity, inclusivity and equity.

The event was developed last year in an attempt to begin the discussion among leaders in Jefferson County and to help people learn and connect with others who are passionate about diversity.

“We talked about really wanting to bring people together and host a low-cost event to where people could get high-level training and have really good conversations around diversity and inclusion,” said Natalie Williams, director of talent and strategy for Jeffco Human Services.

Participants gathered for an early morning breakfast and listened intently to a speech from Derek Okubo, executive director of the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships with the city and county of Denver. Okubo, who lives in Littleton and had children graduate from Dakota Ridge High School, spoke about bridging the divide.

Promoting diversity, connecting communities and changing perspective can be a challenge.

“It is hard work,” Okubo said to the crowd. “I am convinced now that it’s supposed to be.”

Williams said it’s important to understand the complexities of diversity in places that aren’t visibly diverse, such as Littleton, where, according to United States census data, in 2015 there were 7.15 more white residents than any other race or ethnicity, and Evergreen, where there were 33.2 times more white residents than any other race or ethnicity.

“I think it’s understanding the multiple levels of diversity, beyond race, beyond sexual orientation, beyond gender,” she said. “… It is exploring who people are whether they come from a different part of the county, if they’re a single mom, if they live in poverty, if they’re affluent.

“Once you … are open, then you’ll start seeing more diversity show up in your communities,” she added.

The event is about “building bridges and building communities,” and organizers said it is critical to get out into the community and meet people who are different.