This is a transcript from a panel that was in a mini exhibit in Gilbert, Arizona I participated in.

Diversity is defined as all the ways in which we differ. Among these difference exist visibly apparent characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity, and physical ability and less obvious characteristics such as marital status, sexual orientation, parental status, educational background, geographic location, and work experience.

The exhibit leader, Elaine Kessler, of Created Equal Trigger Exhibits, also invited panelists to come and speak about their challenges and desires for the Gilbert, Arizona community.

You can listen to the entire recording Here 

Please inform me if any information on the transcript is incorrect or needs editing. Follow me on twitter for continual updates on this topic.

Panel: Robert, Krickette, Theo, Elaine, Kina, Mary Ellen, Kandice

 

 

 

 

 

Elaine: Let’s get juicy! If you had a magic wand… If you could say it, and it be SO, right here in Gilbert, Arizona, what would it be?

[Panelists all gaze at each other in unison, nervous to be the first to speak, and laugh at the long awkward pause]

Kandice: First thing that comes into my mind, is my kids. Because that’s ever-y-thing that pops into my mind. So if my words were magic and if I could completely transform Gilbert… I would want to make Gilbert a place where children can find art and imagination and acceptance, within the community.

Elaine: Elaborate on why that matters to you.

Kandice: I think that for me, personally, and my wife- You have a fear your kids will be judged for who their parents are. Where they go to school, what they wear. All these different things going on. Then you add the gay factor on top of it… It’s scary. One of my boys is extremely sensitive and imaginative, it would be really cool if we could stay in Gilbert for more inclusive events and diverse culture.

Mary Ellen: If I had an magic wand I would seek engagement in the community and I would see that engagement for all people to vote. There’s just a small percentage of our city who votes. That would be what I want.

Elaine: If more people vote what does that look like? What does that make possible?

Mary Ellen: Well first of all, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. What it would make possible is: including everybody. Right now I don’t think that’s what we see. There’s just a small percentage. And it’s disappointing. I think that it’s disappointing that our citizens don’t think it’s important enough to come out every few years to come out and make it count. It’s what America’s all about.

Kina: I want to thank Elaine and the Leadership Class for allowing us to come out and speak to you. So if I had a magic wand. And I mean a Magic Wand – we’re here with Gilbert Leadership, you guys can make this happen! What I would like to see for Gilbert is more diversity. Not this. A more tangible Diversity. I was talking to my co-presenter here, and we were talking about this Global Diversity Tom-foolery Village Day we have in Gilbert, in January, and -as a Black female living in Gilbert- I feel like the ‘powers that be’ people in leadership positions do things to kind of quell that Diversity. If you’re looking for a diversity faire you’re not going to Google: (I don’t even think it’s called “Diversity”) I think it’s called “Global Village“. If you’re looking for diversity you’re not going to type in “Global Village” and I think that’s a way for leadership to say: “Look we have diversity, see? No one comes to it. Let’s get rid of it.”

I’m raising a little boy. I don’t want him to be shot. I don’t want someone to see him and think of him as a threat. Or treat him as something different. I’m a lawyer. It irritates me when people say things like, “Oh! He’s so articulate.” or “Oh! He’s so well-behaved.” The same desires and wishes you have for your children, I have for my children. I moved to Gilbert, it’s a choice I made. But I would like to partner with the Leadership so my son can feel included and not be treated as an Other. Like he’s just a boy in Gilbert. Because he doesn’t see what I know to be true.

Theo: Bouncing off of her a bit. As she says she has a young Black son. I was a Black young kid in Gilbert. I went to Gilbert Elementary. I was picked on, called names, harassed every day until my parents finally decided to move me out of the Gilbert education system. We moved to Chandler where we see more cultural diversity. Where I see people of different colors, races, different ethnicity. Just different. Instead of seeing one certain race that’s going to pick on me and make me feel less of what I was. So once I left Gilbert I thrived. Where I went to high school and thrived- graduated. Now, where she says, she doesn’t want her son to feel like he’s less than or feel less than what he is… Even now, driving down Gilbert, there was a police car behind me and I freaked out! Even thought my license is good. Might have a few speeding tickets on there… [Audience laughs] Everything has been cleared off! But still have in the back of my mind: What if something is going to happen? What if I get pulled over? What is going to happen? Is that cop going be respectful? Is he going be one of those new cops who needs to prove himself? Or whatever- so that’s in the back of my mind. I feel like Gilbert just needs to be diverse and welcoming. Right now I’m at the chance to leave Gilbert and move to Mesa. Because Mesa has the Multicultural Center, because they now have Downtown Mesa- you see different stuff. So I’m at the part right now where I will be moving to Mesa, I’m not sure when, but I think that I have lived my time in Gilbert because of its lack of diversity and acceptance for people, Black men like me- and other Black families- or Hispanic families- or Asian families. So I think as you guys end this Gilbert Leadership 25 you guys can make that difference, you can make it so other families think it’s a safe environment to live in. I think it is a safe environment, but it’s lacking and it needs to stop lacking. It needs to grow and think outside of the box.

Krickette: I’m trying to figure out how to articulate it. Thank you for inviting me. [Pause] I think everything that has been said has been important matters. I think for my own self, for diversity, it looks different.

Elaine: Now let me add: Diversity is what you see, and what you don’t see, and I didn’t ‘out’ anyone on the panel. Some of the stuff you can see and some of the stuff you can’t see. I am giving them to opportunity to present themselves in the fashion that they feel comfortable.

Krickette: So the reason I’m appreciating this experience so much is, my heart is pounding, I don’t even know if I can say what I think makes me diverse. And I get to hide it! I don’t have to deal with some of the things that have been shared. I am a liberal Mormon- extremely liberal Mormon. And it causes a lot of angst for me to be… The minute people find out… There’s a lot of judgment that comes with that. There’s all kinds of stuff that comes with it. It’s different than having a different skin color, for sure. In this community, specifically, if I could raise my magic wand, if we could just get rid of the religious tension that’s here. And the judgment on how people believe what they believe. People could experience their own diversity in their own way. I have people, moms, come to me and ask: Do you let your kids play with not-Mormon kids? I say: “Yes” “They kind of prefer not-Mormon kids!” [Audience laughs]

I have a 10 year old with purple hair. Someone asked me, “Well, how was that for you at church?” Well people don’t mess with me so much. But, you know, it’s not that way for everyone. And I don’t want people who are diverse from me to think that I’m that group that’s judging them the minute I see them because I’m some religious affiliation. There you have it, I’m done [Audience chuckle].

Robert: Kind of like his story as well (Theo’s), I grew up in Gilbert as well- been here all my life. I went to Gilbert Elementary as well- I had a very different experience. I was a low income, Latino, grew up behind Gilbert Heritage, right behind So-Cal. The apartments that they just recently painted. I grew up in a house there, it was recently torn down to make room for that parking lot right behind So-Cal. So, I have a perspective, I had these great amount of opportunities growing up. Specifically from the various Gilbert schools here. I felt like I was always looked after -my family and I- we were always given ways to thrive, my sister and I. And I felt like going through the school systems in Gilbert helped me come to the opportunities I am now. I have two Masters degrees: One in Social Work, and another in Public Administration. I feel that that has molded me into who I am now. Now I’m working in the school systems and I’m looking at it from the perspective of the adult, and as an employee, and a community member…And, as a child, I didn’t necessarily see the ‘color-line’ but as an adult I see it now. Most of the time I’m the youngest person in the room, and usually the only Latino (minority in the group). But if I had to take a magic wand and would say one thing I would change: Is continue to create opportunities for our young people and continue to even the playing field. Not everyone has the same opportunities in this community. It’s not even. You can see that, and know what I’m talking about. Particularly in reference to kids- not all kids have access to Sister Cities and those kind of programs that the community offers. The kids that are at lower-incomes or who are minorities, they don’t have the resources or the opportunities that maybe this person does. They need to have access to apply to those types of programs. That’s where we come in and I think that education is where we try to create those and make those avenues for everyone. That would be my magic wand: Where we can even the playing field for everyone.

Elaine: Who is caring about diversity? So from your vantage point… Why does a diverse community matter? I asked each of you to share with me ahead of time your perspectives on diversity. So for the leaders of the room: can you create for us, why should we care about diversity? Why should we have more diversity in Gilbert? Why does there need to be more diversity in Gilbert?

Kina: So I went to Pepperdine Law School- In Malibu, California. My first year roommate was somebody from Scottsdale. And I didn’t have a car, I couldn’t have a car, I couldn’t afford it. She said: “Why don’t you have a car?” We’re in law school, and we went to undergrad, and she had this look of extreme puzzlement on her face. She said, “Why won’t your parents buy you a car?” I said, “My parents can’t afford to buy me a car.” She just said, “Oh.” And walked away. I could tell that she just didn’t get it. I think that you have to appreciate the ‘Other’. A part of diversity – and hey – I chose to move here, no one made me move here. No one is holding me hostage. I’m free to leave. It’s not that type of thing. But I think that Gilbert could be better.

So when my son started kindergarten he was telling me how all the kids how all the kids liked to rub his head – to feel his hair. Because it’s different. I wrote the teacher and said, “Can you please stop having his peers ‘pet’ him? He’s not an animal.” She said, “Oh I just thought it would be a good experience for them to touch that.” These are the kind of things that people should be able to respect other peoples differences. Within the Gilbert education system we need to learn about other’s peoples differences and then they might just ask, “Oh can I touch your hair?” and even if they do I would train my son to say, “No.” But you have to have to appreciate it. I think that where we go wrong here is this concept of: I don’t see color. You’re lying. One. And two, you need to see color. If I did the same for my hair what you do with your hair: I’d be bald. Those things matter. Oh that’s different. Google is phenomenal you can look things up. You ask. You can engage, you can have conversation like in the exhibit. But you have to acknowledge that we’re different. And different doesn’t necessarily means bad.

Mary Ellen: I’ll share a story with you. It’s sort of stayed with me all my life even thought it happened to me when I was five years old. My brother and my sister and I all went to school in northern New Mexico. I went in as Marialana (Spelling?) – and I lived my life as Mary Ellen. So even thought my parents named me that my teachers would not would not call me that. They would Not. My parents went and said, “That’s not her name.” And the teachers continued to call me that. I’ve lived my life as Mary Ellen So I’ve gone through life thinking that Mary Ellen is some woman with red hair, pigtails, and freckles. Not me. My family calls me Marialana (Spelling?).

Elaine: I’m going to call you Marialana (Spelling?)  now [Laughter] Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that. That name is beautiful. Wow. Anyone else want to add anything, because I want to rift off that for a second. So that’s interesting… The naming. It makes me think about the intersections of our identities. The mirrors in the exhibit, the ones that we wrote on with white board markers. We have different identities on the mirror. So it might be our sexual orientation,  and our marital status, or our gender identity, or racial/ethnicity identity. How do the intersections of our identities complicate our existence in the world. And in Gilbert in particular. It’s a question I threw out there by email to you all. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on that. Complications of our identities and how they intersect.

Kina: I have an idea about everything! [Audience laughs]

Krickette: So I’m a social worker first, I’m thinking about what Kina said and Elaine and I have this conversation a few times- so you guys are just going to have to understand, I might get emotional about this, but I think it’s time for me to say this. I was raised in Wyoming, in a northern town, where everyone looked like me, there was no racial diversity. I don’t think I developed a lot of bias, but I (I’m not sure if you develop it) had a lot of ignorance. I probably would have been the one touching peoples hair because I had no idea. Then I went to college and I got my Masters degree in social work- and I thought I had this whole racial thing figured out. I don’t. There’s things that make me uncomfortable to look at. There’s things that make me uncomfortable to look at and listen to. I think the intersections of me being someone who fights for social justice who wants more than anything to end poverty, and homelessness. That is so do-able it’s sickening. It’s so do-able and we’re not doing it. So I have this church thing over here [gestured to right] and this mom thing over here [gestures left] then that there’s that fact in between that I’m White! [gestures center]. There is privilege that comes with that. Whether I want to acknowledge that or not. Whether or not that makes me comfortable or not. I want to be able to start having conversations about that. To be able to have a conversation about race. To talk about race and have it not be some traumatic thing for everyone in the room. For people to be able to tell me when I say something ignorant. Because I do. I say stuff that I don’t even… I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what my intentions are- I say things I just don’t understand how it lands for some people. For this community to have those conversations? You know? That would be amazing. That to me is the reason and the intersection… Where we can actually just talk about those. This is who I am; and the other piece of that is human beings as adults don’t grow or develop unless you have something coming from outside of your comfort zone. If everything is exactly like you are… Nothing. There is no growth or development there. Growth and development comes from diversity. If we ever want to be ANY better we can’t do it staying just like we are. Any of us. Okay, I’m done again. For now.

Robert: I’ll piggy back off that. Also a social worker here. Part of our job as a social worker is to always remain culturally competent. We always need to be educated on the culture, and different cultures within the community and also the culture of the community. Going back to the instance with Kina’s son- I’ve dealt with that situation before. Where we had to educate teachers about those kind of things. I work over at Sonoma Ranch and we have a wide range of individuals from different countries- but to follow up with what she said: We have to be, and want to learn- So learning about the different people in the community, I know there’s not a lot of representation in this community but learning about people from the Middle East, learning about the Latino culture. We need to immerse ourselves and educate ourselves in order to really move forward. Have those conversations with those people. I’m totally open to answering questions about my culture and background- as well as other cultures I know about. Going back to Kina’s statement, about the ‘Other’ within the school system, it’s something I have to deal with all the time. Particularly when parents state that word. But again: Open your mind to wanting to be educated about other people is where we start.

Elaine: Theo? You made a motion? Would you like to speak?

Theo: Oh! No I was just scratching [Laughter] I had an itch sorry!

Elaine: [Laughing] Oh! Well go ahead.

Theo: I’m pretty sure you’ve deal with this in the social system, dealing with children who are coming out? Alright so for Gilbert: It’s there but it’s hidden. So there’s a lot of Gay families that are in Gilbert, a lot of closet people in Gilbert, because of fear of humiliation… Just Big Fear. Period. So for me: I have Black, Male, Gay, Living in Gilbert – So I have four things against me. [Laughter] Four things against me, here in Gilbert. I feel like now is the time for Gilbert to accept Gay families. I go to First Methodist Church in Gilbert- there’s a couple Gay families there in Gilbert. Which I am ecstatic about! They sit in the front pew, we have a woman pastor- which I’m ecstatic about. They also finish earlier [Laughs] they get done quick! [Banter]

I’m ecstatic to see Gay families being seen and not just being in the shadows. For me- I have a new normal- because… I have a boyfriend… Who’s here. I’m not going to give away his stuff but…[pause]

[Boyfriend in audience chuckles and replies] Just go ahead!

Theo: So he was married, he’s divorced- he has two kids, two grandkids, two son in laws. They have welcomed me to his side of the family. I go shopping with his daughters, his wife, hang out with the grandkids. He has a new grandson, which his son-in-law calls me “Grandma Theo” [Laughter] Still working on that one… [Laughter continues]

But if his family can be accepting like that, Gilbert can be accepting like that. His family lives here too. If his family is able to open up, invite me over to dinner, Thanksgiving, stuff like that- Gilbert can do that too. I think Gilbert is afraid of what else is out there. Scared of having a Gay community, Gay families being a part of it. Sorry- I kind of jumped around there- I’m surprised that Gilbert has that adult store named Curves.

Elaine corrects politely: Groove! [Laughter]

Theo: Not Curves?!

Elaine: Two separate companies…

Theo: Oh yea! Okay Groove, sorry. [Laughs]

Elaine: It’s a cool store.

Theo: Sorry, we’re in a church so I’m trying to be good.

Elaine: Support local! [Laughter]

Theo: It’s an adult store. I’m surprised that’s there. Like Lo Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, I’m surprised too, that’s a Minority owned store. Like our conversation we had- it took 15 years for that. Because Gilbert didn’t think that, that type of food would thrive in Gilbert. Now if you look at it’s packed! It’s inviting if you invite people in and they’ll want to stay. But if you ostracize them out- I don’t think Gilbert wants to be one of those types of towns. To be known as: If you’re not a certain religion or race, you’re not welcome. I’m not talking bad about all of Gilbert. There are amazing people in Gilbert, like all of you in this room, who want to learn and want to grow. That want to make a difference.

We need to get out there, we need to let them know, “Hey it’s not bad, don’t be scared, come play, and have fun.” Show the perks of Gilbert as well. Sorry- my mind is everywhere [Laughter].

Elaine: Okay, on that note. We have grown really fast. I’m sure you all read that Gilbert has doubled in size every 5 years since 1980. We’ve doubled in size but we haven’t grown in Diversity. Why do you think that is? Panelists? How can we invite more people of different backgrounds to join us in Gilbert. What do we need to do branding wise? Marketing wise? What do we need to do?

Theo: I would go off and say have your own event. Don’t be a part of other cities. Do your own MLK Parade. Don’t be a part of Mesa. I think Gilbert should make their own.

Elaine: Would people come?

Kina: But we have “Global Village” [Laughter]

Theo: That thing does not represent…

Mary Ellen: I’ll make two comments: 1. About “Global Village” It is a beautiful day, but I think when you celebrate everything, you don’t celebrate anything. I do think that was a way for our Leaders to get away from having to celebrate any specific culture. I will give you an example: I would say this was 5-8 years ago, there was going to be a speaker at the Town Council Chambers. (Stella) Duarte She’s from Arizona- I’m not sure exactly- But she’s a Latina author. She’s very well known, a great speaker, she packs houses all the time. She was down there, and I thought I’d go listen and see what she had to say. I went in and there was a catered luncheon. Council members were there. At the time there was a school children on stage dancing and you could hear a lot of that celebration. As the kids finished we proceeded in, all the kids left and parents. This woman spoke to not more than 15 people. So if you can image the Council Chambers with just 15 people it was really really sad.

She went up there, and she looked, she must had been shocked. She said: “I don’t know why I’m here. I was invited. Why should I think people in Gilbert know me… So I’m just going to speak as if the room was packed.” She proceeded to give an incredible talk about her books, and her life.

It was a great talk- people should have been there.

As we were leaving a couple council members turned to Me and said, “Mary Allen Where’s your friends?” “Why weren’t they here?” I thought, “It’s not MY friends that need this! It’s YOUR friends!” [Laughter] But I have a feeling that because of a failed event, maybe we did go to “Global Village” type of event. Because that was really said.

Speaking of Lo Lo’s by the way… I was at a talent show for the Gilbert Hispanic Heritage Month Boys and Girls Club and the caterers fell through. Lo Lo’s, with a less than two hour notice, jumped in a saved the day for a large event.

Krickette: What was the questions?

Elaine: How do we market?

Krickette: How about we get some affordable housing here? How about we make some safety net services readily available for someone who ends up in some kind of hardship. And needs a little help. You can get it everywhere else. There’s services.

Robert: Mental health.

Krickette: Definitely mental health. I have heard council members who are friends of mine say that: Housing is not a right. And I don’t understand that kind of thinking because it’s actually illegal to be trespassing on anyone’s property. Everything is owned. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do if you don’t have enough money to live some place. Affordable housing is not something we’ve wanted, it’s not on the radar. Council has, over and over, even tried to turn federal money back. We have all kinds of diversity but economic diversity is a really big factor there. It’s really hard for teachers who teach our children in this area to live here. To be able to afford to buy a house.

Kina: You have to marry up! [Laughter]

Krickette: I want my children’s teachers to live in this community because their invested here. It’s a different dynamic. If we don’t start looking at that kind of stuff… We can bring in some level of diversity but if we don’t start looking at whole socio-economic scale then we’re going to never attain that.

Elaine: How can we start doing that? In this room?

Mary Ellen: Go to council meetings! Start pressuring the council to get involved. What was just mentioned: Not so long ago….We wanted to send CPPT(?) funds (Community Development Plot Grants) We get about 9 hundred thousand dollars. About 300 thousand of that is for housing. We wanted to send it back. We don’t need it. The reality was that if we turn away the funds they weren’t going to go back to Washington, they were going to go to Scottsdale. Because we didn’t want them. The last few years we have accepted them- I don’t think it’s been used for affordable housing. If everybody engages at the council level, at the study sessions.

Theo: I think this goes back to what you said about the voting. If we start… we can shout till our head turns blue. But maybe if there are people who were in council who wanted to change their minds. If they’re set on their ways.

Elaine: We can vote.

Theo: Some way to turn this around. To have people who look at options and bring diversity to the community.

Robert: Going back to the housing thing. The thing that’s not talked about a whole lot is the Heritage District. It continues to grow. We forget that we have tons of families that live behind there. We forgot about than when Whiskey Row opened. There’s kids that live there. There’s a lot of lower income families that live there. There are houses that are back there that have been there for decades- living there for multiple generations of their families. I don’t think we’re thinking about that when we’re building there and we’re running people out of Gilbert. They go to these other cities like Mesa or Chandler. Where they can find affordable housing. That’s one of my bigger concerns that relates to affordable housing.

Krickette: What can we do? Thinking about how can we bring more affordable housing. Gilbert doesn’t do a homeless count here. Every other county counts their homeless people because you get some funds to help deal with that. Do you know many we’ve got right now, kids?

Audience member: 360.

Krickette: That’s a lot! But we’re not counting. Let’s not count that. But we should know those things. I think that on a personal level- we should know our neighbor and have conversations with people who look and act different than you. Those and that is how it starts. You start building a community where it’s a different kind of safe- Are we still the second ‘safest’? Not just the second safest ranking! But where people actual feel that way. Because if we really felt that way we wouldn’t be afraid of diversity.

Kandice: I think part of the problem is also that we tend to stick together and not engage with everybody else. The other day at school drop-off one of the other parents, he was talking to me and my wife and made a comment like: “Oh, we have to stick together. Us.” It kind of clicked in my head, “Because we’re the minority.” They had a fun little chat about it. But I think that, kind of, part of the problem. We tend to hide or stay in our houses, leave to go to Phoenix to go dancing! God Forbid, if I try to go dance with my wife at the new place here. We’d loved to. But I’m afraid to!

Elaine: The Concert Series at the Water Tower you guys should go dancing there.

Kandice: It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. But I’m a big believer in “The energy you put out there, is the energy you’re going to get back.” I’m working on that, personally, trying to get out there more. I think that’s part of the problem. I think we tend to stay ‘safe’ and being with our ‘peeps’ and our ‘tribe’. That keeps us safe.

Elaine: We’re going to wrap up. I’m breaking up some of the things people said up here: Be curious. Be curious. Be brave. Be open. Engage.

The take-away, everything that people can do, starting today, Go out and meet five of your neighbors. I think we think that sounds like a lot. You think you know your neighbors. But I’m going to go out and meet and know their names. Go out and find out what makes them interesting and diverse.

Elaine: Get to know five of your neighbors and bring them all to vote.

Audience member: I was just going to say about voting. If everyone in this room voted. And had ten people vote as well. It’s that simple. If we each took the responsibility to take a family member and friend. That is the margin of difference in the council election.

Thank you!

[Claps]