What can we do in the coming New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization?
BY WILLIAM D. SESSOMS JR.
I detest extremes.
Although there are people who engage in extreme thinking in Virginia Beach, they comprise a very small group. Most residents appreciate the diversity of our community. Rather than a melting pot where all the flavors blend in, it’s like a tossed salad where each distinct flavor contributes to the end result.
Virginia Beach has a beautiful mix of people who are African-American, Filipino, Asian, Latino, American Indian and those who look like me. While people here have a great deal of pride in their personal histories and cherish the customs, culture and traditions of their ancestors, their pride does not stop them from connecting with and appreciating people who are different.
Everywhere I go in this city, I see harmony in action. In the morning when I’m driving to work or going to the gym, I see diverse people — walking together on the feeder road or the boardwalk. I go into the schools and see people helping every student — no matter what they look like. Last spring when a tornado ripped through several Virginia Beach neighborhoods, I saw people helping their fellow citizens — nobody turned up their nose because their neighbor was different. I saw the same last year when Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc.
Bev and I have always had a medley of friends, so when my children were young, they never gave a second thought to forging friendships with people because their physical characteristics were different from ours.
Virginia Beach is “an inclusive community that is welcoming and empowers all.” That’s one of the City Council’s 10 strategic goals. Our police department is an impressive example of an agency that embraces all the diverse people on its force and throughout our community.
Virginia Beach is a city where everyone’s doing all they can to support each other, yet to say that race is not an issue would be wrong. To say that sexual orientation is not an issue would also be wrong. However I sincerely believe that one day, it will not be an issue. If Virginia Beach is to continue to be the greatest city in the world, we must all work together to eradicate hatred.
How? Parents can raise their children to be kind to everybody — regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
“If you see something, say something” is a slogan typically used to encourage public safety. Likewise, “if you hear something, say something” is a practice to build a stronger culture of friendship. Should you hear members of your inner circles utter derogatory slurs, pull them aside and give them something to ponder by sharing a more open-minded view.
We must get hatred out of the equation. I believe we are making progress — it’s just going to take more time.
The Independent News posed a question to community leaders, writers and artists: What can we do in the coming New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization? If you would like to share your own thoughts, respond to this project or even complain, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sessoms is the mayor of Virginia Beach.
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