Us: Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, founder of the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach


What can we do in the New Year to help build inclusive communities amid a time of polarization?


From the beginning of time, humans joined together to form communities because it gave a sense of security. The animals formed herds for in unity they gained strength. Maya Angelou said “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” I believe this must be built on a foundation of cultural values, moral consciousness and empathy in order to answer the ageless question:  Am I my brother’s keeper?  

The reality is, change takes time. We must change our mindset to embrace inclusiveness. We must understand that under our multiplicity of skin tones, we all bleed red when our blood is exposed to the elements. Hate crimes are prompted through ignorance. No one is born a racist, but learns over time what to embrace and what to detest. Acculturation should be a norm in Hampton Roads because of its heavy military presence which brings people from all ethnic and racial cultures, beliefs and values, but we see that each sector brings with them what they have been taught over time. Assimilation begins with intentional education about each other’s differences. 

We will always fear the unknown, but taking steps to learn about each other and actively listening to why people have a different lifestyle or belief — and making an effort to accept others for who they are — will bring us closer to building an inclusive community. These steps will help us realize that there is more that unites us than separates us. 

More importantly, we must educate our next generation that it is right to be who you are. We all occupy this planet and none of the scientists have discover anther populated planet to migrate thus far. We all breathe the same air, whether you are a millionaire or a pauper. We must avoid labeling others for the sake of agreeing with the status quo. Inclusivity means accepting our disabled, LGBT and international brothers and sisters, as well as erasing the separatist names of majority and minority, black or white, gay or straight and Christians or non-Christians. No one has been back to tell us which one is more accepted in the afterlife, so why should we be so judgmental in our daily lives? 

We are part of a society that thrives on aphorisms because they are comforting answers to questions we do not understand. Instead, we should strive for leaving the world a better place than we found it. We cannot take our earthly possessions with us, no matter how much we accumulate, so let’s learn to share what we have instead of perpetuating marginality. Exchange exclusivity for inclusivity. Embrace and celebrate our fortune by serving a purpose greater than ourselves. Everyone has something to bring to the table.

Take the first step towards building a more inclusive community in the New Year. Reach out and dine with someone out of your immediate circle, and you will learn that the others have similar goals for their children. 

We can all work towards cures for illnesses that afflict our communities. It is too easy to have our own inner circles and pretend others do not exist. We cannot continue to live in a bubble or we will never expand our horizon.  Social media is a great tool, but it can never take the place of physically connecting with another human being. We pride ourselves on how many friends we have through this medium, but have we really taken the effort to reach out and touch our virtual community? 

There is so much to learn about each other. In doing so, hate crimes and divisive language being used as today’s norm instead of the exception will gradually wean and lose their venomous power promulgated by fear of the unknown.

It is not cool to hate or hurt others by name calling, brutal attacks, bullying or shunning others because of religious, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Take a minute to walk in someone else’s shoes or simply set aside time to intentionally immerse yourself in another one’s culture and values. Education is the key to self-empowerment and building the confidence needed to face adversity, dispelling it with love for yourself and others. Make a commitment this New Year to reach beyond your community and include someone. Be an advocate for the change you wish to see. 

Courageously step outside your comfort zone and begin to form an inclusive rather than an exclusive community. Self-aggrandizement has no place in our society. No one is an island. It shows a sense of contempt for the human race and calls for an introspective analysis of our purpose and what we value.

Change and cultural shift takes time. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has … Always remember that you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else.” Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me — and you. 

Artist rendering courtesy of the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach

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

The author, a retired Norfolk State University professor, served on the Virginia Beach City Council representing the Kempsville District. She is the founder and executive director for project management of the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach.

© 2017, 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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