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When Veterans United’s manager of diversity and inclusion programs, Loreli Wilson, first took her position, she searched for larger diversity programs to connect with across Columbia. She was surprised to find none.
What would eventually become Columbia’s Diversity Awareness Partnership originally started as an initiative by professionals, like Wilson, from VU, Shelter Insurance, and MU. Having only been working within their own companies, they linked up to spread their mission of discussing and embracing diversity across Columbia and beyond. After broadening their search, the initiative group connected with the Diversity Awareness Partnership in St. Louis.
“It seemed like a natural fit to take the energy and enthusiasm we had here and partner it with the stability of the program in St. Louis,” DAP advisory board member Amanda Andrade says.
The St. Louis DAP already had framework, a board, and 501(c)(3) status. In March of 2015, the Columbia branch of DAP was born.
DAP Columbia modifies the successful programming in St. Louis to suit mid-Missouri. It is funded by its corporate sponsors, VU, Commerce Bank, and Shelter Insurance, and interested individuals can also partner with the program through a DAP Connect membership.
The Columbia location is what Nikki McGruder calls “a one-woman show,” though she is thankful for the support of the advisory board and professionals at other institutions. McGruder, who came to DAP from a corporate career at Edward Jones, is the regional manager of the Columbia DAP. She’s the woman behind scheduling, communicating, planning training sessions, and programming.
“It’s a leap to go from a corporate to a nonprofit life,” McGruder says. “It’s hard when you’re in a large organization to really see how your role fits into the big picture.”
With her new role, McGruder feels a sense of purpose and drive.
“I’m just proud that an organization like this exists, where I can bring my whole self to it,” she says. “I don’t have to minimize who I am, even as a black woman with natural hair, just in my brown skin, just doing what I do.”
McGruder and her advisory board know that this isn’t the case for everyone at every workplace. That’s what they’re trying to change.
DAP doesn’t just focus on race; it focuses on all areas of diversity, including “conversations around disability, sexual orientation, aging, and gender identity,” advisory board member Stacye Smith says. In early August, McGruder received an email request to do a dialogue session on religion. Her response: “Absolutely.”
DAP Columbia also hosts Listen, Talk, Learn sessions, or sessions of dialogue on racial differences and similarities. Their first session took place in July 2015 at Hickman High School, after turmoil in Ferguson. There were 40 participants.
“I think when we did that first one . . . we just proved that you didn’t have to live in Ferguson, you didn’t have to live in Baltimore, you didn’t have to live in New York, you didn’t have to live in any of those places where incidents — if you will, tragedies — had happened to be affected,” McGruder says.
The Concerned Student 1950 protesting at MU in the fall of 2015 helped fuel DAP’s presence in the community. “It was evident that there was a need, and we were on time to come here,” McGruder says.
DAP offers programs for minority youth to shadow and talk with professionals in the community to get a feel for which career paths they like and dislike. The DAP’s first session will explore the accounting field with the Trulaske College of Business. DAP also held a Diverse-City Art Competition, in which K–12 students illustrated what diversity meant to them. Winners were showcased at Art in the Park.
The organization goes straight to the workplace as well. DAP hosts trainings in-house for businesses, such as programs called “The ABCs of LGBTQ” and “Demystifying Disability in the Workplace.” They have diversity trainings for businesses who are looking to start dialogue on myriad topics.
“We work with pretty much anyone, so we’ll have businesses and organizations, nonprofits, community members that want to start having conversations around diversity and don’t really know where to start,” McGruder says.
They also host sessions to address unconscious bias in the workplace. Advisory board member Amber Cheek says that some people consider diversity training to be a one-hour session or video and leave it at that; Cheek and the rest of DAP encourage continued, open dialogue.
The better a workplace is at inclusion, the more appreciation employees and clients will have for a company, and the more people the company will be able to serve, Cheek says.
Stacye Smith says: “We’ve got a lot of diversity in our community, and guess what? If we have it in our community, we have it in our workplace.”
1605 Chapel Hill Rd., Suite F
Provides programming and training on diversity and inclusion
Dr. Amanda Andrade, Loreli Wilson, Stacye Smith, Charles Hunter, Amber Cheek, Orvil Savery, Dr. Laine Young-Walker, Veronica Shultz, Dr. Eryca Neville, Brian C. Jones