Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
That sentiment is just as true today as it was 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Movement catapulted the nation into an uncomfortable truth about the consequences of communities clinging to the familiar and out casting the unknown. Today, headlines and newsfeeds remind us that prejudices still penetrate every region, city and home.
This leaves many asking, including the OC Register in its July 11 editorial, “Is there a solution to America’s racial divide?” Posing a series of questions, the Editorial Board urged the community to start a difficult discussion on race relations and diversity. In an unprecedented move, Orange County Business Council (OCBC) responded by bringing together on August 12 almost 50 of the county’s prominent business, education, nonprofit, and faith leaders to begin a dialogue of listening and understanding.
At first, for an early morning meeting, the room was abuzz with vibrant chatter as old friends and new embraced and welcomed each other. But no one could ignore the lightly veiled nerves vibrating under the surface. What place does business have in discussing racial and diversity issues? Will this be perceived as inclusion or ignorance? Will a discussion of this nature really produce solutions? Does Orange County even have a racial divide?
Deftly moderated by OCBC’s Lucy Dunn and OC Register’s Brian Calle, guests began to open up, expressing frustration and sharing first-hand accounts of prejudice experienced here. It became clear that Orange County is not immune to the same roots of injustice felt by the rest of the nation. This, despite our celebration of diversity in people and culture as no one ethnicity dominates the demographics, and many thriving internationally-connected communities and businesses make Orange County home.
Clearly, there’s more work to be done as it appears ethnic communities may still experience “de facto segregation,” which impedes success for many families. For example, Little Saigon is the largest Vietnamese settlement in the U.S., while Santa Ana is the most Latino populated city in the U.S.—gems of cultural influence, but with pockets of poverty, housing density, limits on educational attainment, and crime.
The keys to unlocking issues of racial divide are expanding opportunities for quality education, employment, housing and health—initiatives promoted by OCBC, its partners like United Way, and were echoed by roundtable participants as critical to economic prosperity and a high quality of life.
By removing the veil participants agreed that Orange County, like other communities across the nation, does have a racial divide — but it’s not unsolvable. The solution begins with getting outside your comfort zone. Visit other neighborhoods or another’s church, look for role models with diverse leadership, and engage with people from all walks of life. Your lens of the world is vastly different from someone in another community, a colleague or a neighbor, and even your own children. Listen to other’s stories, connect on the similarities, learn from, respect and even celebrate the differences—see the person.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
OCBC and its business partners rose to the challenge and every participant was better for it. As a Millennial in the room, it was humbling to see generations before me unite and tackle what some considered a “taboo” topic for far too long. While the fear and ignorance of yesterday lingers on, today’s openness to diversity and continuing the conversation is the path to success.
Delaine Moore is the Communications Director for Orange County Business Council.