As I sat watching the scholarship awards presentation at the IndyBar’s Diversity Job Fair Luncheon last week, something one of the award presenters said made me turn my head, take pause and question if I had really heard the right words. As he continued talking, I realized that, yes, I had heard him correctly. He had stood up in front of a room of law students and legal employers at a job fair celebrating diversity and had very clearly stated: “Diversity can be ugly.”
The statement really caught me off guard. I had never thought of diversity as something that could be ugly. How could it be ugly when it was something that we were in the middle of celebrating? As I looked around the room, I saw the bright faces of law students from various ethnic, racial and social backgrounds, all eager to obtain a legal job in Indianapolis. It was an impressive sight. Nothing ugly about it. And we had just shared with everyone in attendance that this was the 10th year of the IndyBar placing law students from the fair with various legal employers in Indianapolis. This success seemed far from ugly to me.
But my friend and colleague, David Corbitt, had a different view of diversity to share when he firmly stated that there was an ugly side to diversity. I have known David for more than half my life, as we went to high school together at North Central (probably one of the most diverse high schools in Indiana at the time). And I know that David is not afraid to speak his mind and to challenge those around him. He had a challenge for all of us in the audience that day: Were we going to sit idly by and let others make diversity ugly through events like those in Charlottesville, Virginia, or were we going to continue to celebrate the beauty of diversity with conscious thought and effort by participating in events such as the IndyBar Diversity Job Fair?
He reminded us that the seeds of bias, intolerance and ignorance are born in both action and our own inaction. While he was not asking us to organize a rally on the courthouse steps against bigotry and hate, he was asking us as a bar association and community to continue to reflect on the events around us and to commit to working together to combat ignorance.
David’s words resonated with me all night and into the next morning, and that is why they are the topic of my news this week. I don’t want diversity to be ugly. I want it to be stunning, like the family friends that often come to mind when discussing these issues. This family is a melting pot. Mom is Caucasian, Dad is Filipino, their oldest son is African-American and their three younger children are a mix of Caucasian and Filipino heritage. To me, this is diversity in all its glory, and it is something that we should celebrate, just as a room full of eager law students with family histories from all across the globe is something that we should cherish in our city.
This brings me back to the thoughts that I shared with you earlier this year. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, we cannot sit idle on the sidelines. Rather, we must act on “the fierce urgency of now” and follow our charge to act on behalf of others. So again, I ask, will you use your unique skills as an attorney to engage in critical thinking and constructive discourse to celebrate the beauty of diversity? Or will you remain silent and still, allowing the ugly side of diversity to cast a shadow over our community? Together, I know that we can seize this moment and this urgency to make a difference.