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georgia turner
LEADERS — At left, Savannah-Jane Griffin and Joanne Harris-Duff lead the first diversity and inclusivity training April 25.

Diversity, inclusivity, equity; they’re all ideas we can get behind. Toward these goals, the City of DeLand and the County of Volusia recently supported the MainStreet DeLand Association in its effort to offer free training in diversity and inclusion to Downtown DeLand businesses — and anyone else who wants to learn.

On April 25, an appreciative audience began the process in the first 90-minute training session. Ninety-five people registered to attend, and comments by the participants indicated they got a lot out of it, and were very glad to be there.

One commenter remarked on the diversity of the participants, who included DeLand’s fire chief and other city staff members, for example, along with representatives of the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce and elected officials, business owners and Downtown workers. Attendees came in a variety of colors and ages.

Another participant expressed heartfelt gratitude for the series of programs, saying she wants to help DeLand become a community where her 13-year-old son doesn’t have to fear authorities because of the color of his skin.

The remarkable thing about this wonderful program is that, after July 1, it could be illegal to offer it, or to ask employees to attend it.

On April 22, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 7, known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. The new law — billed as a way to protect Floridians from the boogeyman of “wokeness” — does a lot of bad things. One of those things is to outlaw requiring — or even “subjecting employees to” — diversity and inclusivity training in the workplace.

These trainings, in the new law, are defined as any discussion arguing concepts like, “A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Its language is vague enough to keep attorneys busy for years, arguing about whether this thing or that is covered by the law. It’s also vague enough to frighten many leaders away from offering programs like MainStreet’s recently launched training.

Framing racism as anything other than an individual moral failing makes the governor — and the members of the Florida Legislature who voted with him to pass this new law — uncomfortable. In reality, the policies DeSantis and his camp are supporting — including making it more difficult to vote, limiting our First Amendment right to protest, and clamping down on free speech with Stop W.O.K.E. — are deeply entrenched in our collective racist past.

We can all agree that creating spaces where everyone feels respected and valued is important. And, doing so often means having uncomfortable conversations about assumptions we make without thinking.

We salute the MainStreet DeLand Association — and DeLand and Volusia County — for their efforts to create a space where people can have those kinds of conversations, and learn from each other.

And, we’re delighted that the five-session series will conclude before this law takes effect — provided the many legal challenges against it don’t stop it from taking effect at all.

The governor might feel guilty about being reminded of the racism that built our country and our state, but we don’t. And we don’t feel guilty, either, for trying to create a better community for everyone.

Want the training?

Registration for the MainStreet DeLand Association training series is still open at the organization’s website, www.mainstreetdeland.org.

The training is free, but registration assures that you receive email communications about the classes, which is necessary to document your attendance for the certification that’s available when the series ends.

Topics remaining in the series are: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility 101 (May 9), Healing Our Racial History (May 23), Implicit Bias (June 13) and LGBTQIA Safe Zone Training (June 27).

Sessions are 4:30-6 p.m. at The Dreka Theater, 112 E. New York Ave. in Downtown DeLand, but participants may also attend online. And, the first session, What Does It Mean to Be an Inclusive Leader?, and eventually the other sessions, will be posted for watching on the MainStreet website — so long as it is legal to do so.

For more information, email inclusiondeland@gmail.com.

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