Tolerance Through Education

"Tolerance Through Education" is the message of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, which it intentionally broadens through its programming beyond the museum's roots in the issue of religious tolerance. For instance, racial tolerance is still a big issue in Virginia.

Nonprofits, which are by tradition agents of social change, have by and large not done enough in this area. In this week's Chronicle of Philanthropy, we learn that our boards remain 88% white. It is hard to imagine how we can be social change agents if we fare so poorly at changing ourselves.

A recent incident in one of my volunteer involvements has made me much more sensitive to deep-seated discrimination against gays. It is difficult not to be aware of this issue in Virginia, given the press coverage of the Episcopal Church, the social agenda of many in our State Legislature and now the reaction to J.K. Rowling's revelation about Dumbledore. When you become personally involved in an issue, it acquires new poignancy.

I have long felt, but feel even more strongly now, that the positive message of "Tolerance Through Education" could be stronger. We need to be more than tolerance. As a Jew, I have long felt comfortable in Christian Church services with the message to love one's neighbor as oneself. "Love" seems to me more powerful and impactful than "tolerance."

In today's Richmond-Times Dispatch, four local leaders are announced as being honored at the 45th annual Richmond Humanitarian Awards Dinner, sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, originally founded as the Virginia Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Perhaps among 45 years of these awardees we can find some of the leadership to transcend the barriers so we can achieve true diversity.

Dr. Donald Dawe, retired professor at Union/PSCE and former Presbyterian minister, said it well in a recent talk where he described America as becoming more of a "salad bowl" than a "mixing bowl." Whereas once we all (theoretically) settled here and melded together our differences, today we each maintain our distinctness. In Dr. Dawe's analogy, our task today is to ensure that all of the distinct elements of the salad work complement one another.

Making the salad taste good is not a given; it requires a skilled chef. It takes leadership. Now is time for those willing to lead on diversity issues to step forward and to take a stand. Our nation's nonprofits need to fulfill their role as agents for social change and provide these leaders the platform to make it happen.

Robert Thalhimer

Posted at 8:32 AM, Oct 24, 2007 in Peace and Justice | Permalink | Comment