UCC-related Cedar Community in West Bend, Wis., began hosting an annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in 2015, an event originally organized by resident the Rev. Ralph Faisst. That celebration sparked the interest of then ministry director, the Rev. Kathryn Kuhn, who was interested in further exploring racial diversity and issues surrounding the topic. After the event, Kathryn reached out to several residents to have further conversations on racial diversity. From those conversations came the resident Diversity Group. Its mission is to “educate, promote and partner with others in activities and events that affirm diversity.”
At about the same time the Diversity Group was getting started, the United Church of Christ launched “White Privilege: Let’s Talk,” an adult education curriculum and webinar series that leads participants through four key focus areas, each discussing a different aspect of the dynamic of white privilege. The curriculum was offered to the Diversity Group in the summer of 2017, and 18 residents spent several months engaged with the material. Cedar Community residents K.C. Laycock and Pam Sholund led the discussion groups. Resident Bill Rumpf was one of the participants.
“The curriculum was based on the privileges white people have in American society that don’t get afforded to people of color,” says Bill. “It pointed out things we should have known; the differences are not always obvious. There is a lot of racism embedded in American culture. It’s hard to see, and hard to talk about for some.”
The study took five months to complete, and at the end the group asked, “Now what?” Bill agreed to chair the next meeting to address that question. The participants decided to continue meeting and studying, and also acting on the issue of diversity. Bill agreed to continue his role as the chairperson of the Diversity Group. The group asked Cedar Community Chaplain Colleen Mas to be the group’s staff liaison.
“It’s resident led. I attend the meetings as an observer,” Colleen says. “It’s a great privilege to be a part of this group. There are some great ideas and caring hearts. I respect their willingness to reach outside of their circle to continue to learn, grow and understand.”
Over the last year, the group has selected and read books, mostly on the issue of race in America. They have attended and discussed topical movies, and they have invited speakers to their monthly meetings to share their own experiences with diversity. Speakers have included Clarissa Martinelli, a pastor at Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in West Bend, and Noelle Braun from Casa Guadalupe in West Bend. They have also visited Bridge the Divide, a group based in Cedarburg that is interested in facilitating discussions about living in a multi-racial community.
The Diversity Group has also made a connection with the Multicultural Club at the West Bend High Schools. The student group was organized and promoted by parent volunteer Barseana Simond. The Diversity Group became familiar with the Multicultural Club at the high school when several group members attended the Black History Month celebration organized by the students in February of 2018. The Diversity Group members thought it might be an interesting connection with the students, both multiculturally and intergenerationally. Bill contacted Barseana, who then spoke to the Diversity Group and expressed her interest in creating a connection between the two groups.
As an African American, Barseana has been exposed to discrimination her entire life, and experiences it today living in West Bend. She has five children in different schools in West Bend, and she wanted a group where her kids could connect with others needing acceptance among their peers. The Multicultural Club meets every other week, and students share thoughts and experiences with one another. They are also trying to get the school board to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official school holiday, with a day off for students and staff, like many other communities. The students have spoken at a school board meeting and the Diversity Group has supported them in this effort.
The Multicultural Club and the Diversity Group have also met to enjoy a meal and games together. “We have vast experiences among our group of seniors at Cedar Community that are unknown and untapped, and we can definitely share our life experiences with the kids,” Bill says.
The Diversity Group is growing, and Cedar Community assisted living residents have also shown an interest in getting more involved in the discussions. The group hopes to find a way to include all residents in their meetings, along with the greater community. Members are also interested in fostering all types of diversity in society, including race, culture, sexuality, age, differently-abled, and religious and political traditions.
“We believe in diversity. It’s here now and will increase over time,” Bill says. “Whether we promote diversity or just watch it happen, we should prepare for it. We are trying to expand our horizons.”
This story is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2019 Live More magazine of Cedar Community.