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July/August 2023Vol. 24, No. 6Diversity Is America's Greatest Gift, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

One of the many things I love about this country is the diversity of the people who live here. There are people here who are indigenous to the vast lands we occupy; there are people whose ancestors were captured, enslaved, and brought here against their will; there are those who came here from abroad with all of the hope that comes with the promise of America; and, of course, there are those who are still arriving in search of that promise. Our ancestral journeys vary, yet here we are, most of us trying to live harmoniously. The diversity of these United States is unsurpassed. Our lives are enhanced and sometimes forever changed by the privilege of being in a position to visit with, listen to, and learn from people who are different from ourselves, who have distinctly different experiences. This might be America’s greatest gift. However, the recent ruling from our nation’s highest court regarding affirmative action threatens and calls into question the benefits of the richness of our diverse society.

Have you ever been the only Black person or White person in a room? Or the only Spanish-speaking person? Have you been the only person with a physical disability—visible or invisible? Have you ever walked into a situation and wished for diversity? Alternatively, have you ever been in a room and experienced the value of it? I have.

In 2021, we invited all staff at the Administration for Children and Families to be trained in a race equity impact analysis tool. This tool consists of five questions to ask when using an equity lens to make an assessment. The first question is “Is there a diverse group of people at the table making the decision?” I can recall many times throughout my career when the answer to that question was a firm “no,” and when “no” is the answer, a failure has occurred. I’m reminded of a time when I was working as a legislative attorney in New York City and there was a proposal to legislate certain aspects of the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. My colleagues were discussing what to include in the bill, yet only one of my colleagues had ever used an EBT card. She knew that hot food was not an allowable purchase with an EBT card. This was game-changing information for the proposal. Her journey, and her diverse life experience, was essential to the ultimate outcome, which could have impacted over a million people.

Diversity in our classrooms is paramount because diversity in our workforce is critical. Arguably, for certain professions, the classroom is the main pipeline to the profession. In our profession, the commitment to support vulnerable children and families must be matched with a commitment to intentionally recruit a diverse workforce. Ideally, our workforce would mirror the diversity of the families we serve, who are multifaceted and possess varied identities. This is true even now, when the ability to attract and recruit professionals to do this work has reached a nadir due in part to a pandemic-related paradigm shift in workforce culture and expectations. Our responsibility to recruit a diverse and culturally and linguistically competent workforce must not falter.  

Diversity is America’s greatest gift. Hold fast.