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Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo: Five cities organization rebrands to serve entire county 

The Five Cities Diversity Coalition is expanding to serve the entire county and recently renamed itself Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo.

Its purpose is to promote positive human understanding and behavior through charitable, scientific, and educational efforts at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability, and all other aspects of identity. The coalition aims to increase cultural understanding through working with mayors, schools, law enforcement, citizens, and minority groups.

click to enlarge PLANTING TOLERANCE The Diversity Coalition raised the funds to install this sculpture, Arboring Our Roots of Diversity, outside of Arroyo Grande High School after a cross burning in 2011. - PHOTO BY AIDAN MCGLOIN
  • Photo By Aidan Mcgloin
  • PLANTING TOLERANCE The Diversity Coalition raised the funds to install this sculpture, Arboring Our Roots of Diversity, outside of Arroyo Grande High School after a cross burning in 2011.

Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo President Rudy Xavier believes the way to grow cultural understanding is by providing education and resources to all ages.

"Not only do we have to educate the young, we have to change the opinions of the older group," Xavier said.

The coalition has partnered with the Lucia Mar Unified School District to bring in guest speakers. Last year, the coalition brought in two speakers who presented at Paulding and Judkins middle schools—Holocaust survivor Henry Oster, who spoke in March 2018, and Sudanese Civil War refugee Alepho Deng, who spoke in February 2018. During the assembly with Deng, Xavier went to the front of the room to take a photo of the middle school students.

"They were absolutely fascinated," Xavier said. "He really, seriously, made an impression on them."

The coalition and the district match speakers like Deng with English curriculum and books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Their collaboration also included the coalition's sponsorshop of 22 teachers to visit the Museum of Tolerance in LA.

"We've been really lucky to have this partnership, and it's exciting to hear the Diversity Coalition is expanding," Lucia Mar Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Hillery Dixon said. "I'm hoping that other sites, other school districts, will be able to benefit from the same work because it's been so powerful for us."

Preston Allen, a former Cal Poly executive director of university housing and a 26-year Arroyo Grande resident, said the coalition has become an extension of the community since it was founded. W. David Conn started the group in 2011 after a cross was burned outside the home of a black Arroyo Grande family. Allen witnessed the aftermath.

"The community's response to that was so heartfelt," Allen said. "We didn't view it as we live in a racist environment, we view it as a community that we are so not that."

Most communities' first response to something like a cross burning is to go inward and generate tension, Allen said, but when Arroyo Grande residents ran into each other at gas stations and grocery stores, they asked one another how they were doing.

The Diversity Coalition raised money to place a sculpture, Arboring Our Roots of Diversity, in front of Arroyo Grande High School soon after. The words "culture," "community," "diversity," "heritage," "education," "peace," "individuality," and "unity" surround the base.

That tree sculpture's physical presence and the guest speakers' presentations raise the bar of awareness for people, Allen said, which is the most an organization can do.

The Diversity Coalition also holds quarterly meetings that play host to speakers like Sudanese refugee Joseph Jok and Cal Poly professor Stephen Lloyd-Moffett, who speaks about the origins of religious tolerance. Transgender activist Jessica Lynn will speak at the next meeting, on May 23.

Xavier believes the work the coalition does can be expanded, and the time has come for the organization to grow. No stranger to intolerance or trauma, Xavier enjoys being able to turn his life experiences into action.

"From the time I was 3 years old to the time I was 10, I have experienced bullying, which is something we fight against; I experienced racial profiling; I experienced being a refugee; I experienced being kidnapped; I witnessed seven murders. That's a lot to happen in seven years," Xavier said. "I have experienced all of these things, so to take the chance to do something about it is amazing."

Fast fact

CenCal Health recently announced a collaborative new program aimed at providing safe recuperative care to local homeless individuals who are not sick enough to be hospitalized but are too frail to recover from their illness or injury on the streets. The Recuperative Care Program will provide up to 90 days of services for Medi-Cal members who need comprehensive medical services, acccording to a press release. Partners include Dignity Health, Tenet Helathcare, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, and Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria. For more information, visit cencalhealth.org. Δ

New Times Intern Aidan McGloin wrote this week's Strokes & Plugs. Send tips to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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