Governor John Kitzhaber
Minority Summit 2000
January 14, 2000
It is privilege to have been asked to provide opening remarks for this Minority Summit 2000. I am encouraged to see so many of you here today. To me, it shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to meet one of the greatest challenges facing our society as we cross the threshold of the 21st century. Because diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace is among the priorities of my administration, the goals of this Summit both reinforce and complement what my Office of Affirmative Action is trying to do.
The American poet Walt Whitman once wrote, "Not until the sun excludes you will I exclude you." Those are words we should all take to heart. But it is a lesson not easily learned.
I say that because one hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a crowd of 100,000 people and voiced a dream: a dream of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin -- a dream that one day ALL our citizens -- however diverse -- would be able to work together and accept each other as equals.
Since then we have come a long way toward realizing that dream. Today American minorities occupy positions of leadership in every walk of life and are some of our most respected community members. But despite the progress we have made, we have not come far enough.
We all know that our communities are becoming more and more diverse -- a trend we can expect to continue as we move forward in this new millennium. African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and our growing Hispanic residents all bring with them a cultural diversity which can enrich our lives and enlarge our perspective.
They have contributed to our communities in many positive ways, despite the legal and social obstacles they still too frequently encounter. Yet despite the progress we have made, the sinister shadow of intolerance, discrimination, racism, and hostility still hangs over us.
Across the nation, attacks on affirmative action are occurring with alarming frequency . . . in the form of California’s Proposition 187, the initiative restricting immigration; in the form of Washington State’s Measure 1-200, California’s Proposition 209, and similar efforts in Michigan and Florida -- efforts to abolish all forms of affirmative action; and in the form of court rulings that some affirmative action programs conflict with today’s interpretation of the law.
If the idea of individual opportunity -- EQUAL opportunity -- is to retain any meaning at all, it must find expression in a system that is culturally diverse and inclusive.
This means, among other things, learning to work in a non-blaming environment where all employees can reach their full potential.
It means examining our own programs and businesses to detect the presence of minority bias, however inadvertent, and finding ways to address it.
It means fostering greater awareness of and sensitivity to minority issues.
It means empowering people and acquiring the knowledge and skills that will enable us to live and work in a diverse culture.
And the benefits of taking these proactive steps will accrue to ALL of us:
They too come from different backgrounds and different places. And all of us -- majority and minority alike -- have different interests and different goals and different opinions.
In other words, we are all individuals.
We must honor and respect our differences, whatever form they may take, for the gifts of diversity reach beyond the traditional measures of merit, and they must always have a place in the rich fabric of our communities and our world. But we are also all human, and what we share is greater and in the long run more important than how we differ.
While he was sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama -- himself the victim of racial discrimination -- Martin Luther King wrote, "We are caught in an inescapable net of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
In other words, our lives and our fates are bound together. Whenever
one person is denied equal opportunity or is subjected to discriminatory
treatment, that is one person too many, and all of us are the poorer
Why? Because making superficial or prejudicial distinctions based on our differences blinds us to the great underlying bond of our common humanity and robs us of what we can gain from living and working together on equal footing and in harmony.
This is not something that government or legislation alone can accomplish. It requires first and foremost a change in attitude, and that must come not from the "top" but from the "bottom. In other words, it must begin with individuals. We can never achieve genuine inclusiveness which honors and draws strength from diversity without the firm commitment and active participation of people like you -- individuals who care, individuals who believe that unless this is a good place for ALL of us to work, it won’t be a good place for ANY of us to work.
The outcome measures which this Summit aims to establish will set the course for a vital aspect of our future. In light of that, I want to offer you my encouragement and assure you of my support.
Thank you again for inviting me to be here today.
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