By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance
Aspire has launched a series of dinner discussions on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in Johnson County. The first session was held in March and additional ones are set for April and May. The dinners are facilitated by diversity inclusion leaders from local educational systems and are open to all who live or work in Johnson County.
The Aspire Community Engagement Team hosts the series. Community Development Specialist Jennifer Hollingshead, who directs the work of the team, explained, “Aspire would like to provide a space where residents can share their perspective, listen to others’ experiences, as well as learn why being a welcoming community is important to Johnson County’s future.”
The series was launched in March when Aspire hosted an inclusion discussion dinner for 13 participants at Sisters Korean Restaurant in Greenwood, Hollingshead explained. “Dr. Maegan Pollonais, director of the Franklin College Center for Diversity and Inclusion, led a discussion about diversity and the importance of inclusion,” she noted. “Attendees enjoyed an authentic Korean meal and we invited one of the owners of the restaurant to share her experience living in central Indiana.
Pollonais noted that the attendees represented a cross-section of Johnson County: “One told about work at a food pantry which led to a discussion of food insecurity, while another employed at a local hospital talked about disparities in healthcare systems and Covid treatment. Still another participant discussed how women navigate a world of male-oriented careers, and a member of the LGBT community reviewed the importance of making people feel welcome.”
“I challenged the group to be more inclusive,” Pollonaise noted. “I asked, when they think of diversity, equity and inclusion, what do they think of? It covers a wide range – race, ethnicity, gender, religion, physical size, economic position and others. I encouraged them to realize how wide the scope is. Typically, people think only about race, but it is much more.”
Pollonaise concluded by noting that conversations about inclusion can be difficult. “We were able to have a comfortable and open session because we were breaking bread. We were able to find out how we are similar and how we are different. I believe the attendees left more enlightened and empowered to move forward on their diversity journey.”
“Events like our inclusion dinners help bring an awareness and understanding of the different cultures and perspectives in our communities,” explained Vice President of Economic Development Amanda Rubadue, CEcD. By providing spaces to listen, learn and ask questions, we hope to create a more welcoming and diverse Johnson County.”
President and CEO Christian Maslowski agreed, noting, “Conversations at these inclusion dinners help our community leaders understand the diverse life experiences of our residents, which are called to mind when we contemplate public policy and community development investments.”
“One of the main goals of Aspire’s five-year strategic plan is to establish community conversations focused on inclusivity and engagement of other cultures and demographics. The plan calls for us to embrace and pursue opportunities for enhanced livability and quality of place,” Maslowski explained. “We believe this series will enhance the quality of life for members of our diverse groups in Johnson County and will help attract new residents from various cultures to our community.”
The next dinner will be on April 13 at Yokohama Japanese Cuisine and Sushi, 67 N. Madison Ave. in Greenwood. “Attendees will enjoy a Japanese meal and learn from restaurant co-owner Debbie Bennett about her culture. Dinner discussions will be led by Ruby Butler, diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for Clark-Pleasant Community Schools in Whiteland.
Hollingshead noted that dinner registration is required, as seating is limited. Attendees pay for their own meal. A third dinner will take place in May at a location yet to be determined, Hollingshead said. For more information, go to aspirejohnsoncounty.com/dinner-series-on-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-launched