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Diversity Summit inspires culture of inclusivity

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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

The Wellesley Community Center opened its doors for all to enjoy, learn, and grow at the World of Wellesley’s fourth annual Diversity Summit on October 21. The World of Wellesley (WOW) aims to make the town a more welcoming and inclusive place by understanding and celebrating diversity.

At the annual half-day Diversity Summit, participants partook in small group discussions and grand conversations about identity, privilege, storytelling, and culture. The summit has a new theme every year, and this year’s asked attendees to analyze how local diversity can affect global and national diversity.

President of the World of Wellesley, Michelle Chalmers, speaks to the 2017 Diversity Summit attendees about promoting diversity and inclusion.

President of the World of Wellesley, Michelle Chalmers, speaks to the 2017 Diversity Summit attendees about promoting diversity and inclusion.

“It was something that we wanted to bring to Wellesley,” said Michelle Chalmers, President of World of Wellesley. “We heard about it from Needham six years ago, loved what they were doing, and decided we need to bring people together to talk about diversity.”

A group of Wellesley High School students also joined the summit participants to facilitate a privilege game. Adriana Voci, Annie Yu, Brandon Voci, and Sofia Hernandez run the Diversity Club at the high school and saw the morning as an opportunity to share their work with the rest of the community.

“Unity and cooperation is easier when students know each other better,” wrote Adriana Voci, who founded the Diversity Club. “We live in a very connected world learning more about different cultures and hearing about different perspectives helps build respect and understanding.”

Mohammad Zefzaf, a professor at Mass Bay Community College, offered his experience as a storyteller to the summit attendees. He encouraged participants to share their own stories. One woman, in turn, talked about her experiences in school as one of the only students of color. Another told the story of his daughter’s heart failure.

For the breakout sessions, Dr. Robbin Chapman hosted a session on cultural competencies, while downstairs, one fifth grader spoke about Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.

Milan and Manisha Varma speak about the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, at Wellesley’s fourth annual Diversity Summit.

Milan and Manisha Varma speak about the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, at Wellesley’s fourth annual Diversity Summit.

Milan Varma, a fifth grade student at Fiske Elementary School, joined his mother, Manisha, to educate the community about Diwali and the traditions associated with the celebration. “My school is diverse because many people of different cultures and traditions go there and live around there,” said Milan. “When my parents came from India, they brought with them their beliefs and culture, but I was born here and so were my siblings, so it sort of makes my community more diverse.”

One of the traditions associated with Diwali is lighting oil lamps called diyas. “The common notion is not to be satisfied with lighting just one lamp, but several lamps, because you need to light many, many lamps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of hatred, and all the other darknesses that lead to petty human emotions,” said Rama K. Ramaswamy, who serves on the WOW Board of Directors and facilitated the discussion on Diwali.

Each year, the Wellesley Community Center graciously donates their space to the Diversity Summit, where the community engages in groundbreaking discussions and learns about cultures different from their own.

“There’s been this evolution of people feeling brave in the space and sharing their stories,” said Chalmers.

“These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they’re necessary to have.”

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