Over a year ago, a writer for the online news site, ozy.com, interviewed me for a feature story. Once it went live, people wrote and called to inquire about my services. Months later, Wendy Connelly, a high school journalism advisor, media arts, and English teacher, also reached out. She read that ozy.com article, poured through my website, followed my blog, and my most recent intern’s posts. Right from the start, Wendy intuited that my life story of transformation could inspire students. In the spirit that celebrating diversity honors everyone, she suggested profiling me in a documentary that her students would produce.
I agreed to do it because reaching out and supporting teenagers is a longtime desire and goal. My past troubles are no secret to anyone who reads my blog, that article, or to clients, friends, and family . Those past troubles have haunted me. At times, they have paralyzed me. And at others, they have hurled me into the life I live today. I am solely responsible for turning around a troubled life, turning pain into pleasure, and pleasure into treasure.
Peers saw me as “different” as a youth. They targeted me for my differences. I use quotes around the word different to indicate that these are ways in which I am diverse. As a short, gay, glasses-wearing, left-handed, curly-haired Jew, I am a one-man band of diversity. I’m special in my own way. And, at the same time, I don’t think I’m so special at all. On a bell curve of people who are awful to exceptional, I’m on the fattest part of the bell curve. It’s where most of us are. And still, I am a face of diversity.
Many years ago I decided to live my life as an open book. After living much of my life in the shadows cast by the past, I eventually saw the need to transform. Transforming then was another step toward healing from the past and growing into the future. It also honored the work I did that brought me to the present moment. Still, I’m far from perfect, and I’ve made missteps along the way, even recently. I atone for my misdeeds by more deeply respecting people I encounter along my personal and professional journeys through life. Through it all, I am a champion of diversity, even when I screw up. I’m still human, and imperfect. One thing I do know for sure is that celebrating diversity honors everyone.
When I mean “everyone,” it’s a reference to any person who seems different in any way from you. The key to inclusion is to leave no one out. And, that includes each of us. If we could each be inclusive, we would include everyone around us and ourselves.
So, as we celebrate how every one of us is a unique individual, we celebrate diversity. It’s fine to recognize by sight, sound, and thought how others are different. However, there is a risk to labeling people. It tends to create exclusivity, rather than inclusivity. We can become fearful of others because of the differences that create the labeling. Similarly, others can become fearful of us for exactly the same reasons. On the other hand, by mindfully grouping and identifying people, we could ensure that we include everyone.
In the spirit that celebrating diversity honors everyone, I get to honor how I am diverse. This means that you could also honor how you are diverse. As a person still targeted today for the things that make me different, I stand shameless and blameless for my “me-ness.” The ways in which I am diverse are badges of authenticity and honor. I can’t help but be exactly who I am, and I don’t want to.
Failing to recognize how you are unique could make it harder to see how others are also special. I see, appreciate, and value the ways in which others are different from me. I celebrate people exactly for who they are. Sometimes, I even help people who want to benefit from being better versions of who they are. That’s where my work intersects with my life’s mission and purpose.
This is why Wendy Connelly’s simple request is an enormous honor, and an awesome responsibility. It is a chance to share my message about diversity with teenagers, some of whom are struggling with their identities.
Diversity is a celebration of our non-uniformity, the mixture of all of us put together. These words – put together – represent a collective conscience of oneness. Togetherness. It is crucial to see, hear, honor, celebrate, and otherwise recognize differences among one another. So, being inclusive of others brings dignity to each of our lives.
I want the high schoolers at Amador Valley High School to contemplate this as I represent and stand for diversity. Reach out and make friends with those who are different. Show interest and curiosity in one another. Recognize and celebrate your differences along with how others are different. Don’t react in fear about the characteristics that make others special and unique.
We are diverse. Yet, we are one collective soul. Celebrating diversity honors everyone.
The media arts students at Amador Valley High School produced this video for this year’s annual “Donversity” program. The school incorporated its mascot’s name with its diversity program, giving the students a sense of pride in honoring diversity. Their efforts, and the school administration’s decision to feature me as a face of diversity, humbles and honors me. Thank you.
And now, on with the show: