For the first time, the Haddonfield Equity Council’s World Cafe last month featured eight discussion tables focused on equity, diversity and inclusion in the borough, including one for kids.
The event drew about 60 participants, including parents, teachers and members of the New Jersey Education Association teacher’s union. Stacey Brown-Downham, explained that while the council had brainstormed several ideas for community events, it decided on the World Cafe format to enhance interactions and promote inclusion.
“I wanted this to be a place where people could connect, where they could have real conversations about how well they feel included in town, how welcoming they feel this town is,” she said.
The event included a meet-and-greet and light dinner; a brief talk by Ryan Strothers, the New Jersey Education Association’s members of color representative; and three, 15-minute discussion periods. Participants chose a table, and they could either stay or move on to the next.
Discussions were led by members of the equity council, Haddonfield educators and the principals of Lizzie Haddon and Central elementary school. Questions included, “How welcoming is Haddonfield to newcomers?” and “What are our core beliefs and values?
Central Principal Shannon Simkus helped the kids’ table define identity and create identity webs they could share with people they didn’t know.
“The goal was to study the partner’s identity web and take time to ask each other questions on parts of the web we want to know more about,” she explained. “We practiced actively listening, being curious and open minded, and being loving. What makes us different and unique?”
In 2020, a year after the Equity Council was formed, it changed one of its goals from “cultural competency” to “cultural responsiveness,” which Brown-Downham described as the difference between having knowledge and understanding and taking action.
“(Cultural responsiveness is) having these community conversations and then responding to that with actions that make a difference, and not just checking off a box or doing lip service or for show,” she said. “We really want people to feel celebrated and connected and included.
“Diversity is this idea that we recognize there are differences between us,” Brown-Downham added. “Equity is the way we look at what kind of access people have to resources … and try to ensure that people from multiple groups, not just the majority group, have access to resources, to a seat at the table.”
The equity council will hold an Asian American Culture Club meeting on May 26 for guests to discuss the book “Crying in H-Mart,” by Korean American author Michelle Zauner. Another LGBTQ book club meeting will take place in the summer.
To learn more, visit the Haddonfield Education Association Facebook page.