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Diversity Summit Celebrates 10 Years, Welcomes Canton Officer Lamar Sharpe

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What began as a pilot project for pre-clinical education students in 2009 has now grown to a year-long initiative focused on exploring social issues of diversity and inclusion. For the past decade, Walsh University’s Division of Education has hosted a special Diversity Summit each semester, which tackles societal and cultural issues in a collaborative forum.

Spearheaded by Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education Dr. Constance Argento-Smith, the program is purposefully designed to prepare students to serve others with compassion, empathy and competency.

The fall 2018 Diversity Summit focused on the issue of local poverty in our extended communities. More than 200 students were in attendance to welcome keynote speaker Canton Police Officer Lamar Sharpe on Thursday, October 4, as he shared his personal story about how childhood poverty impacted his education. Today, he is the founder of Be a Better Me Foundation, a community-based nonprofit organization designed to help empower and encourage youth to see the good in themselves and others.

“I grew up behind the eight ball in my community. I had negatives all around me, like drugs and gangs. There were times we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. I had the idea for this foundation in my heart for a long time, but I didn’t know how to do it. But I never gave up on my dream to make it happen. Once I got everything collectively together, it took off. Because I never gave up and I constantly believed in what I was doing,” said Officer Sharpe during his Diversity Summit opening remarks. “I live right around the corner, and I’m in this community. I’m here because I believe in you. And you play a huge success in the future of our youth.”

When it comes to determining the focus for each Summit, Dr. Smith works directly with Walsh students who play a leadership role in organizing the event. Past Summits have been held in collaboration with Walsh’s Division of Counseling and Human Development Program and explored working with the migrant worker population and the topic of drug addiction in our communities. The Diversity Summit is supported by the Walsh University President’s Diversity Council.

“Before serving as professionals, we investigate diversity and expand our awareness of cultural and societal issues surrounding and affecting our communities. We are often unaware of the diverse situations that exist around us,” said Dr. Smith. “The Diversity Summit initiates conversation and dialogue to best prepare cultural responsivity as we serve or are preparing to serve in our professional careers. The Diversity Summit began to proactively prepare future educators for their diverse classrooms; however, all students can benefit from the topics and discussions and are encouraged to participate. Opening the dialogue for our students affords us an opportunity to understand our under-represented populations and ways to best prepare and serve in our areas of expertise.”  

 While traditionally developed for Walsh education students, plans are underway to expand the Diversity Summit into an interdisciplinary event. At the spring Summit, Walsh students will continue to explore how poverty and food insecurity impact a child’s education. Student organizers are working collaboratively to create student-driven, on-campus initiatives that address the issue of hunger in our local community.
 
“Future educators have a unique opportunity and privilege. They are working with today’s youth who are tomorrow’s leaders,” said Dr. Smith. “When we’re talking about poverty and the effects of poverty in our communities, we hear the good work of people like Officer Sharpe and believe that his vision is contagious. As educators, future educators, and professionals in our respective fields of study, can begin to see the promise and possibilities that we carry into our future careers. This knowledge empowers us to become part of the solution in all of our initiatives .”