Over the summer, we were fortunate to have Sonia Aranza speak to our entire team at Goodwill Industries International. Sonia is an award-winning global diversity and inclusion strategist. One of the many things she taught us is that exclusion literally hurts. Neuroscience research shows that exclusion from a group triggers a response in the same regions of the brain associated with physical pain.
In our constantly changing social environment, it’s becoming increasingly important to be inclusive, and to recognize the value individuals from different backgrounds and experiences bring to our communities, workplaces and social circles. Many organizations from the private and social sectors strive to be inclusive and provide services, products, education and job opportunities to all people. This is not as simple as providing materials in other languages or having translators on staff. Although they are important considerations, inclusive outreach should be a thoughtful process and must avoid focusing on a single story about a particular community.
In her 2009 TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, MacArthur genius grant award winner and author, warned us of the dangers of the single story. Believing in and upholding a single story about an individual or community reinforces stereotypes, and worse, takes power away from those people. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we must remember the diversity of Hispanic and Latino communities. The U.S. Census Bureau describes Hispanic or Latino ethnicity as "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race." Hispanic and Latino individuals and families comprise the largest minority community in the United States. By 2060, the Census Bureau predicts that Hispanic and Latino people will represent more than 28 percent of the total population in the United States. There is no single story of our Hispanic and Latino neighbors. They are as diverse as any other community, and each person has his or her own story to tell and contributions to make to our communities and economy.
In 2016, local Goodwill® organizations across the country served 223,418 Hispanic and Latino individuals and families. This accounted for nearly 15 percent of the total people served by those Goodwill organizations. When organizations like Goodwill make conscious efforts to provide inclusive outreach and services, they benefit their communities and their organizations by deconstructing the single story.
For example, Martha Lugo was a Class B truck driver for more than 10 years. She began her career driving buses for school districts and then moved onto charter buses, but she drew the line at her Class B license. She didn’t have the confidence to pursue her Class A license until she was connected with the Goodwill of San Antonio (TX) Good Careers Academy. Martha found support and encouragement through her instructors. She also hoped to become a first-time homeowner with the additional income provided from her new job.
Pablo Gaxiola life’s journey was different. After he was released from prison, he was unsure of his future. He enrolled in the New Opportunity Work (NOW) program at Goodwill of Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA). Pablo thrived in his new position as administrative clerk and soon took on a new role as peer mentor. He has grown in all aspects of his life and has taken an active role in his community.
Martha and Pablo both approached Goodwill services with different stories and different experiences. Their stories are uniquely their own. As organizations, we do a disservice to our communities by trying to fit people in our idea of their single story and we hurt our neighbors by being exclusive. Organizations must strive to celebrate and recognize the unique story each person has to offer and customize outreach and services to meet everyone’s needs.