The Rev. Jamie Washington strolled to center stage, turned toward the audience and bellowed a surprise.
The attendees at the 25th annual Unity Luncheon may have expected to hear the opening lines of a speech, but what they got was a serenade from Washington of “If I Can Help Somebody,” his booming baritone reverberating across the room with the gospel song the late Mahalia Jackson sang at the funeral of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If I can help somebody, as I travel along. If I can help somebody with a word or song. If I can help somebody from doing wrong. No, my living shall not be in vain,” he sang. After he finished, he said that the lyrics are also the words he lives by.
Washington, president and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, a multicultural organization development firm based in Baltimore, Maryland, served as the March 2 luncheon’s keynote speaker. This year’s event was hosted by the Pride Alliance.
The reverend addressed the luncheon’s theme of “Love, Pride, Resilience,” pointing out that all three are required to continue bridging cultural and social divides.
“The role of higher education is to prepare the next generation of leaders. The next generation of leaders will need to have the skills and capacity to engage and lead effectively within, across and about difference,” he said. “Proximity (to difference) does not equal capacity. Just because I sat next to one at a luncheon does not mean I have the capacity to engage effectively across that difference. What you have the opportunity to do here at Cal Poly Pomona is to build your capacity.”
At one point, he asked attendees to get up and greet people from neighboring tables with “I’m glad you’re here.”
He called on everyone to take responsibility for the pervasiveness of oppression — even if they didn’t cause it — build trust across communities and remain hopeful that progress is possible.
“Race is always in the room, and so is gender, so is class, so is sexual orientation, so is nationality, so is ability. Diversity, our identities are always in the room … Folks wish we didn’t have to have the tension that we have,” he said. “A wishbone will never suffice where a backbone is required. If in fact we’re going to be ready for the next 25, we will not wish us into unity. You’re going to have to get up and be about the work of creating it. I believe you can. I hope you will.”
University President Soraya M. Coley also spoke at the luncheon, lauding Cal Poly Pomona for promoting unity.
“There was a vision 25 years ago that said when you look out across an institution such as Cal Poly Pomona, we can’t be excellent without diversity,” Coley said. “We can’t achieve the goals and the visions we have for ourselves individually without also recognizing inclusiveness as part of that vision.”
The event was capped with each affinity group honoring its 2016 Diversity Champions. The award recipients are:
- Arantza Flores, student
- Manuel Diaz, lecturer in the Department of Ethnic & Women’s Studies
Access and disABILITY Alliance
- Matthew Rodney, student
- Shayda Kafai, lecturer in the Department of Ethnic & Women’s Studies
Asian Pacific Islander Faculty, Staff & Student Association
- Megan Dela Cruz, student
- Anthony Ocampo, sociology professor
Black Faculty & Staff Association
- Dawnyell Dixon, student
- Cheryl Love, Career Center counselor
Latino Faculty, Staff, & Student Association
- Teresa Rodriguez, student
- Frank Torres, professor emeritus in the Department of English & Foreign Languages
Native American Student Center
- Gabrielle Cuaresma, student
- Dawn Valencia, director of outreach and school relations in the Office of Admissions and Outreach