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Cultural Awareness: Inclusiveness / Diversity

( Third article of a Series by Scott Clift )

How many of us, I wonder, have heard a friend, colleague, or family member complain about affirmative action, cultural diversity, or sensitivity training? I am sure we all know people who have strong opinions for or against these issues, people who are uncomfortable talking about them, and people who just don’t care. Perhaps the topics of culture and diversity only become an issue for us after we have experienced conflict, are forced into situations or decisions, or a friend tells us their own related personal story. For others of us, it may be that we see ourselves as already ‘culturally competent’ and inclusive in our homes, programs and agencies.

As I reflect on my own experiences, it seems as if the words ‘culture’, ‘inclusiveness’, and ‘diversity’ have lost much of their meaning in popular usage, and that very few people engage their real importance. I remember the time a woman told me that she didn’t have culture because she was white. This woman was fairly well educated, lived in one of the suburbs of Minneapolis, and had raised three children.

(See artists & order info below)
'Unbreakable Bonds' - See artists & order info below.
And while she will likely never have reason in her lifetime to confront the error of her statement, I am horrified that she might have passed her attitudes on to her children. For we all have culture. It is not something that only people of color have, something to protect in them simply because they are minorities. No, culture is who we are, and it is who we are to the core. From the time that we are conceived, our culture is being formed around us and within us, influencing how it is that we will approach and interact with the world. ‘Culture’ is all the elements of nurture that mold and shape how we think and act, what we believe in and how we value it, how roles and duties are assigned within our families and communities, how we express thoughts and emotions, and how we communicate with one another. In addition to nurture, the influence of ‘culture’ extends even to our biological programming.

If culture is so fundamentally involved in understanding ourselves, how can it ever be ignored or minimized? In America we have the blessing-curse of needing to integrate the diversity of cultures that we all represent. This blessing allows us to become more aware of ourselves and develop a greater security in that awareness. This curse means that in developing integrated systems and services, we will often encounter conflicts and disparities that stem from very deep places within us.

Elements of race and ethnicity play significant roles in everyone’s culture. This biological aspect of us unfortunately frequently determines what opportunities are available, what labels are attached to us, and the level of success we will achieve. The Children’s Defense Fund recently released a study showing the disparities that exist for children in Minnesota based on race, and with the demographics of Minnesota increasing in ethnic diversity, learning about ourselves and others in appropriate, respectful, and yes, even sensitive ways, has never been more important. But make no mistake—this is not merely about the color of skin. The issue at hand is that we learn ways to interact with each other as a society that respects and celebrates who we are and the ways we live our lives. We cannot do this unless we know our own culture, the important and often subtle ways our background and nurture play out in our own lives.

Through trainings and workshops, the Cultural Dynamics Education Project of Minnesota seeks to journey with providers in this process. Cultural Dynamics trainings offer providers, parents, and community members the chance to explore together the meaning of culture in their own lives, how culture is passed on, and what role we as adults play in the formation of children’s attitudes and behavior. While the trainings can often be intense as they tap into many of the attitudes, values, and behaviors we may take for granted, they are designed to assist participants in exploring how to create settings and environments that empower children to lead healthy lives in our diverse and changing world.

Artists Credits and 'blank' Art Cards as well as Art Card Ordering Info is grateful that our Cultural Awareness Series has received permission to display the artwork shown above and elsewhere in this Series. To see the complete display of the building's artwork visit the ECRC website at

The Faces of Our Future Reflect Our Past
The exterior brick walls of the Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC) in Minneapolis, MN reflect our commitment to serving the children of our many pasts. Painted by local youth artists, our beautiful mural remains a landmark on the Lake Street corridor in South Minneapolis. Blank cards of portions of our mural may be purchased via the online order form. All proceeds contribute to improving the lives and education of children in our community.

Mural Artists:

Muralist/Director: Marilyn Lindstrom
Youth: Natchez Beaulieu, Constanza Carballo, Jose Curbelo, Adonijah Espinosa, Adrian Garza, Justin Kampinen, Warith Muhammad, Shani Nestingen, Nathan Pundt, Brett Stately, Aerin Vanhala, Dylan Wolking
Mentors: Carlos Menchaca and Mali Kouanchao
Youthworks/Americorps: Richard Garfield and Rachel Rendon
Guest Artist: Chris Darsow

MN CDEP's logo

Cultural Dynamics Education Project  (CDEP)
Created in response to Minnesota's changing demographics, CDEP educates child educators and care providers in the significance and dynamics surrounding each individual's culture. It is affiliated with the Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC) in Minneapolis.
Please visit the CDEP website at

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