Braving Controversy to Promote Diversity

I recently received the following email from the Center for Diversity Education, a wonderful organization whose vision is to “help build relationships across differences to create a more inclusive and equitable community.” Specifically, the CDE “celebrates and teaches diversity in order to foster conversation and respect among cultures.”

center for diversity education logoI applaud the CDE for their work, much of which happens in the public schools. This story highlights the importance of this type of programming:

“Every year someone has objected to an observance in the Center for Diversity Education program Festivals of Light.

  • Sometimes it is Kwanzaa because of the founder’s political ideology
  • Sometimes it is anything that is not Christmas
  • Since 9/11, it is often about Ramadan.

This year the objection made its way to a WNC school board [in Haywood County] which resulted in half the students not attending the program. Still, the amazing principal and teachers held fast to the connection of the program to the 6th grade NC Essential Standards.

Here is the memorable moment.

The selection of holidays at Bethel Middle School were:

  •  Chanukah
  •  Christmas in Greece
  •  Ramadan.

These were great traditions to teach in sequence to each other. The best part was the last three minutes of the final presentation.

The discussion had been about the contemporary Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim communities in WNC. I was explaining the Asheville congregations of Beth Israel (House of Israel) and Beth Ha Tephila (House of Prayer) and the relationship of those words to Bethlehem (House of Bread) when a student asked, “Uhm….are there any other words in Hebrew that start with Beth?”

It took me a few seconds and then I was grinning all over.

We were in Bethel Middle School in the community of Bethel. Beth (House)- El (God). Their community was named House of God. All the students eyes got big – and mine. Here was another heartwarming tale of the journey of language and ideas that was in front of us all the time. And I have since learned that Beth (Beyt) is the same word in Arabic and El is the beginning sound of Al-lah. We are not that different.

Having the opportunity to look at ideas from a different point of view, and being nudged by another’s question, is critical thinking – something the young man in our NC public schools was learning to do. Critical thinking, and feeling, enlarges our understanding of ourselves and of other people we share this world with. It is essential to peace making.

That moment with students wouldn’t have happened without donor support.

It takes a lot of work to put on Road Shows every year where educators travel across WNC to over 60 schools for some 7,000 – 8,000 students presenting Seasons of Gratitude, Festivals of Light, and Good Fortune. I especially want to thank Road Show Coordinator Amanda Silverman who managed the schedules, the 18,000 pieces of treats, along with 100’s of artifacts. Amanda, along with the community of educators, PTA’s, UNC Asheville interns, volunteers, and donors have made this happen every year for 19 years!

The Center for Diversity Education is fortunate to have the support of UNC Asheville which covers all the operating expenses of the  “the house”. Still, funds are needed for programming. Take a look at what your funding helped make possible for 2013 and consider making a donation at

Can’t donate?

There are other ways to be an ally:

Thank you for your generosity and support over the years, for CDE and all the other non-profits in our mountain home. Best wishes for the season of giving and a new year dedicated to working for equity and inclusion for all.

With much appreciation,

Deborah Miles
Executive Director”
diversity awareness