The Columbia Values Diversity Celebration Returns

The 24th annual Columbia Values Diversity Celebration will take place at the Holiday Inn Expo Center on Thursday, Jan. 12, from 7 to 8:45 a.m. This year’s theme is “Building an Inclusive Columbia.”

The keynote speaker is Naomi Tutu, the third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nomalizo Leah Tutu. Tutu is a passionate human rights activist and speaker, whose professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa to being program coordinator for programs on race and gender and gender-based violence in education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town.

In addition, she has taught at numerous U.S colleges, served as program coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, and was a part of the Institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban.

Sarah Dresser, program specialist with the Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, which puts on the celebration, feels Tutu’s speech will really resonant with people. “She typically speaks to themes on healing and relates things from her extraordinary life and humanitarian work,” Dresser says. “I think she’ll have lots of inspirational and healing words.”

The morning begins with breakfast, followed by the formal program. It will include performances representing the rich diversity of the Columbia community, live music and presentation of the 20th Columbia Values Diversity awards by the mayor.

The awards are given to recognize an individual or family and an organization or group, who has had a significant impact in our community in promoting appreciation for diversity and cultural understanding. Those whose work exemplifies the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in fostering individual dignity, racial equality, understanding, peacemaking and solving problems through non-violence.

Another important element of the celebration is the distribution of the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration Student Writings Booklet. It contains original essays and poetry on the celebration theme submitted by students in grades 4–12. The booklet is always a thought provoking, inspiring and rewarding read, and every attendee receives one. Dresser believes this year’s theme will lead to outstanding submissions.

“Some years the theme is a little abstract but ‘Building an Inclusive Columbia’ will probably mean we’ll see more stories, more firsthand experiences,” Dresser says. A video of some of the students reading their works is also included in the program. Dresser says it’s a further way to highlight the students’ participation.

According to Dresser, the celebration draws a broad cross section of Columbians, befitting its mission. Many individuals attend, as well as groups from all types of organizations: nonprofits, university departments, public schools, and businesses. Last year’s event sold out, filling all 110 tables with more than 1,000 people.

Dresser has only one complaint about that. “I wish there was a larger place where we could hold it!” she says.

She feels the celebration is especially significant this year in light of events such as last year’s alleged incidents of racial taunting at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“I think more people are saying, ‘I really want to participate in an event like this.’ I think they’ll walk away having their point of view challenged.”

Preregistration for the celebration is required and closes on Jan. 6. Individual tickets are $17 per person, and groups can purchase a table of 10 tickets for $190. You can learn more here.