Inclusive Communities was established in 1938 as the Midlands Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice).
In that historical context, the conversation centered on “Who is an American?” particularly in response to overt anti-Semitism and heinous acts committed by the Ku Klux Klan.
From the very beginning, the organization has been engaged in mobilizing against divisive forces of violence, ignorance and exclusion, as it seeks to embrace diversity and build strong communities.
‘Not in Omaha’
In 1938, Otto Swanson, owner of the Nebraska Clothing Company, was appalled by the entreaty of another Omaha businessman to conduct a secret boycott of Jewish-owned businesses, touted as a benefit to him since his business was “Christian-owned.”
Swanson had been quoted as saying, “I couldn’t believe anything like that could happen, not in the United States and certainly not in Omaha.”
He was committed to working toward human understanding. Along with W. Dale Clark, banker; Milton Livingston, businessman; and Ralph Svoboda, attorney, he joined with other leading citizens and Inclusive Communities was born (albeit as the NCCJ Midlands Chapter)
From the outset, the organization’s activities were focused on engaging the wider community in discussion — on race in the 1940s; struggles faced by Native American communities, youth, and rural populations in the 1950s; and sexuality and substance abuse in the 1960s.
“Early on, our organization tackled subjects that were under-discussed, hidden on the margins, whispered as if taboo,” said Deputy Director Cammy Watkins. “We took to task having those conversations that bring discomfort to the surface, because from very early on, our predecessors recognized the need for those growing pains in order to advance as a society.”
In the 1960s, discussions continued on how best to listen to children, interfaith and inter-racial relationships and the integration of public schools. In the ’70s and ’80s, discussions expanded into organized lectures and workshops, professional intervention and community mediation, taking on topics such as police and minority relations, racial isolation in public schools and the meaning of the Holocaust for Christians and Jews. Human relations programs were developed for schools, police departments, correctional institutions, government agencies and private industries.
In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Inclusive Communities engaged in dialogues about Muslim and Christian relations, Equal Employment Opportunities and Affirmative Action and diversity of faith. And Teen Summits and the Green Circle Program were introduced to promote diversity and inclusion.
In 2000, Anytown debuted with the purpose of transforming young people into passionate and compassionate leaders. Today it has evolved into the popular IncluCity camp for teens.
Inclusive Communities also offers a wide range of programming for private industries and government agencies — the newest being LeadDIVERSITY.
The Humanitarian Brunch started as a Humanitarian Dinner and Award Ceremony, then for a number of years forayed into a daylong conference in various parts of Nebraska (Grand Island, one year, Norfolk another ...), before settling into an energy-filled, mimosa-fueled, feel-good celebration.
“We have honored Nebraska names that everyone knows — Peter Kiewit, Margre and Charles Durham, Dick Holland, Susie Buffett and so many more,” said Executive Director Maggie Wood. “And we have also lifted up names that you might not know as well, but whose impact in our communities has been undeniable. This year, Bobby Brumfield, last year South Omaha leader Martha Nieves, and previously the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals.”
COVID-19 prevented Inclusive Communities members and supporters from gathering in person for the Humanitarian Brunch. “But it hasn’t stopped our work; it hasn’t dampened our spirit; and it hasn’t broken down our commitment to the community,” Wood said.
Nor has it stopped the important work of its honorees.
“They have continued to create brave spaces for those who need it,” Watkins said. “They have continued to lift up individuals and communities who need support.”
The organization is capitalizing on the circumstances of the pandemic to reach a wider audience by taking the Humanitarian Brunch virtual.
Wood added, “We want to ensure that the community knows about our awardees and their community work. And we want you to know that we’re still on this path toward a more inclusive society. We have seen a lot of ugly words and deeds transpire in the past weeks, but we’ve also seen how some of that has been met with love, with understanding, with unity and with action.”
She continued: “We’re here for it. And this is the perfect time in history to embrace diversity and strengthen community. We are Inclusive Communities.”
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