For the record: I love Williamsburg County. Thirty four years ago, Bunny and I made the decision to leave Florence and move home. We knew Florence had better opportunities for career advancement and more to offer our children, but we wanted to live and raise our girls in Salters. As a result, our life has been very good, to a large extent, because the people in this county are considerate, kind, and helpful. We have never regretted our decision.
I was reminded of why I love this community as I sat across from a friend last week, who thoughtfully shared her concerns about the lack of diversity at a recent event. My friend’s interest was to help me avoid further criticism and to promote goodwill in the community. As I defended decisions and procedures, I was reminded of a story from years ago.
When I began working for the Extension Service, one of the first things I learned was that Extension Programs were offered to all people regardless of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, or religion. Today it even goes on to include political affiliation, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. Basically it includes everyone. During the summer, Extension agents were busy with workshops and competitions for local youth. As a rule, the Williamsburg Office worked diligently promoting opportunities for young people who wanted to be a part of the 4-H Program.
As I prepared registration for a particular workshop and competition, I discovered the 4-Her I was training would be out-of town and could not attend. Because we wanted our county to compete, another youth was invited to participate. A demonstration was developed and the new 4-Her worked quickly to get ready. Meanwhile, the first youth’s trip was cancelled and requested to be included in the contest. Not knowing exactly how to respond, I called the State 4-H Office and advised them of the problem and was told both young people could attend. Registrations were revised and plans were in place for two youths to participate in the competition. The week prior to the event, the 4-Hers worked together and helped each other with their demonstrations. It was a great experience. It was until we arrived at the event and was told; “only one youth could take part in the competition.” It made no difference to those in charge of the contest, that we received permission to bring both contestants, nor did they apologize for not informing us sooner that only one youth could compete. The decision was made and no amount of arguing would change their mind. So even though the State 4-H Staff made the mistake of telling us we could bring both youths, I had to make the choice as to which young person would compete in the contest, or make the decision to not let either participate. Knowing the demonstration experience of both contestants, I chose the individual that I anticipated could win. As fate would have it, the Williamsburg Contestant won the state contest and later went on to compete and prevail in many other state competitions. Also, for the record, both 4-Hers participated in all the other activities during the workshop. The only difference was that one participant’s demonstration was not judged.
The story would probably have ended here had the 4-Hers been of the same race. But, for the record, one child was of Caucasian Ancestry and one child was African American. Back at home, I was criticized for choosing the Caucasian Contestant over the African American even though the youth I selected won the contest. It was disheartening that a local controversy would overshadow the fact that our 4-Her won first place in a state contest. My argument was then, and remains to this day; it would have been a racial decision had I chosen the other child because I would have picked her primarily because of her race. Trying to be impartial, I practiced what Extension promoted; programs were offered to all, regardless of race, sex, color etc. It was a difficult decision to make, but I made the choice based on professional opinion and nothing else.
That was twenty years ago, and today we continue to evaluate programs, personal choices, political decisions, business practices, and even future plans by a diversity standard. Often we lose sight of the good actually being done in this community because we all fear favoritism and unfairness. The author Steven Covy said: “strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Our community, like many across the country, is composed of different races, religions, economic backgrounds, cultures, educational abilities. The list goes on and on. The question then becomes, when do we agree to let our differences make us stronger rather than being sensitive about everything that makes us different? Finally, for the record: it’s probably less about the color of our skin and more about the condition of our hearts. And that my friend is a topic for another day.