By Mike Wade
NRVCS Community Relations Specialist
mwade@nrvcs.org

More than 60 members of the staff at NRVCS came together earlier this week to discuss the issue of race and how it impacts both their everyday lives and their jobs.

The discussion, organized by the agency’s Cultural Competence Committee, was held at NRVCS’ main offices in Blacksburg. Although NRVCS is recognized around the state for its long-standing diversity training and inclusion programs, committee members say this is the first time staff have been given essentially an open forum to solely discuss race.

“Last fall, staff were asked to share their thoughts on race relations through an anonymous web-based survey,” notes NRVCS Director of Finance Deborah Whitten-Williams, who chairs the Cultural Competence Committee. “At the time, we were hearing so much about race relations on the national level that we wanted to get a sense of what our employees were thinking.”

“The response to that survey made it pretty clear that our employees not only understand the sensitivity of the issue but that they also see it impacting their work – either directly or indirectly,” adds Whitten-Williams.

Participating employees were divided into small groups of six and were given time to learn more about one another before diving directly into questions specific to race relations. Each small group was facilitated by a representative of the Cultural Competence Committee and another member of each group was tasked with taking notes. Whitten-Williams points out that the notes from each group will be reviewed by the Committee to help plan next steps.

As the discussion concluded, participants were given the opportunity to sign a pledge, indicating their commitment to continuing the agency’s dialogue on race.

“We didn’t know what to expect going in, but it really turned out to be a tremendous afternoon,” Whitten-Williams explains. “Folks were engaged, they were listening carefully to each other, and I’m sure we could have kept the conversation going well into the evening.”

“In the end, we want both our staff and our community know that NRVCS is an organization that fosters an open, honest, and level-headed discussion about race,” says Whitten-Williams.