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Challenges don’t stop ralliers from honoring diversity

By Michael Zamora
Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE It didn’t exactly go off without a hitch, but that wasn’t exactly the point either.

In fact, event organizer Deb Chaplin had only one goal in mind when she decided to bring a new diversity celebration to Cheyenne.

“We want the celebration to make people feel good about being human,” Chaplin said.

So a 30-minute equipment delay and a couple of canceled performances weren’t going to stop her and those attending from taking part in a mutli-state event celebrating humanity and its diversity at the Race Unity Day Rally held on the west lawn of the Capitol on Sunday.

The rally, which was started in Illinois by the Springfield Baha’i community in 1998, began as a statewide event to promote unity, friendship and dialog.

“Baha’is believe the solution to the world’s problems is recognition of our common humanity,” she said. “Racial unity is the most challenging issue.”

The rally is now held in six states, including Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The event featured performances from various diverse organizations in Cheyenne, including multicultural dancers, bands and martial arts demonstrations.

Featured speaker Mel Hamilton, chairman of the Diversity Task Force for the Natrona County school district, also spoke on the importance of embracing the many races and groups in the community.

“In America, multiculturalism is fundamental to the belief that citizens are equal,” he said. “On many levels I think we don’t really get to know our true potential unless we respect each other. We must always strive to bring down any barrier that keeps individuals from reaching their true potential.”

Chaplin got the idea to bring the celebration to Cheyenne after attending one in Wisconsin.

“Wyoming has a great diversity that we need to celebrate,” she said. “Even for such a small population we have a history of different people coming into our state.”

She also enlisted the help of the Cheyenne Diversity Coalition, which hosted its own celebration in January. Its founder, Ilse Sorensen, said the rally fit perfectly with her group’s mission.

“There’s still too much discrimination going on for the wrong kinds of reasons,” she said. “We are one human family. We should all be able to get along together no matter where we came from.”

Chaplin said she was encouraged by the support of the community, including from Mayor Jack Spiker and Gov. Dave Freudenthal, both of whom drafted proclamations.

Although the crowd at the four-hour program wasn’t always staggering, attendee Jennifer Stecklein said she was glad to see the city participate.

“Sometimes we do tend to get too segregated in town,” she said. “It’s important to remind people of all cultural heritages what we have in common. I would have loved to see more people, but it’s not bad for the first time they’ve ever done it.”

Chaplin said she couldn’t say for sure whether this year’s trial run would lead to a permanent Race Unity Day Rally in Wyoming, but she was satisfied with what they were able to accomplish this year

“I think things went great,” said Chaplin. “It’s a very good first start.”

©Copyright 2003, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (WY, USA)

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