When Richmond school officials issued a formal apology in March for a search of Hispanic students at Huguenot High School two years earlier, Jonathan Zur was on hand to share the district's bridge-building efforts moving forward.
Zur, president and CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, has devoted much of the organization's energies this year to improving relations between black students and Hispanics, the largest minority group in the school district.
This demographic and cultural shift has been a challenge that Richmond Public Schools, with a dearth of Hispanic or Spanish-speaking staff, has struggled to meet. So Zur and the VCIC have helped fill the void, partnering with the school district to better serve an immigrant population largely concentrated on South Side.
In October, the organization took 50 black and Hispanic students from George Wythe and Huguenot high schools to a retreat in Jamestown to improve relations.
“I think the work VCIC has been doing with Richmond Public Schools, particularly in reducing disparities along the lines of race and national origin, has been really distinct and meaningful," Zur said.
He has led the VCIC since July 2009, after a stint as its vice president for program operations. He serves on more than a half-dozen local and national boards and has received leadership awards from the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond and the Community Foundation, among others.
Zur said the organization's staff has doubled to six full-time employees under his leadership, and the number of participants in its programs has expanded from 3,500 per year to nearly 21,000 since he came aboard in 2006.
Last year, the VCIC launched a Workplace Inclusion Network, training employees at area corporations to guide or support workplace efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce and serve diverse clients and customers.
"It is absolutely a pinch-me job just about every morning to be able to do work I’m passionate about” and see the results, Zur said. "It's an honor to do this work.”
IN HIS WORDS
A small moment in life with a big impact
When I was 15, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat program sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities affiliate office in New Jersey. That weeklong experience profoundly shaped my understanding of the world and my place in it. I found my passion, I found an incredible network of friends and allies, and I found my voice to advocate for causes in which I believe. I have vivid memories of the conversations I had with peers from different races, classes, religions and sexual orientations during that week. Today, the work I do at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities is a direct extension of that catalyzing experience back in 1997.
My favorite book from the last few years is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The story weaves together race, history, science, relationships and ethics in a compelling and engaging way. It linked a number of my personal and professional interests, and also has an important connection to Virginia.
Something you’d like to do
I have always enjoyed traveling, and visiting South Africa is a personal “bucket list” item. The history of that nation, along with the richness of the culture, land and people, makes a vacation there especially appealing.
The first person who comes to mind is my mother. Professionally, she was a social worker who modeled and instilled a commitment to the community in my sister and me. My earliest memories of understanding inequality and volunteering are with my mom. Last December, she retired after a distinguished career as director of senior services for a town in New Jersey. It was so touching to see how many people came to her retirement party to thank her for her remarkable impact. And, as she has always been, she was humble to a fault, deferring the recognition and accolades to others.
Something that might surprise others
While my professional work is very public and involves lots of interaction with the community, I am actually an introvert. I enjoy and value personal time to reflect and recharge before going to events and programs. Working across the state, a lot of that happens as I am in the car or at hotels!
Alternate profession or course of study
In high school, I was in a specialized course of study focused on international studies. If I were not doing this work, I would probably being doing something focused on international affairs or policy, as a practitioner or educator. That said, I think I’d still be doing work on issues of diversity and inclusion, either woven into my professional work or as a volunteer.
I’m proud to be able to do work each day that aligns with my values and passions and that makes a difference. To work with dedicated colleagues, board members and volunteers to expand the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ reach and impact is incredibly gratifying. And to hear regularly from program alumni who share how our programming has been life-changing is humbling and certainly sustains me during stressful or challenging times.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
Richmond’s culture is inspiring and exciting. The art, history, food scene and museums add so much to life in the region. And they keep getting better! I also really appreciate the scale of Richmond. It feels like a place where relationships and hard work can actually bring about meaningful change.
Position: president and CEO, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities
Born/hometown: Sept 27, 1981; Howell Township, N.J.
College: University of Richmond (bachelor's degree from Jepson School of Leadership Studies), Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (certificate in nonprofit executive leadership)