Student participants with their teacher at VCIC’s Prejudice Awareness Summit program.

Student participants with their teacher at VCIC’s Prejudice Awareness Summit program.

“Continue to make a difference, and to stand up in this unbelievable time of bias, prejudice, discrimination, and hatred. We deserve better than this. We ARE better than this. And VCIC is one of the shining lights that helps us prove those words are true.”

The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) recently received a letter with these powerful words. The letter came at a time of unprecedented demand for the 83-year-old nonprofit organization’s programs and services. In fact, in the last year alone, VCIC trained over 22,000 Virginians. And from 2015-2017, VCIC saw a 1,300% increase in requests for support after incidents of bias, bullying, and discrimination.

These incidents include name-calling and harassment directed toward refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Jewish people, members of the LGBT community, African-Americans, Latino people, and more. It has taken place on playgrounds, in classrooms and school hallways, in grocery stores, malls, and parking lots. It has impacted students in high schools, elementary schools, and even nursery schools.

Many people wonder what they can do in the face of such painful prejudice. Thanks to the support of community partners like SunTrust, VCIC is able to facilitate workshops, retreats, and forums for schools, businesses, and communities throughout the Richmond region and beyond that produce measurable results in reducing prejudice and advancing inclusion.

One example of that support is through volunteerism. For the last several years, SunTrust employees have volunteered at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Prejudice Awareness Summit. This one-day forum brings together over 200 Richmond-area middle school students and educators. Participants learn to recognize prejudice and intolerance, and to respect others. They work closely with their peers from a wide range of ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Students and educators leave the program with action plans to take back to their schools to share the program message with the larger school community.

Another way to advance inclusion is through education. SunTrust is one of 15 Richmond-area organizations that participate in the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Workplace Inclusion Network (WIN). Every other month, employees from WIN member organizations come together for lunch-and-learn sessions focused on diversity and inclusion. Program topics for 2018 include “Navigating Difficult Dialogues in the Current Political Climate,” “Microaggressions in the Workplace,” and “Religious Diversity and the December Dilemma.”

A third way to show support is through recognition. For 55 years, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has conducted the Richmond Humanitarian Awards Dinner to lift up the individuals and organizations who live out VCIC’s mission each day. For many years, SunTrust has been a sponsor of this celebration. Nominations are now being accepted at www.inclusiveVA.org/nominate-humanitarian to help VCIC identify 2018 Humanitarian Award recipients.

Through volunteerism, education, and recognition, individuals and institutions can help the Richmond region become more inclusive, and, by extension, more successful. Indeed, a wide body of research shows that inclusion and success are deeply connected. In schools, students who feel a sense of belonging have improved attendance, fewer discipline challenges, and experience better academic and social outcomes. The same is true of workplaces: Employees who feel included and valued work harder, are more collaborative and innovative, and make better decisions. And communities have better outcomes and day-to-day experiences when laws, policies, and practices equitably serve all people.

During these divided times, it is going to take all of us, together, to stand up to hate and promote understanding and respect. Get involved with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. For more information, visit inclusiveVA.org or call (804) 515-7950.

This feature is one in a series about the Richmond Region’s nonprofit organizations and their contributions to our communities. It is brought to you by the featured organization in collaboration with the sponsoring advertiser on this page.