By Jessica Mathews/

What organizers hope will be the first of many community conversations about unity and change was held Friday evening. It’s time to make a change and bring about community unity and embrace diversity and inclusion.

The “CommUnity Conversation” event was held in the parking lot of 2/42 Community Church in Genoa Township and featured local pastors and representatives from the Livingston Diversity Council. Michelle Ounanian, the Next Steps Pastor at 2/42 Church and DJ Reed, the Pastor at Chilson Hills Church gave remarks before the names of individuals who have suffered racial injustice and violence were read aloud. Around 60 community members, families and leaders attended.

Dr. Regina Banks-Hall, the Dean of Graduate & Professional Studies at Cleary University, delivered the keynote address. She spoke about how a puzzle can represent a community – often being difficult to solve and creating a challenge but once all of the pieces fit together, it creates a beautiful portrait. Banks-Hall said in order to bring about change; everyone must become puzzle solvers and bring the Livingston County community together with hope, respect and unity. She said when that happens, it will create a beautiful portrait of men, women and children representing all races and all backgrounds. When that puzzle is solved, Banks-Hall said then we can shed the history of the past and begin the process of creating history for a future community that embraces everyone – creating a community where everyone is valued and it’s up to everyone to lead the way for the next generation.

Banks-Hall said we’re facing a crucial time in history; a pandemic that has sickened and killed many fellow Americans, civil unrest and protests by those who feel they have been unjustly treated and a mountain of stress, anxiety and uncertainty concerning the future and the world. Banks-Hall said people have two choices to make - hold onto or cling to a troubled and divided past filled with separation and division - or they can recognize the moment and take the unique opportunity to choose a new path and one that will determine how children look at the world.

So what can be done? Banks-Hall encouraged the crowd to think about a new path that shows how everyone overcame in the face of adversity. She said that new path that includes unity, harmony, brotherhood, diversity, mutual respect and love for everyone in the community. Banks-Hall commented the country has faced major hurdles and challenges before and each time it has always came out stronger, better, more unified and one step closer to the highest ideal. She added this is a unique moment in time to shape the history of the community, state and country - and even the world. Banks-Hall encouraged everyone to come together and build a community where everyone is included – saying the future of Livingston County rests on everyone to become puzzle solvers to build the future for the next generation.

Those in attendance and the community at large are being invited to take part in ongoing efforts to bring diversity equity and inclusion to the forefront of the Livingston County community. The Livingston Diversity Council is encouraging the community to join in the MI League for Public Policy’s 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge.

Diversity Council President Nicole Matthews-Creech told the crowd there is a lot of momentum and let’s not let it end as there’s a lot of work to do. When it comes to involvement from the Diversity Council, she says they’ve seen local and national issues arise and communities come together but then go back to where they were but this time it feels different. Matthews-Creech said injustice, hatred and bias has gone on for hundreds of years and won’t end overnight – and they need consistent commitment from everyone to make change.

Those wishing to participate in the 21-day Racial Equity Challenge can do so on their own or in a guided format. Lists of recommended reads for kids, families, teens and tweens and adults were distributed at the event and information was provided about upcoming events. More information can be found through the provided link.