Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce Unity event

Panelists discussed what diversity, equity and inclusion really looks like Thursday, Feb. 4 2021 during a virtual Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce event, Unity: The Movement of Change in Our Community. (Courtesy Kelly Stroman)

A local education official, a former professional soccer player, a South Bay magazine editor and an Ohio teenager discussed their views on diversity and inclusion, and how to break down barriers people of color face in various industries during a virtual panel the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted recently — as part of ongoing efforts to better serve all of its members, particularly Black-owned businesses.

The panelists also discussed what they are doing in their respective fields, providing personal examples of how they are trying to improve diversity and inclusion.

The chamber, which hosted the event via Zoom, has worked since last year to serve all the city’s businesses equitably, including by talking to Black business owners more about what they really need and adding a Black-owned business directory to its website. The chamber also created an inclusion committee to ensure such initiatives, as well policies that focus on and incorporate diversity and equity, become the standard for the business networking group rather than short-lived approaches that fizzle out.

The panelists were:

  • Olivia V.G. Clarke, a 17-year-old student, activist and author of “Black Girl, White School: Thriving, Surviving and No, You Can’t Touch My Hair,” an anthology documenting the experiences of Black girls in predominately White schools;
  • Cobi Jones, FOX sports broadcaster and retired L.A. Galaxy soccer player;
  • Jen Fenton, Manhattan Beach Unified school board president; and
  • Tanya Monaghan, social influencer and deputy editor of Southbay Magazine.

Kelly Stroman, president and CEO of the chamber, co-moderated the panel discussion with Tamala Lewis, senior director of community relations at AEG ‘s Dignity Health Sports Park and founding member of the chamber’s inclusion committee. The discussion opened with the panelists describing what diversity, equity and inclusion means to them.

Fenton, the leader of MBUSD’s Board of Education, talked about how the district’s alumni, students and faculty created the MBUSD Community Panel for Equity last year. That panel, Fenton said, introduced tough conversations to the school community about how some students have felt excluded because the curriculum and texts weren’t inclusive — meaning they didn’t see their experiences or those of their community represented in what they were learning. The panel, Fenton said, is working to hold the Board of Education and the district’s administrators accountable so those feelings of exclusion no longer happen.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion means having conversations that can be uncomfortable,” Fenton said, “(then) we rebuild a foundation where everyone feels they have a voice.”

Clarke, president of the diversity club and student diversity executive equity board at her Ohio high school, defined diversity, equity and inclusion as it “creating environments that mirror America and breaking down the systemic barriers that America was founded on.”

Clarke also noted the importance of “intersectionality,” which, the student said, she sees often overlooked in discussions about diversity. Clarke gave an example: If a company wants to hire more women and more people of color, she said, the answer shouldn’t be to hire a White woman and a Black man. Rather, they should look at bringing on Black women, indigenous people, transgender people of color and other underrepresented groups, she said.

For Jones, the former soccer player, each level of a given aspect of society — work, school, politics — should also reflect America.

“For me, it’s representation of what this country really looks like on every level,” Jones said, “the feeling that I’m a part of something that’s welcoming to me.”

But achieving that level of representation — where, for example, the Black community is equitably represented on the school board, among a local campus’s administrators and on the faculty — will require allies in power to step up and help create that access, Jones added.

Monaghan, for her part, said that she’s personally seen how inequity hurts people, having lived in apartheid-era South Africa until she was 7 years old, and knows “we are stronger together.”

To her, diversity, equity and inclusion is defined in the Zulu philosophy of Ubuntu: “I am because we are,” Monaghan said.

The panel discussion didn’t end with each member’s view on diversity, equity and inclusion. The members also discussed what they are doing to improve their respective fields.

Jones, for example, is a founding member of the Soccer Collective on Racial Equity, which works to dismantle systemic racism and foster greater representation in the sport. The organization is also working to make sure conversations around that don’t stop, Jones said, noting that many similar movements began with a lot of energy behind them before dying out.

“When we talk about equity it’s not just about, ‘Everyone can go have a shot,’,” Jones said. “There are already barriers in place, and they tend to rise.”

The difference between equality and equity, in fact, has been an increasingly important point among many activists. Equality, they say, gives everyone the same chance. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that because certain groups have faced historic barriers — that, in many cases, remain — there need to be specific policies in place to give those communities a fair shot at succeeding, they say.

Clarke, meanwhile, is working to make diversity classes a mandatory part of the curriculum, including by requiring African American studies classes and ensuring other subjects use books by authors from historically marginalized groups.

Fenton, for her part, said the Manhattan Beach school district is working on some of the same things. The district, for example, is working with the panel for equity, to analyze its curriculum and swap out some books for ones written by people of color.

On the publishing front, Monaghan said she has been seeking out more people of color to feature on Southbay Magazine’s cover, including surfer Hunter Jones and restaurateurs Lenora and Adnen Marouani, of Manhattan Beach’s Barsha. She was taken aback, she added, when a reader told her they were so glad to see that.

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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