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Breaking barriers in today's world

New series addresses diversity and inclusion

Created date

February 16th, 2016
Breaking Barriers panel discussion
Breaking Barriers panel discussion

The intellectually curious retirees living at Riderwood in Silver Spring, Md., have frequent opportunities to learn new things, consider different perspectives, and engage in stimulating discussions. 

One of the groups responsible for organizing thought-provoking events on campus is the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was formed by Executive Director Chip Warner in 2013. The committee includes six residents and six staff members who work together to plan special events on topics that are of interest to people at the Erickson Living community. 

“We had one event that brought together people of different faiths; we had an art show where residents displayed their work; and we had a diversity fair, which the staff was largely responsible for,” says resident Joyce Turner, who serves as the committee’s co-chair. “We established programs that we have repeated in some way over the years.”

New horizons

In 2015, the group launched a new series called Breaking Barriers. The first event in the four-part series was a panel discussion entitled “What Is the Meaning of Race?” More than 200 residents and guests attended the November event, where they heard from a distinguished five-member panel. 

“We thought that, in addition to those signature programs, we might have some panel discussions that would bring up issues that people here are concerned about,” Joyce says.

Speakers included Rabbi Stan Levin, a Riderwood Jewish community lecturer; Rev. Dr. Bruce Marshall, an author and chaplain of the Unitarian Universalist Community at Riderwood; Dr. Jeffrey Perry, an independent historian and author; Dr. Audrey Smedley, a Riderwood resident, author and Professor Emerita of anthropology and African American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Watson, who is Riderwood’s director of operations for resident life and philanthropy, an author, and adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. 

The panelists discussed race from scholarly, theological, and historical perspectives, particularly as it relates to the United States. They also talked about the role of economic power in creating the concept of “race,” examples of modern day institutional racism, the importance of eliminating stereotypes, and future goals for twenty-first century American society. Rev. Dr. James T. Bell, pastoral ministries coordinator at Riderwood, moderated the discussion.

“We are very proud of not only the substantive quality of the first event, but also the high turnout and engaged audience,” Joyce says. “This series enhances the signature programs created by our committee.”

Next up: History of voting rights

The next event in the Breaking Barriers series took place around Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and explored the history of voting rights in the United States. 

Joyce says panelists included a retired lawyer who works with the League of Women Voters and Janet Sims-Wood, a former librarian at Howard University, who did a project on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rabbi Levin, who was a panelist at the first event, will serve as moderator for the second discussion.

“We don’t want to just keep reciting [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] speeches. We really want to think about the issues that were important in his time,” Joyce says.

Later this year, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee plans a discussion featuring the docent for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., in 2016. The group will also put on an event devoted to women’s rights and one that explores issues related to the physical barriers people experience as they age. 

“We have many residents here who are very informed and interested, and they really have a choice to make in terms of which programs they are going to attend [at Riderwood] because they aren’t able to attend everything,” Joyce says. “We work hard to offer programs that people will enjoy.”

Natural fit

Getting involved with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee was a natural fit for Joyce. She grew up in Harlem, where her father ran a bookstore and organized programs on African American history. Her husband was also a historian who taught at Stonybrook University. Joyce worked as a curriculum coordinator at a public school on Long Island, and she has published books about the Harlem Renaissance. 

“I am an African American, and I have been involved with African American history all of my life,” she says. 

Joyce lived for 40 years on Long Island, where she raised her children and also worked as a volunteer to establish health centers across Suffolk County. After she retired, she lived for about 15 years in Tucson, Ariz. 

In 2006, she moved to Riderwood. Her son and his family had moved to the area, and Joyce learned about Riderwood from a friend. She visited the Erickson Living community in Silver Spring and decided it was the right choice for her.

“I didn’t have family in Tucson, so this was attractive for several reasons—it’s on the East Coast, and it’s where some of my family was,” Joyce says. “It’s more interesting to be at a place like Riderwood than what they had out in Tucson.”