Rich Benjamin described his trip to Idaho in a TED talk less than two years ago: He saw more Confederate flags than black people.
That was just one memory from what he said was a two-year, 27,000-mile exploratory trip that included stays in Utah and an Atlanta suburb.
He attended zoning board meetings, poker gatherings, pool parties and events hosted by Democrat and Republican clubs.
Sometimes he felt accepted. Other times, he felt like a novelty. Benjamin is author of "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America."
He will be in Fort Wayne this month to describe his journey to live in some of America’s whitest communities. His Jan. 24 presentation at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center is part of the My City Summit, hosted by Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana. This year’s event is emphasizing diversity, community strength, big ideas, solutions and actions.
YLNI hosted the first My City Summit in 2012, attracting about 200 people, after a Knight Foundation "Soul of the Community" survey indicated a lack of strong community attachment among young college graduates.
This year’s summit, from 5 to 9 p.m. includes dinner and the presentation of the Ian Rolland Leadership Award and, new this year, an Emerging Leader Award.
Along with Benjamin, other presenters include Courtney Tritch, who speaks on economic development marketing strategies and diversity and inclusion in competitive communities. She is founder of Progressive Social Hour. Allison Green, senior vice president, diversity, inclusion and employee engagement for Lincoln Financial Group, will also speak.
Tickets are $25. Information is available at www.mycitysummit.com
YLNI selected speakers who could address diversity and inclusion from different viewpoints – globally, nationally, on a local and regional level and from a corporate standpoint, according to Patrick L. Florea, a vice president with the organization.
Cultural and political analyses by Benjamin appear in various media such as NPR, the New York Times, Fox and the Huffington Post.
Benjamin, in the May 2015 TED talk that you can still find online through Google, said Whitopia has a "push-pull phenomenon" because it’s "full of alarming pushes and alluring pulls."
Whitopia operates at the level of conscious and unconscious bias. "It’s possible for people to be in white utopia not for racist reasons, though it has racist outcomes," he said.
The pushes include concerns about illegal immigration, social welfare abuse, density, crowded schools and high taxes. The pulls include the concept of merit, freedom and the allure of privatism.
The problem, Benjamin said, is the more segregation we have the tougher it is to deal with conscious and unconscious bias.
Athena Award nominations
Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is accepting nominations until Feb. 17 for this year’s Athena Award Program, the organization announced last week.
The program celebrates exceptional men, women and organizations who have "served the community in a meaningful way and have assisted women in their attainment of professional goals and leadership skills," a news release last week said.
Individuals are recognized through a Leadership Award, a Young Professional Award, and an Organizational Leadership Award.
The Leadership Award and the Young Professional Award honor individuals who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession. This includes devoting time and energy to improve the quality of life for others.
Individuals must be 40 or younger to be considered for the Young Professional Award.
The Organizational Leadership Award recognizes an organization within the community that creates a culture that encourages women employees to achieve full leadership potential, and gives back to the larger community of women and girls by providing and/or supporting leadership development opportunities and initiatives.
Greater Fort Wayne is a Chamber alliance. Nominations for the awards are available on the GFW Inc. website at www.greaterfortwayneinc.com/athena.
The March 29 awards luncheon will be from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Hotel Fort Wayne, 305 E. Washington Center Road.
Individual tickets are $35 and table sponsorships are $500. Those interested are asked to register by March 22 at athena.gfwinc.com.