Civil rights icon Andrew Young commended the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, June 22, for the launch of its OneForsyth project, which aims to promote diversity and inclusion within the community and its businesses.
Young, who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s and later served as Atlanta’s Mayor and U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations, closed out the chamber’s launch event at the Forsyth Conference Center on Tuesday morning, thanking those in attendance for the work they have done and plan to do to further unite the community.
“We’re really getting ready for something that we don’t fully understand yet, but the way you all are working at it together, whenever it comes and whatever it is, you will be prepared to take it on,” Young said. “Because you do it by uniting and celebrating and promoting the values and the vision of a county working like a family. And so thank you very much for all that you’re doing. There is no way you can fail. It can only get better.”
The OneForsyth project was started by the chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Community Initiative, first established in 2019 when chamber leaders began speaking about the continuing growth in the county, leading to a more diverse population.
The group’s chair, Kristen Cook, helped to expand the reach of the initiative and begin planning for OneForsyth, “an initiative celebrating differences and championing inclusive prosperity for all in Forsyth County,” according to the chamber’s website, www.focochamber.org.
Many leaders throughout the community attended the event Tuesday to learn more about the program and find ways to get involved, including members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Forsyth County Schools and Board of Education leaders, local politicians and State Sen. Greg Dolezal.
‘Great future story’
Lori Wilson, an anchor and reporter with WSBTV, also attended as a guest speaker, taking the podium to tell her own story and share why diversity and inclusion is so important in communities and workplaces.
She began by relating this back to a struggle she has had throughout her career with her hair, explaining that in the 23 years she has been in television, she has had more conversations about her hair with white male producers than she has with her own hairdresser.
Wilson remembered a time a few years ago when she was getting ready for a live shot in front of an apartment complex where a body had been found when it began raining right as they went on air.
“It was this hard, fast rain, and by the end of the live shot …. I was drenched,” Wilson said. “My hair had done what it normally does when it’s wet — went from being straight and flowy to curly. I remember getting a note from my news director, ‘This can never happen again.’”
From that point on, Wilson made it her personal mission to make her own choices with her hair, and in her next contract, she negotiated a clause that said she could wear her hair naturally on television. Ever since, she has felt more like her “authentic self” and more confident in her work.
She hopes that OneForsyth can help others in the community reach that same confidence, leading to businesses and companies with more diverse, authentic, and innovative thinkers.
“You guys are bringing yourselves full to the floor, authentically and saying, ‘Look, you’re different. That’s great. Let’s see how we can work together and make this even better,’” Wilson said. “You cannot change your past, but you have the power to create a really, really great future story.”
After Wilson’s speech, panelists who were involved in helping to put the project together spoke about the three pillars of OneForsyth, which they plan to focus on moving forward — Unite, Celebrate and Promote.
Rupal Vaishnav, a resident of Forsyth County since 2008 and an attorney at a local prosecuting office, moderated the panel and asked each of the other three panelists about the pillars and their individual work on the project.
Andrew Shannon, a Forsyth resident and local commercial banker, explained the Unite pillar of the initiative, which aims to bring community members together through education and understanding.
With this in mind, the group decided to create a resource hub or “one-stop-shop” where others could get information and share different ideas with each other. This will be located on the project’s new website at www.OneForsyth.org.
Shannon, along with each of the chamber’s leaders in attendance, encouraged anyone who wants to get involved or share ideas to reach out through the website. The group, made up entirely of community members, made it one of their main goals to reach more of the community and make sure everyone is represented in OneForsyth.
“We’re open to ideas and different concepts to bring it all together to fulfill our mission,” Shannon said. “We welcome you. It’s open for everyone.”
Julie Brennan, a resident and publisher for My Forsyth Magazine, spoke on the initiative’s Celebrate pillar, reminding audience members that celebration is about more than just a party.
In order to “celebrate the various identities that are part of our community,” Brennan said she and the team are working to share residents’ stories through their Forsyth Faces project.
As part of the project, community members can volunteer to share their story in Forsyth County in a video format. Before speaking, the panelists were introduced through similar videos to show an example of the format they plan to use.
“Every single person here and every single person out there has a story to tell,” Brennan said.
The group also plans to hold events and invite others to share its own community events on a calendar that would be featured on the OneForsyth website.
The Promote pillar of OneForsyth focuses more on economic development, with goals of providing resources to businesses to create their own diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
“We want to make sure, through the promote pillar, that everybody has a seat at the table who wants it and can be heard,” Vaishnav said.
Phil Bauer, corporate counsel for Scientific Games International, spoke more about the Promote pillar and how focusing on diversity and inclusion helps businesses find success. He referred back to his own experience at Scientific Games, located in south Forsyth, where leaders have focused heavily on building on their own DEI plan.
“We like to say that innovation is the DNA of Scientific Games,” Bauer said. “[We say] that where that innovation comes from is the diversity of thought, the inclusion of all those thoughts and then the equitable benefit that is derived from that innovation.”
Building upon this idea creates a workforce where employees not only come from different experiences and backgrounds, but everyone also feels more comfortable coming forward with their ideas.
Before closing out the event Tuesday, Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President James McCoy asked those in attendance, along with anyone watching the livestream from home, to get involved with OneForsyth in any way they can.
Residents who would like to share their stories through the Forsyth Faces project can volunteer through the OneForsyth website. McCoy also encouraged corporate and business leaders to reach out as the chamber prepares for new seminars and classes which will help teach business owners how they can create their own DEI plans.
McCoy, along with many of the featured guests, expressed that they believe they can achieve an even better future for Forsyth County with the involvement of the growingly diverse community.
Before leaving the conference center, visitors flocked to Young to speak with him about the chamber’s vision and to take photos.
“I feel like I’ve witnessed a growing, happy family that’s bound to be a success in anything and everything you take on,” Young said.
For more information, visit www.OneForsyth.org.