The Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce is working to further unite community members and business leaders through its Diversity and Inclusion Community Initiative, which they plan to officially introduce to the public at a kickoff event on Tuesday, June 22, at the Forsyth Conference Center.
Kristen Cook, the initiative group’s chair, recently spoke publicly about the initiative and its accomplishments so far via a pre-recorded video during the State of the County address in May.
The event this month, however, will be a chance for group members to officially introduce One Forsyth, “an initiative celebrating differences and championing inclusive prosperity for all in Forsyth County,” according to the chamber’s website
The event will feature guest speaker Lori Wilson, a news anchor and reporter with WSBTV, and invite business leaders and others in the community to join One Forsyth and its mission of diversity and inclusion.
Guests can attend the event virtually through the chamber’s website, or they can attend in person at the Forsyth Conference Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. In-person tickets are $15 and includes a provided boxed lunch.
The Diversity and Inclusion Community Initiative was first established in 2019 when the chamber began discussing the continual growth in the county, leading to a more diverse population in the Forsyth community and school system.
“It had been coming up before, but I think that was a time where they really put a stake in the ground during that planning session in 2019 and really said we need to take some action or create a framework of what does this look like for Forsyth County,” Cook said. “That was the emphasis of the group.”
Originally, the group behind the initiative consisted of nearly 15 community members. Cook took over as chair of the group last year when she first heard about the initiative from Cindy Jones Mills, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, who is a huge supporter of the initiative.
At around the same time, Cook said the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest surrounding protests against police brutality across the U.S. brought more attention to the initiative and expanded the group’s reach in the community.
Cook said the group has been able to make significant progress in building connections and establishing goals for the initiative, despite working through the pandemic.
She is particularly proud of a program they established last year, allowing community members to volunteer and translate voter and vaccination flyers in more than 10 different languages.
“The excitement from the community members to help is what floored me,” Cook said. “People had never been asked, can you help us translate this into Hindi? It was amazing just the response that we got, so that was just energizing from that standpoint.”
On top of these projects, the group has been working toward establishing set goals for the initiative and discussing what diversity and inclusion would look like in Forsyth County and how they can help and create resources for business leaders who want to take part.
Cook explained they have now established three pillars they want to work toward as part of their One Forsyth program — Unite, Celebrate and Promote.
Under the ‘Unite’ pillar, the group will focus on uniting community members through education and awareness. This would include teaching more about the county’s demographics and the various cultures, languages and more that exist in Forsyth.
“A lot of people don’t know about …. all the different languages and backgrounds that we have in the county, and so there really is an opportunity just for people to know we really are very diverse,” Cook said.
Dania Peguero, the Diversity Specialist for Forsyth County Schools, also sits on a One Forsyth committee to provide a voice for the school district where the student population has grown more and more diverse along with Forsyth’s community.
Under the ‘Celebrate’ pillar, the group hopes to help “celebrate various identities through stories and events.”
They are already planning for short videos to share with the community of those in the collective talking about why diversity and inclusion is important to them and why they are passionate about One Forsyth.
Members also want to partner with community members to highlight various events happening in the area.
For example, if a group is getting together to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month in June or another group of residents is planning a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month later in September, Cook said they want One Forsyth to be a place where residents can promote these events and get others in the community involved.
To do this, One Forsyth just launched its own website where individuals can request to add planned events to a community calendar. Cook described the website, oneforsyth.org, as a one-stop-shop for community events and resources.
Under the final pillar, “Promote,” Cook said the chamber hopes to introduce residents to more economic development opportunities within the county. The group has begun asking themselves how they can position resources to assist people who want to start a business or work for a company in the county.
“We just want everyone to have an equal opportunity to be able to live the life they want to be able to live in Forsyth County,” Cook said.
Aside from these overarching goals, the group is working now to expand and reach all the different dimensions of diversity represented in Forsyth County. As One Forsyth is a program meant to help others in the community, they want to make sure the community is involved and represented in the group.
“So [that includes] race and ethnicity, but we want to make sure we have representatives from the LGBTQ community, people who have disabilities, veterans, various generations,” Cook said. “There is an opportunity to continue to recruit and just make sure that all those voices are heard.”
As the One Forsyth members begin to interact more in the community and begin working toward these goals, Cook said she hopes those in the community can really learn from the program and begin to implement a new way of thinking.
“Groups like this are great, but a lot of the work that’s done is in your personal relationships and the people that you interact with,” Cook said. “I think if you model that inclusive thinking and behaviors in your own life, then people will start to see that and mimic that.”For more information about One Forsyth and how community members can get involved, visit its newly-launched website oneforsyth.org or visit the chamber’s website at focochamber.org.