One America Community Efforts
Little Bar

Program: Memphis Race Relations and Diversity Institute, Memphis, TN
Contact(s): Leslie Saunders, President and CEO: (901) 578-2504
Purpose: To encourage changes in behavior and attitude among the citizens of Memphis in order to achieve a better understanding of the value of diversity

Background Program Operations Outcomes


In 1993, Goals for Memphis, a non-profit organization that works to provide a vision for the city of Memphis, sought to eradicate the city's image as being one of the most racially divided cities in the nation. The Memphis Race Relations and Diversity Institute (MRRDI) was created to pursue this goal. After four years of intense study and dialogue that involved more than 200 community leaders, the institute began its work as a provider of diversity-awareness training to organizations and businesses located within the Memphis area. It also identified the need for the city to have forums and vehicles through which people can discuss diversity-related issues.

Program Operations

MRRDI provides five levels of training: diversity awareness, train-the-trainer certification, organizational communications training, strategic planning training for senior managers and custom-designed specialty training (upon request). In 1998, the Institute will provide skills-building training for managers and supervisors. The basic, two-day diversity-awareness training creates an environment that reduces fear of discussing race-related issues, introduces the importance of pluralism and helps organizations and businesses develop skills, tools and processes to improving their working environments. ("Pluralism" defined as a state whereby members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture within the confines of a common institution.) The training focuses on a few core messages. First, the program asserts that neither diversity nor diversity management is a new concept. In the past, these issues were handled ineffectively. Second, the training also recognizes that to handle diversity issues more effectively, a new set of tools and skills need to be learned. And third, the training is most valuable when people understand the seven-step process for reaching pluralism. The institute found that many times organizations attempt to incorporate diversity within their institutions without fully understanding the process involved. To recognize those businesses that have moved closer to achieving pluralism in their institutions, MRRDI has developed a certification program. Businesses are certified if they have achieved all of the following goals: 1) the diversity of their employees mirrors the diversity of their customers, 2) the diversity of their vendors mirrors the diversity of the customers and 3) their community development donations are aimed toward their customer base. In addition to noting these organizations, the institute has designed a program to inform the public about businesses that have received the certification through the Passport to Pluralism Plan. This plan would offer consumers (passport-holders) discounts on services received from certified businesses.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Since beginning its research in 1993, the institute has provided training to more than 5,000 corporate and organizational managers representing more than 200 local organizations. MRRDI has established extensive contacts with a number of businesses that have allowed the program to deepen its training and expand its reach. From evaluations collected after training sessions, the institute has been able to begin crafting additional courses to meet the needs of area organizations. As of January 1, 1998, MRRDI will operate separately from Goals for Memphis. The institute was recognized by the International Labor Organization as one of the top 20 diversity initiatives in the nation.

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