by Peggy R. Garrett

The American Council of the Blind is one of the most diverse organizations in the United States, if not in the world. Members include men, women, and children of all ages and many different races, religions, education and economic levels. This diversity creates a vast pool of experience, talents and knowledge from which ACB can draw to train, mentor and develop future leaders to ensure a strong future ACB.

One of the most important features of any organization is its members. However, one of the most difficult problems for most organizations is retention and one of the biggest reasons why members are lost is because they are not made to feel that they are important to the organization. Inclusion is what keeps members interested and it is also what makes people want to contribute. When a person feels that his or her voice and opinions are important, they will work harder for that organization. When a member is encouraged to give of his or her time and specific talents, the person feels that he has an investment in that organization and is more likely to remain. These members are also more likely to encourage others to join.

However, when members, especially minorities, are not encouraged to participate or not included in leadership roles, the organization suffers not only the loss of members, but also more importantly, the loss of the wisdom, knowledge, talents and support those members possess. It is important that people who are already in leadership positions reach out to minority members and encourage and mentor them to take active roles at all levels of ACB. This inclusion opens the door to a more cohesive organization. Inclusion = retention = Growth = strength.

The theme for the Multicultural Affairs Committee's luncheon and program for the upcoming convention is "Diversity & Leadership: Accepting the Challenge and Creating Opportunities." In a recent Multicultural Affairs Committee subcommittee conference call, a discussion of the theme produced the following comments:

- "The ability of a culturally diverse group to work together as a cohesive body and come to positive, productive solutions no matter what the issue may be."

- "Having the ability to accept change while learning from each other."

- "Understanding that one can share similar experiences that transcend cultures."

- "Open-mindedness starts from the leadership and runs full circle."

- "How can we learn what our leaders do and how they do it? Mentoring is key to fostering learning from our leadership and our leadership learning from us."

The culturally diverse membership of ACB presents opportunities for learning and new experiences for leaders and members alike. It is also an opportunity to dispel some myths about cultures to which some may have had little or no previous exposure. It is important that minorities are welcomed and encouraged to invest in ACB. When members are excluded based on their minority status, the organization suffers. Strength comes with numbers and numbers come with inclusion for all. Encouraging minority participation at all levels of ACB is a win-win scenario for everyone.

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