Diversity Awards recognize local leaders, nominations open

The Uniting Bridges Diversity Awards, led by Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, are open for nominations through April 30

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Photo by Submitted by Uniting Bridges

“Diversity creates opportunity,” Ducksworth-Lawton said in a video on the awards’ website. “It fosters creativity. It encourages empathy and understanding and bridges differences to allow collaboration and a sense of community.”

The Chippewa Valley may be small, but it has bold leaders in activism, equity and inclusion. 

Individuals and organizations who lead the equity, diversity and inclusion movement now can be recognized through The Uniting Bridges Diversity Awards.

The Diversity Awards are a collaboration between two local Chippewa Valley groups: Uniting Bridges, a non-profit organization for diversity and equity, and Volume One, a magazine and production company in Eau Claire. 

The award’s website said their purpose is to recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to equity and inclusivity initiatives and who seek to bridge differences in the Chippewa Valley.”

Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a UW Eau-Claire history professor and the president of Uniting Bridges, is one of the main organizers of the event. She spoke to their importance for 2021. 

Given our challenges, recognizing the often-unsung leaders of creating an inclusive and unified community is more important than ever,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “This allows people to support the diversity and inclusion work being done here.”

Uniting Bridges is a community action group led by Ducksworth-Lawton that does work across the Chippewa Valley.

“The purpose of Uniting Bridges is to promote racial reconciliation and build relationships across race, class, gender and sexuality,” their website said. “Uniting Bridges wants to build a stronger Chippewa Valley by finding ways to center and help marginalized citizens in the Chippewa Valley and to build bridges across race, class, gender, sexuality and power.”

Rebecca Mennecke, associate editor at Volume One, had a hand in producing the Diversity Awards and said the awards will be an opportunity for reflection and thought for the community. 

“I hope that these awards encourage people — all people — to reflect on their lives, their practices, their biases,” Mennecke said. “I hope the awards show folks in our community that everyone has a place to step up and support equity, diversity and inclusivity. We can all be better neighbors and friends.” 

Awareness and conversation around EDI and activism have taken a bigger hold in society this year. While these issues are always relevant and important, Ducksworth-Lawton and Mennecke said, the awards help to bring extra attention to the issues at the community level.

“Having these awards — recognizing the emotional pain and effort of mobilizing to create change — is crucial to cultivating an inclusive community,” Mennecke said. “This is one step toward building the kind of community we all want to be a part of.” 

The awards will honor up to three individuals and one organization. Ducksworth-Lawton said that there is one award reserved for people under 22 “to recognize youth leadership in inclusion.”  

This includes UW-Eau Claire students and Ducksworth-Lawton encourages nominations.

Jackie Buttafuoco, a fourth-year biology student, shared her thoughts about why the awards matter.

“It is crucial that we uplift and present platforms for these individuals that are doing the work,” Buttafuoco said. “There are multiple ways to be involved in activism. You can influence others, or you can be on the ground and we need that balance of both.” 

Buttafuoco said privileged groups like the university have a responsibility to give underrepresented voices a platform. The Diversity Awards are a good way to recognize and lift up those voices, she said.

Activism, particularly in students, is critical, Buttafuoco said, but the reasons why are not always apparent.

“When we really talk about why students, especially young people, are activists, it’s out of necessity,” Buttafuoco said. “Sometimes we’re forced to take on that (role) because those in power refused to help those that are not empowered.”

Students who are interested in getting in activism can get involved with Uniting Bridges through their Facebook group. They work together with the Chippewa Valley Equality Initiative to promote inclusion events, Ducksworth-Lawton said. 

“We have several initiatives underway and we promote non-violence,” Ducksworth-Lawton said.

Nominations for The Uniting Bridges Diversity Awards continue until April 30. 

“Nominees should be actively involved in the fight for a fairer future, embody the work of justice and spread kindness and inclusivity within the Chippewa Valley community,” the website said. “Their efforts may be seen, felt, or heard through their day-to-day work or through the large-scale impact they have on their community.”

Ducksworth-Lawton emphasized the lasting impact of activism and the importance of its recognition. 

“We want to help build leaders who can push action and policy to include everyone in the community,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “We have opportunities to create the justice and peace we want to see.”

Nomination forms for The Uniting Bridges Diversity Awards can be found here.

Those interested in Uniting Bridges can contact Ducksworth-Lawton at [email protected] and learn more at their website.

DeLapp can be reached at [email protected]