Most people in Springfield would have felt right at home on Thursday at the annual Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks.
Crosses were in abundance. Entertainers sang music familiar to churchgoers. The keynote speaker shared some deeply personal reflections, but said his failures and tribulations had not shaken his faith in God: “If I fail and have Jesus, so be it.”
While prayer is common among most faith traditions, this event was clearly a celebration of Christian faith. After all, we are predominantly a Christian community, with a well-earned moniker as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
In fact, a 2016 study found Greene County “has a higher density of religious congregations than comparably-sized counties nationwide and congregations are slightly larger, on average, than those nationwide. A substantial majority of congregations reflect an Evangelical Christian tradition and have a majority white membership.”
The local observance of the “National Day of Prayer” was officially open to all — but I would imagine people of Jewish, Muslim or Hindu faith, Buddhists, Unitarians and especially non-religious residents might have felt uncomfortable, or even unwanted. When I introduced myself to people at my table, I was asked several questions: What church do you attend? What was your religious upbringing? Are you pro-life?
The event was an opportunity for reflection and celebration, but it reminded me that how the majority in our community lives, learns and celebrates, without being exclusionary, is a challenge — for Springfield and for the Springfield Daily Citizen.
Diversity, equity and inclusion have been hot topics of late in our community. And while people tend to default to thinking “diversity” translates to issues of race, it is much more nuanced, calling on us all to examine our views of race, class, generation, gender, religion, ability and a host of other factors that define and make us different.
As a white man in his 60s, I can only really speak to my own lived experiences. Unlike many women I know, I have never had difficulty getting the attention of a salesperson at a car dealer, or even a busy clerk at the deli. As far as I know, no one has ever used a racial epithet to describe me, and I don’t recall ever being followed around in a store, or being feared because I was wearing a hoodie. Even when I visited a Muslim country, people showed me respect and did not overtly fear me simply because of my religious background.
By virtue of a middle-class upbringing, I have enjoyed many advantages. Yes, I worked hard to achieve a level of professional success, but have learned that for many people, hard work is not enough to overcome the obstacles of gender, race, poverty, family status, sexual orientation, ability/disability, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or factors such as age, veteran status or history of incarceration.
Daily Citizen staff lacking diversity
When you look at a photo of the staff of the Springfield Daily Citizen, it is obvious we have a long way to go to be representative of our community. True enough, more than half our staff is female, and women hold 3 of the 4 senior leadership positions. But while some ethnic and other diversity may not be obvious in the photo, we are more white than the community as a whole.
We are trying to offset our lack of racial diversity in part through working with freelancers and other contributors in the community, but it is just a start. Even in this area, we have room to improve: two of our regular Voices columnists openly express their Christian points of view, but we don’t offer much perspective from other faiths.
For the Daily Citizen, I believe it is important that we embrace diversity — but to be clear, that is not simply about race, even though our nation has a long, troubling history in dealing with racial issues.
To fulfill our mission and encourage discourse, the Daily Citizen will make an extra effort to cover the lived experiences of citizens of all races, abilities and backgrounds, especially those who have often felt ignored or underrepresented.
We believe our mission and society in general are strengthened by respecting individuals’ cultural traditions, beliefs and viewpoints.
We also can reflect differing viewpoints through our coverage, whether through news stories, such as Jackie Rehwald’s in-depth look at the pandemic-induced exodus of women — particularly mothers — from the workforce, or feature stories, like our story on the Black Arts Alliance.
The complex issues we face in a global society, and a global economy, require us to respect — and to actively educate ourselves about — different viewpoints.
Race, class, generation, gender, religion, and geography all affect point of view. Reflecting these differences in our reporting leads to better, more-nuanced stories and a better-informed community. This also is consistent with the core value of inclusive excellence emphasized by our host, Missouri State University.
Forming a DEI Advisory Panel
As an organization, “diversity, equity and inclusion” is not something we can just “accomplish” and then check-off our to-do list for starting up a nonprofit news organization.
It is a journey, and we would like to invite you to join us — and help us — along the way.
We are forming a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Panel to assess our efforts and recommend areas for improvements in content, staffing, training and operations. The Advisory Panel will:
- Review Daily Citizen content and news sources to examine the diversity of the voices included in our reports.
- Assist the staff in conducting discussions on important and sensitive topics in a safe, supportive environment, including discussing the effects of racism and marginalization.
- Serve as a resource in the recruitment and retention of diverse staff members.
If you are interested in participating in an Advisory Panel, please reply to this brief survey gathering some basic information about you and what you feel you could bring to the panel.
Or reach out to me using the contact information below.
If you have thoughts or concerns about this topic, or others, that you would like to share with other readers, consider writing a letter to the editor. Find guidelines, and an online submission form, here.