Jackson Kelly co-sponsoring inaugural hands-on diversity program for West Virginia

By Lawrence Smith | Jun 27, 2008

CHARLESTON -– One of state's largest law firms is taking a lead role in sponsoring the first-of-its-kind diversity management program in West Virginia.

According to a press release issued by the American Institute for Managing Diversity in Atlanta, the inaugural Diversity Leadership Academy-West Virginia is scheduled to take place in Charleston August through December. Launched in 2001 through a grant from the Coca-Cola Company, DLA is a five-month, hands-on program for diversity management, said Beth Cole, the Academy's program manager.

Co-sponsoring DLA-WV is Jackson Kelly PLLC. The decision to bring DLA to West Virginia, Cole said, came from another diversity program Jackson Kelly co-sponsored last year for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

During the one-day conference held at the University of Charleston, Cole said participants learned about the more intense DLA through R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., AIMD's founder and the conference's keynote speaker.

What makes DLA unique to other diversity training, Cole said, is that in addition to the traditional "classroom" instruction, participants, or fellows, receive is that they are given the task of creating a project that will be unveiled at the final class and implemented upon completion of the Academy.

Examples of such projects include one following the Indianapolis, Ind. DLA in spring 2003 where before an influx of immigrants caused tension in the community. Through DLA, the mayor's office funded eight 1-hour seminars to immigrants on public safety.

The seminars, Cole said, not only informed immigrants of important matters like what to do in case of a fire, but also allowed them to learn about American customs and laws.

During the spring 2007 DLA in Atlanta, Cole said a board game was created for the Bobby Dodd Institute, a non-profit organization that trains people with disabilities on finding jobs. The board game was designed to teach both BDI employees and clients on how to work with the disabled.

Like what happened in Indianapolis and Atlanta, the goal is to enable fellows to "have a new capability to manage diversity beyond race and gender," Cole said. The key to doing that is reaching out to both traditional and non-traditional leaders in all sectors of society, including government, business and religious.

Non-traditional leaders, Cole said, are those who aren't elected or appoint to a position, but yet still hold some level of influence in the community.

Because of its hands-on component and incorporation of leaders from different sectors is why DLA is a successful management program, Cole said. The learning circles, or small groups, fellows work in during the course of DLA create new and lasting relationships.

"The biggest benefit we find participants get is the networking," Cole said. "It's really a great way to not only manage diversity, but sit at a table with someone they would never have met before."

In addition to Jackson Kelly, DLA-WV is sponsored by Appalachian Power, the Charleston Area Alliance, Embassy Suites Hotel, First Baptist Church, Merrill Lynch, the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, West Virginia State University and the university's National Center for Human Relations. Applications to attend DLA-WV are available through AIMD's Web site at www.aimd.org.

The deadline for application is June 30.

Orientation and opening reception for DLA-WV is July 31, with the session one scheduled for Aug. 21. The remaining four sessions will be held one day a month ending on Dec. 4 with the capstone project.

Tuition, which includes the reception, meals and curriculum materials, for all five DLA-WV sessions is $1,500 for for-profit and $750 for non-profit organizations. Because of grants DLA-WV has secured, including a recent one of $5,000 from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, Cole said partial or full scholarships are available for qualified fellows.

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