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Annual Building Bridges summit brings community together in spirit of inclusion
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Annual Building Bridges summit brings community together in spirit of inclusion

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FLORENCE, S.C. – More than 40 community leaders attended the Building Bridges Diversity and Leadership Summit on Monday to address diversity issues and discuss ways to promote inclusion in daily life.

Now in its twentieth year, the Building Bridges program enables participants to start a dialogue about otherwise unspoken and typically sensitive topics such as racial or religious division and other types of discrimination.

Members of various Florence companies and organizations attended the summit, including Honda, Florence County Sheriff’s Office, Red Cross, Florence School District One and Francis Marion University, among others. The summit was presented by the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce and was held on the campus of Carolinas Hospital System at the Floyd Conference Center.

Les Echols, director of community and minority enterprise at the chamber, was pleased with the turnout and said the assorted mix of people representing various Florence businesses helps spread the program’s message of inclusion even further.

“It’s very important that business people get together and hear the message,” Echols said. “We want to make sure we do our due diligence.”

The program included multiple panel discussions by those in attendance to bring awareness to different types of issues including gender bias, religion in the workplace, and how to be accepting of others’ differences. Moderators helped lead discussions and keep the conversation flowing in a constructive way.

This year's Building Bridges summit also featured two notable speakers: Teresa Ramey and Dr. Willette Burnham-Williams. Ramey, the vice president of student affairs and dean of students at Francis Marion University, gave a presentation on cultural competency and how it is a key component for inclusion in the workplace.

Ramey said having cultural competency is “having a different mindset” and being able to understand and appropriately respond to different cultural variables without seeming insensitive or offensive.

“It’s a behavior, it’s an action,” Ramey said. “It’s about understanding and giving everyone an opportunity.”

Dr. Williams, chief diversity officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, gave the keynote address. During her speech, Williams talked about her memories of racial segregation as a young girl living in Kingstree and how she strives now as an adult to promote inclusion both in her career and daily interactions.

Williams mentioned four "p-words" for cultivating inclusion, both as an individual and in a business: principle, purpose, passion and patience. Williams said these four things are critical to achieving professionalism and encouraging diversity within an organization. She also challenged her fellow business leaders in the room to hold both themselves and their coworkers to a high standard when it comes to inclusion.

“We will need the tenacity, the willingness and -- somehow -- the fortitude to stand up in the midst of the intolerable and say ‘Not today,’” Williams said. “If we’re going to be competitors in the world workforce we have to be inclusionary in what that workforce looks like.”

Williams said the journey toward inclusion is sometimes a lengthy, risky and complex one, but ultimately it is a goal worth achieving.

“You have to carry that torch as leaders in the business and professional community,” Williams said. “You cannot be immobilized. We have to be driven by our principles, our purpose, our passion and our patience.”

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