Inclusion brings dividends for rural communities

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Across rural America, demographics are changing and community leaders are redefining what makes their small towns successful and vibrant.

Traditionally, a prosperous community is defined as economically viable with enough housing and employment. Now, prosperous also includes having a welcoming and inclusive community.

To foster a spirit of welcoming, communities can start with Civity. Civity is the idea of purposefully engaging in relationships of respect and empathy with others who are different. This helps communities explore and celebrate differences — across race, class, culture and politics. The goal of Civity, as it grows, is to transition a “we/they” mindset to a “we all belong” mindset.

Intentionally engaging with difference might be a new concept for some communities in rural America. Start with one intentional conversation. Learn who in your community wants to engage. Bring them together to find common ground as well as the differences that make us all unique.

Roadblocks on the quest for inclusion are not unheard of. With the right help, people come together and communities become stronger.

Location and language barriers can be challenges. In addition, trust must be earned. Everyone involved must be on the same page. There are going to be times when people don’t want to talk about diversity and inclusion, or times when people are suspicious of your intentions.

To overcome these challenges, it is important to be respectful and genuine when making new connections. Find similarities and understand differences, and then move forward.

Most of all, be willing to engage with others authentically and keep an open mind. This will bring your community together.

Godinez is a community organizer and Feyerherm a project associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities.

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