While I stood amidst a nice gathering of a few thousand patiently waiting for the start of the World Choir Games “Parade of Nations,” I sensed great pride and anticipation from Tri-State residents and visitors who eagerly wanted to welcome children from China, young adults from Nigeria, and seniors from Poland who were among the throngs ready to head down Fifth Street to Fountain Square. There were volunteers from Northern Kentucky, women from the former Soviet Union, and curious children holding their parents hands just to have glimpse of the world’s visitors who chose to make Cincinnati USA their home away from home for a few weeks. (The World Choir Games in Cincinnati began July 4 and culminate with closing ceremonies Saturday, July 14.)
Fortunate are we, as a region, to have secured this Olympic-styled competition that has captured the hearts of many. Seats at most of the performance venues are sold out, impromptu singing is occurring in restaurants, hotel lobbies and on the streets, and a great willingness to help in any we can is showcasing the best of who we are.
A gentleman, who identified himself as a Northern Kentuckian, said to me, “We can’t afford NOT to welcome the world to our doorstep and invite them in. We all have a stake in making this region a more livable for people who can help us be a better place to work and live. Having so many cultures and people with us must change us.” He is right.
Given that Bridges for a Just Community recently released its third edition of the “Region’s Progress Report on Human Relations” and the results are pointing toward the need to become more welcoming of people who represent the vibrancy of diverse experiences, cultures, and backgrounds, we believe that now is the time to sustain this momentum of inclusion by design.
What happens when our “guests” go home? What will we do with those good feelings or receptiveness, welcoming and inclusion? How do we freeze those moments in time so that they can be used to open minds in the work place, schools and places of worship? No longer can we say that Cincinnati does not have the capacity or ability to welcome and host nationalities. Thousands of people from countless nationalities were in the midst of us. Our lives are fuller, richer as a result. We will never be the same if we preserve and guard the essence of the experience for the treasures we have received. After the parades, friendship concerts, impromptu street-corner singing, long lines of children, men and women streaming through the streets become memories, will we put away our podiums, go back to work, and pretend that the World Choir Games was just “another great event” in Cincinnati? We hope not.
How about just saying “Hello” when approaching someone walking down the street, especially someone of a different background than yours? Or, why not research different nationalities with your children or grandchildren. No children? Do it for yourself or with a group of children from your neighborhood or place of worship? Write about your experiences on Facebook. Tell your family and friends who don’t live here about your experiences. Whatever you choose, reinforce the indelible mark of this event by applying the experience to your daily life. Little by little, you can change the world – or at least our corner of it.
Bridges encourages our community to use the vivid visual depictions and wonderful personal experiences we’ve had with many world visitors as our legacy of inclusion. They have brought their gifts of choral music to our region as a transformative and defining moment to insist that we seek to invite people of all experiences, cultures, ethnicities and ways of life into this place we call “home.” Let’s keep our hearts, minds and arms open from now on.
The world is watching Cincinnati as our future calls us to “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Lynnette M. Heard
President & CEO
Bridges for a Just Community