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Diversity group mulls its purpose, its future

Supporters of Color Me Human, a grass-roots organization designed to promote tolerance, gather to discuss its survival.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Supporters of Color Me Human, a struggling grass-roots organization whose goal is to build tolerance among religious and racial groups, want the group to continue its work.

That was the consensus of a recent meeting called specifically to discuss the organization's future. Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner and Roy Kaplan, executive director of the local chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice, were among the two dozen or so people who attended.

"There is a lot of positive energy around the possibility of the organization continuing," Gwendolyn Reese, head of the Color Me Human board, said late last week.

"Because of that, we even explored the possibility of partnerships with other organizations and other funding options."

Though pleased with the enthusiasm of those present, Ms. Reese said she also was forthright about the need for Color Me Human to draw broader support.

"I said to the group, yes, you're saying that the organization is valuable to the community and it needs to be continued. But I said, if it is valuable to the community, (the meeting) would have been packed. If the community wants it, it needs to show it," Ms. Reese said. "Twenty to 25 people was not an overwhelming show of support."

The May meeting, which took place at the Sanderlin Center, was prompted by the organization's severe financial crisis. There is little money to carry on its work. The day of the meeting, though, Ms. Reese learned that the organization had just received a small grant from the Allegany Franciscan Foundation. It will help Color Me Human survive for a few more months, Ms. Reese said.

The Allegany Franciscan Foundation has helped Color Me Human before. In 1999, it gave the group, which has a mailing list of about 500, a $75,000 grant that was used to open the organization's first office and hire its first employee. Since then, the group, which was founded in 1995 by former St. Petersburg resident Barbara McCord and run from the trunk of her car, has scraped by on a few small grants.

Recently, as supporters discussed Color Me Human's future, Ms. Reese asked them to suggest ways that the organization could pursue its mission without duplicating the efforts of similar groups.

"What makes us unique?" she asked.

One of the answers she received was that Color Me Human is the only organization that truly celebrates diversity. Another was that it promotes a sense of community.

As for what the group could do in the future, there was a suggestion that Color Me Human provide parenting classes about diversity. Another suggestion was that it should consider providing violence prevention and diversity training for young children.

"What we tried to do was try to look at what we provide and what others don't provide," Ms. Reese said.

"Some good ideas came up."

Money was an important topic at the meeting and most people felt that the organization should continue to provide diversity training for a fee.

Discussions of the group's future will continue June 25 during another gathering, scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Sharon Best Room at the Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S.

This time, said Ms. Reese, she hopes for a larger turnout.

"What people need to realize is that we have individual responsibilities," she said.

"We cannot sit back. Every voice, every mind is needed."

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