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Diversity Award Winner Shares His Experiences and Philosophy

Diversity Award Winner Shares His Experiences and Philosophy

Mike Rohde, winner of the 2019 Willard M. McRae Community Diversity Award, is a one-man diversity titan. His route from being (his words) ‘a sheltered white guy from Rochester‘ to a true champion for everyone was built from the ground up, day by day, and relationship by relationship. Perhaps, the most sincere way to support inclusion.

After a decades-long career in the nonprofit world, and three terms as Meriden’s mayor, he has formed bonds of mutual respect and trust with the city’s humanity at large. And in every case, he’s viewed a new acquaintance as a way to better understand how others experience the world.

“The recognition and celebration of diversity should be one of the most important priorities in our American society.” Mike Rohde, Meriden Community Health Center and 2019 Willard M. McRae Community Diversity Award winner.

He mentioned several experiences that had a great impact on his world view:

  • His time at Mt. St. John school for troubled boys: “I soon realized boys are boys. I also realized how important it was to help them develop a positive sense of pride in themselves and the culture they came from,” he days.
  • His friend’s ‘driving while black’ experiences. He was a city official in a marked city car and still was pulled over: “This made a profound impact on me and I have never forgotten,” he says.
  • Being the only (his word) ‘gringo’ on the Puerto Rican Festival planning committee: He arrived with a clipboard and an org chart and soon, “learned Latinos had a different way to run things. They put their trust in family and friends and that was their key to success,” he says.

Mike was nominated by Rosa Carrero, Community Development, Liberty Bank. She told the assembled 200 guests she made the nomination because Mike “does one thing better than anyone else I know … he genuinely believes that everyone has value.” She adds, “As I got to know Mike better I realized he has the soul of a Puerto Rican. He revels in our culture.”

Mike reports that he and his wife love the salsa dancing, although, “I have never been able to get that hip-swaying move down.”

Rosa adds, “Mike meets everyone where they are … no distinctions, no rank, no preconceived ideas. In interacting with me and my community, that quality in him has never wavered. You’re a person … he’s a person.”

Mike concluded his comments with his special brand of diversity and inclusion, “There are some who say we should tolerate others. This is such a low bar. How about engage others, learn about others, help others, and make friends. Let’s kick it up a notch,” he says.

Read Mike’s speech