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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Nguyen

25 Years of Diversity Action Team

Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen

June, 2023


This year, the Diversity Action Team of Rock County celebrates 25 years of making a difference in our community.


It all started back in 1998, when the Janesville branch of AAUW (American Association of University Women) was seeking ways to make its membership more diverse. However, the progress was slow.


That same year, they held a breakfast inviting residents who were interested in encouraging more diversity in Janesville.


At that gathering, several like-minded people got together to do something. They formed a new organization called Diversity Action Team of Rock County, or DAT. After creating a board and writing up by-laws for the group, they became a non-profit under the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.

Their mission, at that time, was to make Janesville more hospitable to all people, regardless of race, nationality, socioeconomic status, ability, religion or identity. It was also the goal of the fledgling organization to encourage people of color to work and live here in Janesville, and to embrace multiculturalism. This had to be done beyond the spoken word…it would take action!


Over the years, the Diversity Action Team has created a variety of programming and events fitting to the mission of the group and it continues to grow and evolve with new activities and events.


The following are interviews with founders and board members, who shared their stories about the history and purpose of the organization and what it means to be involved. The interviews are not only informative but inspiring. Their narratives help explain the need for DAT to continue the important work of creating a better community for all.


Leslie Brunsell

Co-Founder of Diversity Action Team


We actually started before 1998, doing little vignettes at our AAUW meetings to help people understand about diversity and why it’s such a good thing. We wanted to become a more inclusive group. We decided to stretch out further than just our branch.


We wanted to contact people in the community who were thinking like we do that diversity is very important and inclusion is very important.


We contacted people at the YWCA and the YMCA, people in the school districts, folks at the county level and more. We decided that making some kind of a citizen’s group was a good idea.

It helps you grow and it helps you understand better who you are. It’s all a growing process, I think.


Marc Perry

Diversity Action Team Board President


I initially became involved with Diversity Action Team back in 2008 after being asked to participate in a Study Circle with the Janesville Gazette that Santo Carfora was facilitating. I was really intrigued by this group of people, who organized this grassroots movement toward diversity, equity and inclusion. I thought it was something I’d like to get involved in.


The diversity aspect, of course, is critical. But you can be a diverse community, a diverse organization, diverse everything, but if you don’t have inclusion, if you don’t have people whose voices are being heard, if you don’t have that engagement and interaction, then people aren’t learning from each other. And DAT creates opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to learn from each other.

There are multiple ways for people to get involved with Diversity Action Team. It could be something as simple as checking the website periodically, keeping up with the Facebook page, you can become a member, attend DAT’s community events, etc. Courageous Conversations is a great program that DAT has been running for years for people who want that kind of consistent engagement and education, for people who are on their own personal journeys.


So, DAT offers a multitude of ways to connect and engage based on one’s comfort level, while still giving you a chance to step a little out of your comfort zone and up your involvement.


I would strongly encourage individuals, if they’re at all interested in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, to really consider joining the Diversity Action Team. You’ll meet all the amazing people and discover the incredible education that’s available.


Santo Carfora

Original Member of Diversity Action Team


I think this organization has grown in integrity and maturity and the kinds of things we do as an organization. We started out with about five very dedicated people and, over the years, we have grown to between 60 and 75 members. But we have lots of friends of the Diversity Action Team of Rock County. They have a heart for what we do. And I think that’s a wonderful way our organization has grown since 1998!


We’ve had a variety of activities. And between writing letters to the editor and connecting with our legislators, we also provide programs within our community.


We’ve provided educational programs, teaching about people who aren’t like “us”. The programs could be about anyone, because no one is like anyone else. We are all different and unique.


Presentation from the local Muslim Community - Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography

These are some of the DAT’s enlightening programs that have proven successful in creating more awareness, inclusivity, respect and progressive change to our community:


• Workshops featuring diverse speakers

• Interfaith Peace Dialogue

• Study Circles

• Sponsoring diverse works of art

• Ethnic Fest and Summer Cultural Festival

• Working with Rock County school districts

• MLK Day Events, Partnering with Blackhawk Technical College

• Panelist discussions at UW Whitewater

• Partnering with the City of Janesville

• Courageous Conversations together with Community Action Team and YWCA

• Speed-Friending Events



• Allies of Native Nations cultural events

• Cultural Celebrations at Janesville Jolly Jingle

• Diversity Film Series

• Cultural Trips

• Cultural Cooking Classes


We’ve kind of become, not intentionally but by happenstance, a go-to organization. We never knew where we were going and how we were going to get there. And we’re still at a point where we’re on this journey together with well-intentioned people who’ve kept an organization alive for 25 years…all volunteers!


I think that’s where God wants us to be, to do this work of social justice.

Diversity Action Team Board of Directors 2023 - Left to right back row: Billy Bob Grahn (Vice President), Marc Perry (President), Santo Carfora, Stephen Smith, Stephanie Agnew, Neil Deupree, Jane Thompson, Angela Moore - Front row: Teresa Nguyen (Secretary), Edna Feldman-Schultz, Jill Gant - Not pictured: Vicki Brown (Treasurer), Jose Carrillo - Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography

Billy Bob Grahan / Minaadiz Waawaashkeshki

Diversity Action Team Vice President


Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography

I grew up on the Bad River Indian Reservation. My given name is Minaadiz Waawaashkeshki, which means “Proud Deer”. I’ve been given the honor of being an Eagle Staff Carrier, which is the first to come out at a pow wow or ceremony.


I’m proud to be a member of my reservation, but living off the reservation feels like I’m out here on an island by myself, to tell you the truth.


I needed something more than keeping all these songs that have been given to me, these tales, stories and traditions to myself. I was given an opportunity to attend my first Diversity Action Team meeting and it was like I finally found a little something where I felt comfortable.

Photo by Kim Hoholek Photography

It still took months and months to get me to talk. Now that you got me to talk, I can’t shut up!


I found that I needed to convey to the community, not just in Janesville, but all over the place, some of the knowledge and songs and stories that I’ve been gifted by the elders.


There have been a number of great people that I didn’t know, but coming to DAT, I see them sharing in the community and they’re out there doing this every day. It’s part of their life. They don’t think twice about it.


Being Native American, that’s an ultimate goal of mine.



Angela Moore

Diversity Action Team Board Member


I have a personal connection to diversity and racial justice and civil rights. I was born during the year when Brown vs. The Board of Education was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court and I did not go to integrated schools for 14 years after that.


I was in the South with my family, so I know the effects first hand of Jim Crow laws and racism. Ever since I was a little girl, my goal and my mantra was to help eliminate racism wherever I could.


Most recently, I was the Executive Director of the YWCA, which collaborated closely with Diversity Action Team. It was a natural fit for me to say “yes” when I was asked to sit on the board of the DAT. If I can bring my talents to magnify the work of the organization, I thought it would be good to do so.



Angela’s Idea to Use the Sankofa as the 25th DAT Anniversary Theme


The Sankofa bird is a mythical bird from West Africa, from Ghana. It's pictured as moving forward while looking backward. The bird symbolizes our work so beautifully, particularly for these 25 years!

We have made monumental steps in the area of inclusion and diversity, but we still have a great deal of work to do.


It’s important that people are available to raise the issues and start the discussion, to let people know that perhaps there is another way that we can live our best lives in our community.



Jose Carrillo

Diversity Action Team Board Member

I came to Janesville in 1976. That’s when I started working at General Motors. At that time, I noticed that there were very few Latinos here in Janesville. And no one wanted to rent me a house. So, I had to commute back and forth to Kenosha.


In 1993, the KKK held a rally in Janesville. At that time, I was on the Civil Rights Committee of the UAW (United Auto Workers). We tried to refute those people without getting into the violence.


And that’s when I met people like Santo Carfora, Neil Deupree and Leslie Brunsell.


In my experience through the union, we always learned to treat others like our brothers. I believe we need to treat others with respect and dignity, so we don’t hate someone just because they’re different from us.


The Beloit Even Start dancers performing traditional Mexican dancing at a DAT event

My grandmother used to say, “If you see an injustice and you don’t say anything, you are part of it.”


 

Enjoy this gallery of more DAT photos! Click on a photo to enlarge. Click on the arrow on the right to see the next photo. Special thanks to Kim Hoholek Photography for her contributions to this story and her excellent work with DAT!

To learn more or to join Diversity Action Team, visit the website at www.datrockco.org

Like/follow the Facebook page at: Diversity Action Team of Rock County


Watch the DAT 25th Anniversary Video produced by Janesville Area Stories and JATV Media Services:







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