Although I have sat through many diversity seminars and taught many more, my first and best diversity lesson came from Clifford when I was in second grade. I first saw Clifford from across the classroom, noting his extremely large freckles and his hair that was an odd mosaic of blond and brown. I did not like the way Clifford looked. Therefore, I made it my mission to avoid Clifford. I did not like Clifford. I did not even like his name—I had never met anyone with the strange name of Clifford to that point in my young life.
My strategy worked for a while . . . until the day the teacher put Clifford and me together for a class activity. Then I realized I had to work with Clifford. I was nervous, uncomfortable, and fearful. What would happen?
Something amazing happened that day. I discovered Clifford was more than his strange name, his extremely large freckles, and his mosaic blond and brown hair—much more. Clifford was into fun—just like me. Clifford and I had a lot of fun.
Suddenly, Clifford’s name, freckles, and hair were not important or intimidating to me anymore. I liked Clifford. Clifford liked me. I sure was glad the teacher made me work with Clifford that day.
Clifford moved a couple years later and we lost touch. Nevertheless, even as a kid, I remained ever grateful to Clifford for the diversity lesson he taught me. I realized I had learned an essential life lesson. It was and still is a life lesson I carry with me today. It is a life lesson that has only grown and developed within the much larger discipline of diversity training and practice. Although Clifford had left my classroom, the diversity lesson has never left my life.
Today, whenever I deliver a diversity workshop or teaching, I continue to see many “Jims” and many “Cliffords.” However, my greatest excitement comes when I see those Jims and Cliffords suddenly having fun together.