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In the same boat

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  June 24, 2009

It's summertime in Maine, a sweet and all-too-short season that generally makes living here the other nine or 10 months worth it. Except that this year, sun and warmth have apparently decided that, like access to the credit markets, they won't be available to the masses. So, we're left with gray, dreary days to remind us that the lack of sunlight and warmth isn't just literal but also symbolic. Not only can't we afford to splurge, we can't even rely on the free pleasures of sun and access to surf.

Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the economy, but I can't help thinking that the very issue of diversity seems less important when it feels like the world is spinning off its axis. Yes, we have a Black guy in the White House and even closer to home we have a Black guy heading up Maine's largest police department. We might even get a Hispanic woman on the US Supreme Court soon. Clearly change isn't just a-coming but it has actually a-come.

But while I continue to believe that diversity is an issue we should always address, I can't keep thinking that we have a new diversity forming all on its own, without our help. Or, rather, one that has always been around, but not on my radar as much as it should have been. Looking at the "haves" and the "have-nots" around here, it seems more and more of us are falling into the have-not category. If we have jobs, we are so thankful that we overlook the "have not" of the company match on the 401(k) or decent contributions to health-insurance plans.

Used to be that the people who had to worry so much about working until the day they died were the ones who never got any education, single parents, people of color, and folks like that. Now, it sometimes seems like all of us can hang up any hopes of a real retirement, even if we have fancy pieces of paper from colleges.

As depressing as that might seem, it's also diversity at its finest — a bunch of different people from different walks with different takes on life and different opportunities, and yet we all ended up in the same boat.

Question is, when will everyone realize they are in the same boat and start bailing out the rising water in unison? Because I think there might be a few too many people still banking on a rescue ship sailing up instead of pitching in to help each other and get our collective attitudes out of our lazy spend-and-run-up-debt mentality.

But I see signs of hope. Recently while shopping at my new favorite store, the Goodwill, I marveled at the diversity that I saw. Folks who looked like they had been down and out for a while, folks who still have a toe in the middle class. Black and White. Young and old. It's not just people who are poor or make thrifting a hobby. We're in an era when the New York Times is reporting on how more people shop at Goodwill.

Imagine that. Years ago when organizations were looking to bring diversity initiatives into the workplace, they frequently failed, often because people just didn't see the point or couldn't see past their differences. Apparently, all we had to do was pull the economic rug out from under everyone.

Economic hardship is great for diversity. Yeah, the extra-special nutjobs will use this as a time to engage in some bigotry, but for most of us just trying to survive, there is no time be hateful. We just don't have the luxury of pointing fingers anymore, particularly if we are looking for advice on how to stretch a dollar from a person we used to look down our noses at.

Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at

Related: Gender balance, Uh, race still matters, folks, Exploring deep within, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Portland, U.S. Supreme Court, BLACK,  More more >
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