United Way of the Laurel Highlands hosting implicit bias training

1/13/21 - RICK KAZMER  - United Way of the Laurel Highlands

For decades America’s cultural mix has been described as a melting pot.  But Alan Cashaw, the president of the Johnstown NAACP chapter, said that’s not the best way to describe the diversity.  

“That speaks to assimilation,” he said.  He thinks a fresh salad is a better description. Each part of the salad -- tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and other ingredients -- are part of the variation.  

“A salad bowl says we are all who we are, but are working together to add to this city,” Cashaw said. He was speaking during a Zoom call with United Way of the Laurel Highlands team members about upcoming implicit bias training and why it’s important.

The training, hosted by the United Way, was made possible through a grant program.  Implicit bias is something everyone has, according to Dr. Melissa Marks, an associate professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. She will be providing the training.  

Implicit bias is unconscious judgements people make without realizing it.  She provided an example involving herself. She said when she was in child birth, her husband kept referencing a nurse who provided care throughout her delivery. Marks didn’t recall the nurse, but assumed that the person was a female.  It turns out the nurse was a male.  Marks said that assumption is an example of implicit bias.  “We don’t want people to act without thinking,” she said.  

The training will be held once a month through April. The first session is Jan. 26. After defining implicit bias, Marks said that participants will come up with measurable plans for change and define ways to put them into action.

“You are actually able to make a difference in your community,” Marks said. “That’s powerful.”  Marks said the training will include humor and interaction, though people won’t be asked to contribute beyond their comfort zones. In the end, it’s partly about realizing that most Americans have the same values.  

“We want to feel safe. We want to have money to buy food and shelter. We want our kids to have a bright future,” she said, adding that it’s not a political topic. “I am just asking people to reflect on what they believe.” Cashaw encouraged leaders in local policing, fire crews, politics and the clergy to be among people taking the training.  

Word choice and compassion are important topics that should be discussed during the training, according to Cashaw. “Think about it before you say it – words matter,” he said. “Words can get in the way of collaboration.”  

Cashaw said the training is part of the way community members can build a better understanding of each other.  He added that it’s not about catering to any single culture, but about each group, or part of the salad, sharing in the diversity of the community.

“Respect to all those cultures,” he said. “Everybody holds their identity, but helps to make a great flavor.”  

To register, email admin@uwlaurel.org