HOBART | Harry Vande Velde challenged region leaders Thursday to commit to not just talking about diversity and inclusion, but living it.
"It all comes down to you making a conscious decision every day to love your fellow man," said Vande Velde, president and CEO of Legacy Foundation.
Vande Velde served as master of ceremonies for the more than 500 region leaders gathered at Avalon Manor for the Urban League of Northwest Indiana's Diversity and Inclusion Awards Luncheon. The inaugural awards were open to region businesses, industries, governmental bodies, educational institutions and organizations embracing diversity and inclusion.
Sixteen such entities submitted nominations for the five awards presented. The award winners were local universities and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore received the Development in Diversity Award and the Moving the Needle Award presented by NIPSCO for exemplary performance in all award categories.
Superintendent Costa Dillon said he has been teaching diversity in the national park system across the country for more than 20 years.
"Diversity isn't so hard," Dillon said. "It's just paying attention, watching what you do, listening to people and having the attitude that everyone belongs, everyone has a place."
Dillon said the message is alive daily in the national parks system.
"It sends a message that that park isn't somebody else's," Dillon said. "That park isn't some place I'm not supposed to go. That park is for me."
Indiana University Northwest in Gary received the Community Relations Award. Georj Lewis, vice-chancellor of student affairs at IUN, said the campus is one of the most diverse in the region.
"It is not just something that we say on paper or in brochures," Lewis said in a video shown at the event. "It's a way of life here."
IUN Chancellor William Lowe said the award is "a reminder that this work is never done."
Purdue University Calumet received the Leadership Award.
"I think in society, we need to make sure everyone feels like they belong and they are part of the group," PUC Chancellor Thomas Keon said.
Keon said he is half Portuguese.
"I grew up, like many other families, when there was something really good to hear, it came out in Portuguese," he said.
Valparaiso University received the Workforce Award.
"It shows that the community is respecting what we're trying to do and that we're reaching out to make this a better community in which to live," Charley Gillespie, vice-president of administration and finance, said in a video recorded for the event.
Urban League leaders hope to make the awards luncheon an annual event.