GARY — Hundreds of people committed to the concept of being civil in the workplace, in politics, in the classroom and in everyday life gathered Thursday at Majestic Star Casino for the first World Civility Day event.

Keynote speaker United Nations Ambassador Clyde Rivers said there is no other nation other than the United States that has such an initiative.

"Gary, Indiana is the capital of civility in the world," he said. "I just left El Salvador, the most violent country in the world, where they have lost kids. When their mothers go to jail, they go with her.

"We have to change the model of the way we think in the world. In America, we teach people how to be managers, not creators. The paradigm has changed. We have no time to be divided by stupid surface issues. I will take this message to other nations. You have a template for civility," he said.

Rivers serves as ambassador at large for the Republic of Burundi, Africa, appointed by the former president of Ethiopia. As founder and president of iChange Nations and the Human Rights Global Congress, he has established himself in many nations as a voice of sound reasoning, balance and civility.

The national campaign on civility is aimed at obliterating rudeness and disrespect, something that has been running rampant across the nation.

The World Civility Day event was hosted by Community Civility Counts. An initiative established a year ago by the Gary Chamber of Commerce and The Times Media Co., this event highlighted the new group's first-year activities, and looked ahead as it continues to raise awareness about the importance of civility.

Times Executive Editor Bob Heisse said civility is something that is "much needed and well-timed," and the Region welcomed visitors from 10 states, Panama and Nigeria.

Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Hughes said civility is more than just being nice. Reading a definition, Hughes said it also means fostering effective communication and good manners. "Be civil in our discourse. Solve our problems and be civil in our discussion," he said.

Representing the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, Tom Dabertin said the region has been known for its "petty squabbles that serve no purposes." He said it was once a melting pot, and now the region has embarked on a civility campaign.

"Today is a day to put aside our differences," Dabertin said.

Participants walked through the banquet center smiling and greeting each other with handshakes and a hug, some stopping to take a photograph and share it on social media.

Rivers said he travels to share the message: "Treat people the way you want to be treated." It's the Golden Rule, he said.

"If we can adopt that rule, we can change our nation," he said.

While Rivers shied away from making comments about presidential candidates' behavior on the campaign trail and the shooting of unarmed black teenagers around the country, he said, "We must move away from our differences and understand that every presence is a gift. We have to get beyond race and culture."

Times Digital and Audience Engagement Editor Summer Moore talked about her work at Lighthouse College Prep Academy in Gary and her experience working with teachers and students who have weekly lessons on civility.

Lake County Bar Association Executive Director Debra White, who circulated around the banquet room with local attorney Bonnie Coleman, said civility means not asking someone to do something you wouldn't want to do.

"I am not surprised by the crowd of people here tonight," Coleman said. "I really appreciate the response that people have towards this goal."

A high point for Community Civility Counts took place in January, when the Indiana Senate approved a resolution lauding the Region group for “delivering an awareness campaign to remind everyone about the need for civility and treating each other right.” A week later, the state House approved the same resolution.

Other highlights of the program:

Kent Roberts, co-founder of the National Civility Center in Detroit, previewed its new Political Civility Scorecard. Using an objective, nonpartisan algorithm, the scorecard will evaluate speeches of political candidates and elected officials and generate a civility score.

Makayla Meachem, of the National Institute for Civil Discourse in Arizona, discussed the center’s initiative in offering civility training for state legislators.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.