Tourism director Nicole Kirksey outlines reception of diversity talk

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Nicole Kirksey, tourism director, recently hosted a diversity talk on the 14th of June at 9 a.m. Afterward, she gave an interview on diversity, telling a story she had shared at the talk. She mentioned how a few years prior, she had looked for more diverse photos that reflected the demographic make-up of Sumter County. “Diversity is not just about race, right? It’s about, you know, different ages. It’s about sexual orientation. It can be from different countries, it can be disabilities, it can be anything.”

She talked about how she had asked Madison Hernandez, owner of Art Hive, to take new pictures for her. “I know you’re a photographer, can you take some really good pictures?”

Kirksey noted the results: “She showed me these beautiful pictures. I had a picture of a couple. The gentleman was African American, the wife was Caucasian, and their child obviously was interracial. She gave me some other pictures that were two white males that clearly in the photos you could see that they were a couple. So I thought this is really cool.”

She mentioned that she had initially shared them on her personal page, noting the reactions. “People were a little shocked. Why are we doing that?”

When asked how she thought the diversity talk went, she mentioned that initially she didn’t know whether anyone would show up: “I was pleasantly surprised. That was a huge group. And it was a diverse group. We had different ages, we had different races, we had different sexual orientations. We even had a guy who shared that he was, you know, kind of in between trying to figure out, what he, what he felt. Politically on the spectrum, everybody was in a different place. I thought it was respectful.

Kirksey talked about how one individual responded to the talk. “There was one young man that came in. He was shocked. He didn’t know he had a community here. He’s been troubled by not having any. He felt like he was an outsider. And I never want anyone to feel that way. I love that he came, and he literally had tears in his eyes.”

Kirksey mentioned one individual who had concerns about bringing up the topic of sexual diversity around children. “Even when we had someone who came in that had a little bit of a different opinion of when and how you share this information, and there was a good conversation about that.”

She talked about her role as tourism director: “Everyone that comes here needs to be treated equally.” Kirksey outlined further efforts to increase diversity: “What I’m am thrilled about is that we’ve got a long list of names and phone numbers and emails of people who are interested in creating a diversity, equity, inclusion committee for tourism.” She talked about one potential role for the board in ensuring that festivals are accessible for a wide range of individuals. “There’s so many more children that are diagnosed with autism these days. Are we doing it in a way that families are comfortable bringing their children?”

She talked about how the last music fest encapsulated her vision: “I saw Hispanic, I saw African American, I saw white, I saw old, I saw young, I saw gay, I saw straight. I was like this is what I want. I want everybody to come. So, that’s my dream.”