The Coalition was founded in 2011 as a response to a widely reported incident involving a cross burning in Arroyo Grande. Steve Adams, then City Manager of Arroyo Grande, assembled a cadre of influential citizens to discuss what the community’s response should be. While many others felt it unnecessary, with the support of the City government plus the NAACP Santa Maria Valley chapter and the Anti-Defamation League, the Five Cities Diversity Coalition was born. Its first action was producing and distributing a brochure throughout the Five Cities community, “Diversity is Good for Everyone,” communicating the many reasons and ways we should both appreciate and celebrate our differences. From the beginning, the Coalition included representatives from local government, education, business, non-profit organizations and other concerned citizens.
With funds raised from Founding Sponsors, PG&E and the City of Arroyo Grande, the next project was to create a monument to the importance of diversity and all it offers to any community. Under Coalition auspices, Jim Trask, a well-known local artist, worked with three Arroyo Grande High School students to create an 11 ft tall sculpture, entitled “Arboring Our Roots of Diversity,” which was installed June 1, 2017, at the entrance of Arroyo Grande High School, adjoining the Clark Center for the Performing Arts. In the past five years, thousands of students, teachers, theatre-goers and other citizens have viewed and been affected by this symbol.
Beginning in 2017, the Coalition, based on its conviction the best time to reach people on such a critical subject is while they’re still young, before their belief systems are fully formed, turned its primary focus to child education. Bolstered by generous funds from added donors, such as the cities of Pismo Beach and Grover Beach, the County Board of Supervisors, the Pismo Beach Rotary Club and the Conn Family, it instituted its “Community Diversity Education and Training Program”, headed by Kathy Minck, Coalition Board Member.
In the past five years, the Coalition has hosted 30 School Speaker events, introducing students and teachers to speakers whose lives have been greatly affected by the pernicious influence of bias and hate.
Over 4,000 Lucia Mar School District and San Luis Coastal School District middle and high school students have already received the benefits of a semester long curriculum class built around the Coalition’s Guest Speakers. In addition, many Lucia Mar School District and San Luis Coastal School District teachers have been inspired and motivated to weave human rights as a topic into their current curriculum.
For pre-school and elementary students, the Coalition supports the local Peace Academy Summer School, providing student scholarships, and provided substitute teachers, so teachers from each Lucia Mar District elementary school could attend a 2-day diversity education training program at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
We next began a series of community gatherings open to the public, on important, provocative, thought-provoking topics, featuring guest speakers well known locally and nationally, later titled the “Fostering Understanding” series.
In 2019, the Coalition, at the urging of San Luis Obispo Mayor, Heidi Harmon, and other public officials, and aided by further financial sponsors such as the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County, the City of Morro Bay and the Human Relations Commission City of San Luis Obispo HRC, expanded its influence and efforts beyond the Five Cities and renamed itself Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County.
As we move forward, our Mission remains to “provide educational programs and resources to facilitate and advance the efforts of our affiliated organizations in order to promote and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).”