Retired track and field athlete and six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee came back to her roots in the Metro East area to speak about what diversity and inclusion mean to her and the community. 

An opening reception for community stakeholders for Diversity Day took place on Monday in the Cougar Pavilion of the Lukas Annex to introduce SIUE’s new Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and extend an invitation to the school’s Inaugural Diversity Day.

According to the associate chancellor for the office of institutional diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer at SIUE and professor in the department of social work, Venessa Brown, the reception was to invite the community to come together to talk about diversity and inclusion. 

“This was an opportunity for us to invite the community to a reception and role out our seven-year diversity plan and also introduce what’s happening [during Diversity Day],” Brown said. 

Brown said the community is important when it comes to diversity and inclusion and she invited Joyner-Kersee to be the keynote speaker because she is a significant part of the community. 

“We invited [Joyner-Kersee] because she is a big part of the community, she’s a big part of the youth and she has really done some amazing things in East St. Louis where SIUE started in 1957,” Brown said. “So, we wanted to bring a community person who is really advocating for children, for youth from higher education to come and tell us about why diversity matters and how it has enhanced her life.”

Joyner-Kersee is an active philanthropist in children’s education, racial equality and women’s rights. She is a founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, which encourages young people in East St. Louis to pursue athletics and academics and partnered with Comcast Corporation to serve as the spokeswoman for Internet Essentials, which has helped close the digital divide for more than 600,000 families.  

Chancellor Randy Pembrook introduced Joyner-Kersee saying she has done an amazing job giving back to the community. 

“To see what [Joyner-Kersee] has done as a philanthropist and as a person who has energized the community means the world to us,” Pembrook said. 

Joyner-Kersee said because she is from the area, giving back to the community is an obligation. 

“To me, I think it’s an obligation,” Joyner-Kersee said. “I’m honored that people even want to hear me and to be able to plant some seeds and eventually years down the road see those seeds sprout and blossom into young people being the best they can be, then hopefully they will do the same and find a way to come back and give back as well.” 

Diversity and inclusion is something Joyner-Kersee believes is important for the community to grow.

“It’s so important to be inclusive and diverse,” Joyner-Kersee said. “Everyone has a voice and everyone has the right to write their own narrative, and when you talk about diversity and inclusion, I think it really blends itself into the fabric of this nation as we grow as people.” 

Joyner-Kersee said it’s important to hear each other out and have respect for one another.  

“It’s very important, as we talk about celebrating diversity and inclusion, to have a dialogue and be respectful of one another’s choices, be respectful of each other’s knowledge. Don’t just hear the person, listen,” Joyner-Kersee said. 

To Joyner-Kersee, making a difference and a change means trying your best and giving your all. 

“Diversity and inclusion is in each and every one of us and we all have the ability to make a change, it’s just up to you what that change is going to be,” Joyner-Kersee said. “You can give the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.” 

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