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YWCA to honor two SU community members April 21

April 16, 2010

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

Two longtime members of the Syracuse University community will receive the Diversity Achievers Award from the YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County at the 12th Annual YWCA Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism and Promote Diversity Luncheon, Wednesday, April 21, at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse.

Esther E. Gray, special assistant for academic affairs, and Keith Alford, associate professor of social work in the College of Human Ecology, will be among 29 area residents honored with the award. To be chosen, recipients have demonstrated they are individuals who embrace diversity; support opportunities for women’s growth and leadership; embody the spirit of peace, justice, freedom and dignity; and work diligently toward the elimination of racism.

esther grayGray, coordinator of SU’s prestigious University Lectures series, has been a member of the University community for 34 years. She was the first part-time student to be honored as a Remembrance Scholar, the University’s top student award, and was named one of University College’s 1999 Alumni Scholars. She was named the National Alumni Scholar of the Year in 2000.

Gray’s education culminated in an honors research thesis that shares the stories of women who, like herself, survived emotionally and verbally abusive relationships. She has also organized two all-University forums addressing domestic violence. Through the years, she has shared her numerous talents and inner resources with a myriad of local causes, including Al-Anon, Vera House and Girls Inc.

The concept of diversity, Gray says, is something that was ingrained in her by her parents from an early age.

“Diversity isn’t something that should need to be promoted; it is something to be celebrated. Diversity is what makes each person uniquely different and individual. I cherish those differences and I thoroughly enjoy people,” she says.

Gray continues, “When I was a young child my mother tried to explain the diversity in people with an analogy. She said that celebrating and accepting the uniqueness of all people was like suddenly coming across a field of summer wildflowers. If every flower in the field was the same color and identical in all other ways, they would simply be pretty. However, a field alive with a variety of vibrant colors, shapes, sizes, heights and fragrances (and personalities), make each flower unique, special….and breathtaking. People are no different. Promoting diversity is simple ….You simply promote people.”

keith alfordAlford believes people need to be treated fairly regardless of race, socioeconomic status or native origin. As an associate professor of social work, he is committed to ensuring his students leave his classroom with a firm level of competence associated with engaging diverse populations.

“Seeking to understand another person’s journey is hard work,” says Alford. “It requires relinquishing preconceived notions and being open to stories that may address the ‘isms’ of this society. We must listen when stories are told. Appreciating diversity is not enough. Actively embracing the worth and dignity of all individuals is our mandate.”

A member of the Syracuse University faculty since 1996, Alford is director of the B.S.S.W. undergraduate program in the School of Social Work. His professional areas of expertise include mental health service delivery to children and families, culturally specific programming for children in out-of-home care, contemporary rites of passage programming and loss/grief reactions among African American families.

Alford is also co-chair of the Community Wide Dialogue Advisory Committee to End Racism and a member of the board of directors of Enable, an agency serving individuals with disabilities. He was honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award from SU in 2009.

He is professionally affiliated with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the Council on Social Work Education and the National Association of Social Workers.

Each year, the YWCA offers corporations and organizations an opportunity to nominate individuals in their organization or community who have demonstrated they actively participate in promoting diversity, work toward the elimination of racism and support opportunities for women, criteria that embody the YWCA mission.

Prior to the luncheon, diversity training workshops will be offered from 8:30-11:15 a.m. This year’s workshops are “Understanding and Valuing Attitudes Toward Difference,” “When We Disagree” and “Demystifying Diversity and Its Return On Investment.”

Prices are $50 for the workshops and luncheon ($35 student fee for workshops and luncheon); $40 for the luncheon only; $20 for the workshops only; $320 for a table for eight or the luncheon only and $400 for a table of eight for the workshops and the luncheon. Tickets will not be available at the door.

For more information about the luncheon and the workshops, contact the YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County at 424-0040, or

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