Making Inclusion a Social Norm in America

By: Julie Gehrki, Vice President and COO, Walmart Foundation and 
Rachel Peric, Executive Director, Welcoming America

Inclusion builds stronger communities, that’s why the Walmart Foundation is providing Welcoming America with a $1 million grant to accelerate work led by communities across the country to promote belonging and inclusion.

Communities work best when everyone who lives in them can belong and thrive. Gordon Allport developed contact theory in the 1950s, finding that working together on a shared goal was the best way to reduce prejudice among people of different backgrounds. Contact theory really means that if you know, work alongside, and do something meaningful with someone you’re more likely to understand them, their perspective, and see them as a valuable member of your community.   

Unfortunately, today, too many people are receiving the message that they are unwelcome and are seeing their potential limited by numerous barriers.  This not only contradicts the most basic of American values, but weakens our civic, social and economic fabric, as neighbors are less able to put down roots, build their lives, and invest in the places they call home.

Over the last decade, Welcoming America has worked with hundreds of communities to address the misperceptions and barriers that stand in the way of recognizing our shared humanity and has helped local leaders build the ability to move beyond tolerance toward full inclusion.  We have seen that these elements are the building blocks of more cohesive and prosperous communities – places where neighbors reject division and instead work together to solve problems.  As a result, communities see their growing diversity not as a zero-sum game, but as an opportunity to build a bigger table.

Walmart is home to thousands of communities across the U.S. and we’ve seen first hand that a more diverse, inclusive community is a stronger, more resilient community.  But to truly make inclusion a social norm in America, it will take more than any one community or organization creating change.  

Welcoming America conducted community pilots funded by the Walmart Foundation to advance inclusion, by bringing large national non -profits and local community groups together to develop unique programs relevant for their community. One example of how these activities can help transform communities comes from Boise, Idaho, where the YMCA and Idaho Office of Refugees held the first-ever Family Together Field Day in September. People from all backgrounds came together to participate in family fun, with over 300 people spending the afternoon playing games, talking, and dining together. Participants broke out of their shells and connected with each other. Kids bounced in the jump house, played soccer, and participated in arts and crafts activities. People took risks and sat with new friends.  The Mayor was there to remind them of the significance of the community coming together.

Due to the success of the pilots, Welcoming America will now continue to work with communities and help accelerate their work in creating places of inclusion and belonging. Through a national inclusion campaign, this new constellation of partners will tap into America’s civic spirit of can-do by bringing together people from different backgrounds and walks of life to learn more about their new neighbors and to work together, side-by-side, on Do It Together projects.  From building homes and playgrounds to supporting moms with young children; we hope these efforts will serve as beacons that inspire more Americans to come together across divides and build stronger communities – ones where we all belong.