City's ethnic mix reflects national trend

When it comes to diversity in Houston, the future is already here. The city’s current ethnic mix, with its many cultures, reflects what the population of the rest of America will look like by the mid-21st century. While such diversity gives Houston an edge as a global city, this population shift is also creating challenges for future generations to maintain economic prosperity to keep the city competing on the world stage.

“The census projections for the United States in 2050 is the same chart as the reality of Houston in 2010,” explained Dr. Stephen Klineberg of the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “So, Houston is one of the places where the American future will be worked out because it’s here now. And it will be across all of America by 2040 or 2045, where the entire population of the United States will be majority-minority.”

According to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, diversity breaks down as the following for the multi-county Houston area: 40 percent Anglo, 35 percent Hispanic, 17 percent African American and eight percent Asian and other. Klineberg’s August 2013 presentation, “The Changing Face of Houston,” reports figures for Harris County in 2010 as 41 percent Latino, 33 percent Anglo, 18 percent African American and eight percent Asian.

“This is what all of American will look like in about 35 years,” said Klineberg. “How we navigate this transition will have an enormous significance not only for Houston’s future, but for America’s future. Houston is where America’s future is going to be worked out – worked out for better or for worse.”

The city’s diversity, nonetheless, translates into a melting pot of cultures reflecting variations in the arts, cuisine and neighborhoods. Houston has 93 consulates – the third largest consular corps in the nation – and more than 8,000 restaurants reflecting a wide range of ethnic food choices.

“The different cultures make Houston what it is. You can see diversity in the food scene, in the art, in the business community and in the Texas Medical Center,” said Holly Clapham-Rosenow, vice president of marketing for the GHCVB. “In turn, it also makes Houston more attractive to people from around the world to visit and to live. It comes full circle.”

Clapham-Rosenow said the GHCVB recently completed a destination perception study polling a combination of Houston residents, residents from other parts of Texas and visitors from other states. The study revealed 71 percent of the respondents agree Houston is diverse and rated Houston very highly because of the city’s variety in dining and its arts and culture. Regarding tourism, she believes there’s an indirect correlation between the city’s diversity and attracting tourists.

“We can’t draw a straight line and say people are visiting specifically because we are the most diverse city in the country, but we can say that we’ve gotten significant national and international media attention because of it,” said Clapham-Rosenow, citing coverage of Houston’s diversity by NPR, the BBC and Smithsonian magazine. “And, those stories make Houston more appealing to a visitor looking for a dynamic, cosmopolitan city. Plus, our diversity is the foundation of our two biggest assets – our food scene and our culture – and we know those are the two main reasons people visit.”

According to 2011 statistics from the Greater Houston Partnership, more than one in five (21.9 percent) Greater Houston residents were foreign-born versus one in eight nationwide. Houston ranked sixth in the nation in that category, as same year GHP figures reveal Greater Miami leading the way with 38.2 percent followed by Los Angeles (34.1 percent), San Francisco (29.7 percent), New York (29 percent) and San Diego (23.4 percent). Houston’s foreign-born population of 1.34 million is more than the total populations of nine states and Washington D.C., the statistics show.

Houston’s diversity mix has changed dramatically from 50 years ago. Klineberg’s “The Changing Face of Houston” presentation reveals in 1970, for example, diversity percentages for Harris County were 69 percent Anglo, 20 percent African American, and only 10 percent Latino and one percent Asian.

“The essential story of Houston is virtually all the growth of the city during the oil boom years was Anglos, pouring into Houston from everywhere else in the country because this is where the jobs were,” said Klineberg. “One million people moved into Harris County between 1970 and 1982.”

“After the oil bust of 1982, the Anglo population stopped growing and then all the growth of this city – the most rapidly growing city in America – has been due to the influx of African Americans, Latinos and Asians,” he continued. “And this bi-racial southern city – dominated by white men in all of our history – during the last 30 years has become the singular most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country.”

The story of America’s diversity is interesting as well. Klineberg said between 1492 and 1965, 82 percent of immigrants to the U.S. came from Europe. When civil rights laws changed in 1965, then came an influx of large numbers of non-Europeans.

“Eighty-eight percent of all immigration since 1965 came from everywhere else on this Earth but Europe, and Houston is at the very center of this transformation,” he explained. “It’s a truly remarkable transformation.”

Other statistics reveal older folks across America are disproportionately Anglo – 57 percent over the age of 65, compared to 22 percent Anglo under 30 years old. “Nowhere is that clearer than in Houston,” said Klineberg.

“Seventy percent of all the children of Harris County are African American or Latino. And, they will be the future of Houston.”

He warned, however, that with the baby boomers retiring, the diverse populations will be faced with the challenge of propelling the city well into the 21st century.

“How well educated and prepared are they to do the job? That’s the great question for Houston’s future.” This ethnic saturation can be the greatest asset Houston can have in this global economy,” concluded Klineberg, “or it can tear us apart and become a major liability.”

Richard Varr is a staff reporter and free-lance journalist. Previously, he was a news reporter for FOX26 News.

Diverse communities making Houston better for all

In a well-quoted story in the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus is questioned by a lawyer as to who are our neighbors. “Are they only those of the same race, faith and class or persons of other beliefs and ethnic groups?”

Living in a diverse city, we have seen that the term continues to be inclusive of all. As new groups move to Houston, they recognize an obligation to not only care for those who look like themselves but their neighbors wherever they come from. Truly, this makes Houston a very special place.

As an attorney specializing in immigration and nationality law for the past 36 years, I have had a front row seat in observing the changing demographic of this city. This was even heightened while serving as an at-large member of the Houston City Council.

As each group has joined in the fabric of Houston, it has not forgotten its role in making the cloth itself better. I offer three examples:

Recognizing the lack of affordable healthcare available to the thousands of uninsured in our community, the Pakistani community created the Ibn Sina Foundation in 2001 to create its first of now six community clinics. Medical attention can be provided with no appointment and only a small donation.  No questions are asked about legal status only your health. While manned in large part by volunteer physicians of South Asian ancestry, the clinics now serve almost 60,000 Houstonians annually from all walks and back-grounds. Several other clinics have also been formed, including the Hope Clinic — the first Federal Qualified Health Center in the International District off Bellaire Blvd. to address this population.

The Houston Royal Oaks Lions Club, primarily consisting of Filippine-Americans, and their back-to- school drive and health fair. Their two events this year — one at Northwest Mall and the other at PlazAmericas — assisted almost 7,000 children in getting needed supplies to begin the school year.

Statistics tell us that we are seeing a “greying” of America.  Addressing the need for affordable housing for our aging population, one Vietnamese organization worked closely with the City’s Housing and Community Development Department to create the Golden Bamboo Senior Citizens Village in 2007.  The group has recently opened its third project in Southwest Houston’s Alief area with 300 quality units — all affordable and with private garden plots for tenants to grow vegetables to supplement their diets and incomes. The grand opening featured a United Nations of tenants from all parts of the world.

The Apollo 13 astronauts are known for the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” Well, Houstonians continue to amaze me with their solutions. Whether they arrived last week or last century, caring for our neighbor is in our DNA. We are indeed fortunate for the diverse communities who have made Houston their home. They continue to give of their talent and treasurer to make this a better place for all of us. 

Gordon Quan has a long history of community activism. He was the first Asian American elected citywide to the Houston City Council and first to serve as Mayor Pro Tem, Professionally, he is the co-chair of Foster Quan, LLP, the second largest U.S. immigration law firm in America, with offices in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Washington, The Rio Grand Valley and Mexico City.

Anti-Defamation League's programs seek to end hatred

For 100 years, the Anti-Defamation League has worked to promote the twin causes of diversity and tolerance, with its eyes on the prize of wiping out hatred. With its 25 regional chapters across the country, the organization hosts programs, designs outreach initiatives and works with legal and other community organizations to promote the concept that we are a stronger nation when all voices and views are free of injustice and prejudice, and we are tolerant of each other.

“Our organization has always believed in freedom of speech and expression,” said Dena Marks, associate director of the ADL’s Southwest Region, which includes the area from Orange to El Paso and all points south, excluding Austin. “But, when we hear hate speech or something we don’t agree with, we speak out.”

That’s part of what the organization’s No Place for Hate Campaign, an outreach program for K-12 students and their schools, is about. Working with campuses on an individual plan that helps incorporate the teachings of diversity and tolerance into the school community, the ADL helps foster an understanding for everything from anti-bullying to cross-cultural communication.

“Hate has to be taught,” said Marks, echoing the lyric from the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II song ‘You Have to Be Carefully Taught’ from South Pacific – a song critics of the day found inflammatory and wanted pulled from the show, something the composer and lyricist flatly refused to do – which she says her team talks about a lot. “And it can be un-taught,” Marks added. “We focus on showing people how something can be hate speech or disrespectful and teaching them we are all human.”

To that end, No Place for Hate is an initiative that schools must apply for each year. To be listed as a No Place for Hate campus, the school must offer programming that aims to eliminate bullying, promote diversity and show students that injustice and hate speech are unacceptable throughout the academic year. It calls for a committee of students, faculty and other stakeholders to help spearhead it. Marks said the campaign is often spread through word of mouth and tells stories of students going from one school that’s No Place for Hate designated to another campus that’s not and pushing to have the program there. So far, more than 400 schools have taken part.

Building on its success from No Place for Hate, the organization also has a program designed for the workplace, Communities of Respect, which focuses specifically on eliminating bias and building tolerance in businesses, houses of worship and organizations. Like the schools taking part in No Place for Hate, businesses wanting to be designated a Community of Respect must create a diversity committee, complete three programs each year and sign a Resolution of Respect. Marks said on-the-ground programs like this are beneficial for everyone involved.

“The schools and businesses with these programs are rejecting hate and promoting a message of respect and love,” Marks said. “We have such a diverse population here,” she marvels. “Whether we’re talking about people who come from a different place geographically or are different races or religions. And diversity thrives here. Houston’s been such a successful city not just because of its cost of living or our job growth but because we embrace diversity and know it’s vital to our region’s core values.”

Marks knows that she and her organization have a long way to go before bias and prejudice and intolerance are things of the past. But she believes those goals are achievable.

“How fantastic would it be if there were no more hatred in the world?” Marks muses. “Sometimes it seems unattainable, but this is what we’re working for.”

Holly Beretto is a new staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine and a long-time freelancer.

Diversity Council leads our nation in conversations about inclusion

What began as a college classroom discussion on workplace diversity nearly 10 years ago has now grown into a nation-wide organization for education and best practices, with its headquarters in Houston.

Dennis Kennedy, founder and CEO of the National Diversity Council, had worked both in corporate America and as a college professor, teaching business and human resource management courses. It was while he was teaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio he began to formulate the idea for a state-wide council that would address the need for education and awareness on issues of inclusion and diversity.

The Texas Diversity Council, founded in 2004, grew into a national organization in 2008 and now has councils in 15 states and activities in 25, according to Jason deGroot, vice president. Kennedy’s goal is to ultimately have councils in all 50 states, with its national headquarters here in the Houston.

“The reason the council has grown so fast and the success of the council is due to the changing demographics of this country,” Kennedy said. “America is rapidly becoming a more diverse nation. It’s no longer just a conversation about black and white; it’s a conversation with black, white, brown and yellow.”

“In addition to that, you have LGBT, people with disabilities and veterans, so diversity now encompasses many differences,” he added. “It’s no longer a racial or gender issue. Diversity is all inclusive and includes white males as well. When an organization begins a diversity initiative, it should open for everyone to participate.”

“When I worked in the corporate world, I saw the lack of diversity in leadership,” said Kennedy. “The biggest challenge many organizations face is the challenge of inclusion, such as the opportunity for women and people of color to move up the chain of leadership.”

The number of women on corporate boards has significantly increased over the last 15 years, so corporate America has made huge strides, but the numbers still are not where they should be, according to Kennedy.

“Nationally, women make up 17 percent of Fortune 500 corporate boards, and people of color make up less than that, so we still have a long way to go,” Kennedy said. “Diversity and inclusion starts at the very top of an organization. Unfortunately, some organizations still have a homogenous leadership team and a heterogeneous workforce.”

“Today, there is a very strong business case for diversity: the changing demographics of the workplace and the marketplace, and research that shows diversity leads to more innovation,” he added.

“As Kennedy began to get a lot of forward-thinking companies engaged in the council and its mission to promote diversity and inclusion in both the workplace and the community, word began to spread to those companies’ other locations across the country,” deGroot said. “The council — both on the national and state level — now enables organizations and individuals come together to share best practices regarding inclusion and diversity, including diversity of thought,” he added.

“We reach out to youth, college students and professionals. We have programs and educational sessions for all of those segments,” deGroot said. “Training programs include classes like ‘Building a Respectful Workplace’ and ‘Managing Diverse Talent: Acquisition and Attrition.’ In Texas, the council's structure includes a state board with representation from 30 companies, including retail, medical, higher education and government entities. Its advisory boards are located in major cities across the state — Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi. In each of these markets, corporate members place representatives on these advisory boards, which deGroot calls “the hands and feet of the organization.”

They meet monthly, share best practices, bounce ideas off each other and go out into the community and business world to advocate for diversity and inclusion.

The organization is funded by corporate memberships and from highly popular events like the Women in Leadership Symposiums across the state. In addition to the Gulf Coast Symposium in March, sponsored by Houston Woman Magazine and several local companies, the Women in Leadership events are also held in Greater San Antonio, Greater Dallas, Central Texas (Austin), Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and Lubbock.

The council will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year in San Antonio where it all began at the Texas Diversity and Leadership Conference, deGroot said, but Houston is the ideal home base for a national entity with this mission.

“Houston’s such a melting pot, so it makes it easy to have an organization like this here,” he said. “It’s really been very beneficial for us.”

Deborah Quinn Hensel is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine and a free-lance writer.

Ensemble Theatre proves 'E' is for Everyone!

It all began in the back of George Hawkins’ car — back when Houston was just another sunbelt city, suffering the woes of the 1970s. He had a vision for an all-African American theater here, and he traveled around with like-minded actors and designers and put on shows across the city, hauling costumes, set pieces and props in his trunk. Fast forward 37 years and The Ensemble Theatre now has a permanent home on Main Street, its own stop on METRO’s light rail, an enthusiastic board of directors, a solid reputation as a place to see innovative and enlightening performances and two women at its helm.

“This was always George’s dream,” said Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, who began her career with the Ensemble as a volunteer in 1982, before she found a grant that would make George share that dream with everyone he talked to. He was passionate about it.”

That passion is evident in the company’s enduring mission: to preserve African American artistic expression and to enlighten, entertain, and enrich a diverse community. As the theater has grown, Houston has, too, and today, The Ensemble Theatre offers programming that appeals to an ever-more-diverse audience.

“The stories we tell are universal,” says Janette Cosley, who has been the Ensemble’s executive director for the last 10 years. “They’re stories about families, sibling rivalry, faith. Everyone can identify with those things.”

In fact, those universal pieces are exactly what Morris looks for when she’s working with the board of directors to determine the performance season. She says she’s always reading plays and scripts, and she goes to see as many shows as she can – both around the country, and here in Houston at other performance arts companies. She keeps a journal of things that she likes and playwrights she feels are telling solid stories that can appeal to Houston’s broad audience.

“We have to look at everything,” she said. “A blend of comedy and drama and musicals, what we have the budget for, how it fits our mission of showcasing African-American expression, which artists we will be able to secure.”

Over the years, the company has seen the number of actors auditioning for roles grow from a few handfuls to hundreds.

“We’ve become a place where artists want to work,” said Cosley, who credits the board of directors and her fellow team members with creating an environment for the theater company to thrive, including the creation of a small endowment, something the company has never had before.

Additionally, as the Ensemble has grown, both Morris and Cosley are proud of the relationships they’ve developed with various playwrights, whether it’s producing all of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle or bringing works by Thomas Meloncon to the stage. This year, The Ensemble commissioned its first play, a musical for the holiday season called Djembe and the Forest of Christmas Forgotten.

“Musicals are always popular for us, and they attract a completely diverse audience,” said Morris.

Diversity, said Cosley, is one of the things that makes the Ensemble unique. Even as it promotes and preserves the work of African-American writers and artists, people of all races have worked both behind the scenes and on stage in the company’s productions. And, over the years, the audience and subscribers have morphed from being nearly all African-American to being much more representative of the city the theater calls home. Cosley and Morris agree it’s partly because they’ve watched their area of Midtown grow and diversify lately. But they also know that it’s word of mouth, with theatergoers have a great experience and telling their friends about this little theater company.

More than that, though, it comes down to storytelling.

Cosley concluded, “When you peel back the layers of a show, and you don’t look at what race the people are on stage, you get to say, ‘I know this story.’ And, I believe we’re so much more alike than we ever realize.”

Holly Beretto is a staff reporter and free-lance journalist.

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