The Fairfield Citizen has highlighted the issue of diversity awareness with its coverage and recent editorial regarding the community conversation that kicked off Fairfield Celebrates Diversity month. This is exactly what we had in mind, a further conversation and raising awareness, all with the hopes that behaviors will change.

Our kickoff event was part of an ongoing effort to celebrate Fairfield's diversity in all its forms. While Fairfield lacks diversity along some dimensions, the concept of diversity encompasses acceptance, respect and celebration of each individual's unique differences. These can be differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical and mental abilities, religious and political beliefs or other ideologies. Our purpose was to explore these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. Diversity is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual and community.

We invited over 400 people to participate as hosts, facilitators and participants. In fact, I invited my friend Tony Hwang, along with many others, to serve as a host or facilitator, but he decided to join Hal Schwartz's group as one of his guests and therefore was unable to host. Also, we held the opening event at Penfield Pavilion, one of the few public venues large enough to hold community wide events, and scheduled three locations for dinner which were low cost as a means of encouraging a wide group of participants.

Your editorial may cause people to think of diversity as a topic limited to a discussion of color. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the private foundation that provided grant funding for this event encouraged us to think of diversity from this broader perspective.

From personal experience, I understand this very well. My oldest son is gay. He has experienced inappropriate comments during his school years and beyond. Ask any resident who is Jewish or Muslim or a member of a "non-majority" religion what their experience has been in our town. We have citizens who have emigrated from another country who have shared their stories of mistreatment. And of course we see a wide range of discriminatory practices resulting in bullying in schools and community settings. All have their own stories, their own perspectives.

From all reports about the individual group dinners a rich discussion occurred, including some very private and personal stories. These personal stories, which occurred in small, safe group settings, helped people understand the many dimensions of diversity and the need to celebrate differences.

Throughout the month of March events are scheduled to educate and involve resident participation on a range of topics, including mental illness, senior citizens, gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues, and involving culturally and linguistically diverse populations in our schools and neighborhoods. Please see our website, www.fairfieldcelebratesdiversity.org for more information

A group of private citizens have volunteered over the past year and a half to organize a series of discussions and activities in an effort to help Fairfield become known as a town welcoming and celebrating diversity. We will continue this effort and invite others to become active so our group represents Fairfield's diverse citizens.

Philip Dwyer is a member of the Community Conversations group that has planned Fairfield Celebrates Diversity Month and was chairman of its kickoff event.