Ethnic Community Committee recognizes champions of diversity in Sterling Heights

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By Gina Joseph
The Sterling Heights Ethnic Community Committee is known for its work in the community because of events like the annual Cultural Exchange, which showcases the city’s diverse cultures and its participation in the Memorial Day Parade.
But the group also recognizes people, businesses and groups in the community who support their mission to promote diversity, and honors them through the annual Diversity Distinction Awards.

This year five individuals and three organizations were cited for their work including Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski, Subra and Potselvi Manivannan, Su McKelthen-Polish, Michelle Oh, McLaren Macomb Diversity and Inclusion Board, Michigan Schools and Government Credit Union and the MOMs Group at Holy Martyrs Chaldean Catholic Church.

“All of these honorees strengthen Sterling Heights’ quality of life through their dedication to making Sterling Heights a community of inclusion and cultural understanding,” said Kozeta Elzhenni, committee chairwoman.

“Each winner of this year’s award has earned distinction and we are very pleased to join the City Council in sharing their accomplishments with the community,” she added.

The honorees received their diversity champ trophies, provided by Comcast, during a recent celebration at the American Polish Century Club.

“It was a great night,” said Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski, who received an award for his efforts to increase the number of minorities working for the police department.

“The Ethnic Community Committee is such a positive group and their message is just phenomenal,” added Dwojakowski, who has been chief less than two years but has lived in Sterling Heights for most of his life.

“It makes me proud that we are such a diverse community,” he said.

And it is for this reason that since becoming police chief he has initiated programs designed to encourage minorities to apply for the police department.

“A police department — with any legitimacy — should look like the community it serves,” Dwojakowski said. So, being the city has a large Chaldean population, he had several Chaldean officers host recruitment nights. He also created outreach programs geared for for young people in the Sterling Heights’ Chaldean community, who might not know what a police officer does.

“Most of them would never think about working for a government,” Dwojakowski said. “They’re looking to do what their dads do, and most of them are self-employed.”

Once they learned more about the job they were eager to apply — and in order to do that they will need to complete their schooling and attend the police academy. In addition to his police work, Dwojakowski serves on an advisory panel for the police academy at Macomb Community College, which is tentatively planning to create a part-time academy in the early part of 2019. Dwojakowski and other police chiefs on the panel helped advise on the project initiated by MCC. Once in place interested cadets will be able to attend the academy while still working, which could lead to a whole new crop of multicultural police officers.

“I can want to hire diverse people for the job, all day long, but a person has to be to be able to apply,” he said. “I’m laying the groundwork needed to make the department more reflective of the people it serves.”

Other individuals and organizations honored by the committee, as diversity champs include:

• Subra and Potselvi Manivannan — longtime residents of Sterling Heights and avid supporters of the committee’s Cultural Exchange. “Their Tamil entertainment group has participated in the event for over 10 years, performing Sri Lankan dances,” said the city’s news release. “In addition, Mr. Manivannan was instrumental in creating a sister-city relationship between Jaffna, Sri Lanka and Sterling Heights.”

• Su McKelthen-Polish –- was recognized for the work she does in organizing events for the Buddhist Meditation Center in Sterling Heights, which hosts the annual Taste of Thailand Food Festival. Two years ago, she was also instrumental in organizing a Thanksgiving community gathering, which served as an interfaith celebration of peace and cooperation among the many cultures that exist in Sterling Heights.

• Michelle Oh –- is the “embodiment of diversity” and an advocate in the promotion of her heritage said the city’s news release. The former flight attendant for Saudi Arabia Airlines is also known for her volunteer work, helping at her children’s school and at Grace Christian Church. She’s also very active in an organization that educates Filipino-American communities about the principles of good governance and the importance of civic engagement.

• McLaren Macomb Diversity and Inclusion Board –- created in 2014 to address the changing demographic of Macomb County, their patients and their staff. Some examples of their accomplishments and ongoing initiatives are reviewing and increasing current human resource (HR) outreach practices for hiring diverse key professionals.

• Michigan Schools and Government Credit Union –- works with several organizations that provide education and basic needs to members of the diverse communities that it serves. Some of the initiatives that employees are proud of include the Play-Place for Autistic Children in Sterling Heights, Macomb Literacy Partners and Blessings in a Backpack.

• MOMs Group at Holy Martyrs Chaldean Catholic Church –- has a membership of more than 50 mothers and parishioners who organize all kinds of activities that champion diversity including help in the local soup kitchen, events for adults and children with special needs and lunches for the homeless.

The Ethnic Community Committee was established by a City Council resolution in June 1990 and serves as a forum for dealing with issues and concerns of the ethnic community in Sterling Heights.

The committee initiates programs to promote the City’s rich diversity such as sponsoring the annual Cultural Exchange, participating in the annual Memorial Day Parade, and producing “Getting to Know Your Neighbors” brochures and television programs.