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MU alum calls diversity top priority

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University alumnus Joseph A. Slash was back on campus Friday as the keynote speaker for the annual Diversity Breakfast.

Slash applauded the institution for its inclusion efforts, which started in the 1950s when he was a student. But he said the challenge is to continue the efforts to fill the large gap which exists among minorities who attend school and go on to earn a college degree.

"Keep diversity and inclusion a top priority," the Huntington native said from the Don Morris Room in the Memorial Student Center. "The economic impact will have a lasting impression on this state and institution for years to come."

His words, officials said, carry a lot of weight. After graduating from Marshall, Slash joined the military and became a commissioned officer. That helped him land a job in Indianapolis, where he continues to serve the city in a variety of leadership roles.

Slash recalled being asked by city officials some 30 years ago to help change the landscape of the departments to include at least one minority representative. Slash said the message was that the employee makeup and the policies needed to reflect the population being served. That also included a plan to grow minority- and women-owned businesses.

Slash also was recruited to a large company, becoming its first black executive. He recalled visiting the plant one day and joked that he felt like Moses when the employees there parted like the Red Sea. But it wasn't because of his color. He later found that the top executives only visited on Christmas, and if they did come unexpectedly, it was to fire someone.

That led to a conversation and other initiatives to break the cultural barrier that existed between the workers and executives.

"We created a barrier-breaking culture," Slash said.

Now, he sees the bigger hurdle nationwide as helping minorities further their education and the impact it could have on the economy.

The question, he said, is "Do we look like the community we serve?"

The annual breakfast also featured students of different faiths leading the blessing of the food. This year, Adee Elhamdani led the Islamic prayer, Megan Garrett led the Jewish prayer and Andrea Celoria led the Christian prayer.

Each said they felt honored to take part in the breakfast, calling it a great display of cultural acceptance and celebration of diversity.

"Diversity is such a beautiful thing," said Garrett, a Regents Bachelors of Arts candidate. "To come together and celebrate is amazing to be able to share prayers with each other."

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