Dear editor,

It goes without saying that this past year has been a difficult time for all communities in Wisconsin. We have been tested time and time again as we continue to face difficult challenges physically, economically and emotionally. During a time when we needed each other most, many of us felt divided.

Division does not allow us to move forward and is detrimental to our state and those within it.

In recent months, communities in Wisconsin – central Wisconsin in particular – have been scrutinized for their approach to inclusivity. This attention caused us to take a hard look at our own progress in creating a diverse and inclusive community for all. In the midst of skepticism, we have an opportunity to turn controversy into harmony and division into unity.

Wisconsin must come together as one to discuss issues critical to our future and engage in open, respectful dialogue to acknowledge and solve them. That is the intention of this year’s Toward One Wisconsin conference, a virtual event slated for Oct. 12 and 13.

Church Mutual is honored to support this conference for a third year and we embrace its commitment to Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers. Progress cannot be stalled; we must continue to educate others on the value of equity, diversity and inclusion. Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do for society and it’s essential to our state’s economic success.

The 2021 World Population Review, an independent and unaffiliated organization, places Wisconsin in 39th place for overall diversity among our 50 states for the second year in a row. That’s disappointing, but it reflects reality, taking into consideration each state’s economic, cultural, religious and political diversity.

While our lack of progress is disheartening, it’s also very motivating. Collectively, we can move this needle both as individuals and on behalf of the organizations we represent. We can positively impact our state by committing to continued education and action.

The World Population Review also projects that Wisconsin will reach 6.375 million residents by 2030, growing 19.5 percent between 2000 and 2030.  This growth represents an opportunity for economic and social prosperity, as well as for increased diversity. Let’s welcome new residents with a diverse and inclusive society that embraces and draws strength from our differences.

Aside from economic benefits, inclusion also directly impacts the social and emotional health of our state’s communities, workforce, youths and under-served populations. We hope to spread awareness of this positive influence to all Wisconsin residents to make way for a progressive future.

The Toward One Wisconsin conference establishes a safe space for individuals from all areas of our communities to learn and grow, and discuss difficult topics with respect. We welcome individuals in academia, healthcare, nonprofit organizations, government and others to attend.

This year’s event will host three keynote speakers: Jelani Cobb, staff writer for the New Yorker, Dasha Kelly Hamilton, writer, performance artist and creative change agent, and Kao Kalia Yang, Hmong-American writer, filmmaker and teacher. We look forward to learning from them and embracing their diverse experiences.

Whether you are at the beginning of your D, E & I journey or are an established leader and educator in your community, I encourage you to register for this important event. Learn from other leaders, share your success and challenges and commit to taking important steps forward.

Let’s embrace the future, not fear it.

Richard Poirier, J.D., president and CEO, Church Mutual Insurance Company, S. I., and co-founder of Toward One Wisconsin: A conference on equity, diversity and inclusion

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.