In the earlier hours of Garden City’s Diversity Breakfast and Multicultural Summit, speaker Adieunel Lubenoit addressed a room of over 100 people, discussing facts and anecdotes about life in his home country, Haiti, and the Haitian community in Garden City.

Upwards of 400 Haitians live in the city now, he said. They spoke largely French or Creole and, he said in response to a question, those who had become American citizens were enthusiastic about voting. Theirs was a culture that thrived on community, he said — people enjoyed being around each other.

And he said to the local Haitian community, Garden City and Tyson Fresh Meats, the county’s largest employer, are family.

Each year, the City of Garden City hosts the Diversity Breakfast and Multicultural Summit, an all-day event that highlights the culture of one community, celebrates Garden City’s diverse population and discusses circumstances that impact local people of color.

Alongside Lubenoit’s presentation on Haitian life and culture, the day was packed with panels about the experiences of women of color and Holcomb Tyson employees originally from other countries. In the middle of the day, Garden City High School Cultural Club students representing eight countries presented examples of traditional clothing from around the world, a new element to one of the newer segments at the summit, said summit organizer Allie Medina.

The breakfast and summit are educational opportunities for everyone, Medina said.

“We like to bring people in and give them information because we think that that’s really important to be informed on some of these big areas,” Medina said. “And then the last thing is a call to action. That’s where we’re hoping that people … find ways to use that information in our community.”

At the beginning of the Multicultural Summit, Kendal Carswell, field director and assistant director of social work at Fort Hays State University, broached the topic of mental health in diverse communities.

Immigrants, particularly refugees, often experience incredible trauma, Carswell told The Telegram before the Summit. On top of possible experiences with violence or displacement in their home countries, newcomers to America may often deal with other stressors, including unemployment, resettlement, difficulties navigating a new place and culture, not being able to openly practice their religion, limited access to transportation or parents potentially assimilating slower than their school-aged children.

Western mental health practices tend not to work with non-Western populations, Carswell said. Talk therapy is ineffective and trauma patients are sometimes pushed to rely too much on medication, he said. On top of that, some countries that local immigrants are from propagate a significant stigma against seeking mental health treatment. In those cases, those looking for help could fall victim to judgement or ostracization, he said.

Southwest Kansas communities should make strides to dismantle those stigmas and connect those struggling with effective mental health treatment, Carswell said. But residents should also make an effort to “authentically engage” with their neighbors, he said.

Instead of service providers blindly offering programs that few utilize, they can distribute surveys in different languages or spark a dialogue with the communities to better understand their desires or needs. All residents should also check and address their implicit biases and be prepared to listen, he said.

Garden City is a warm and welcoming place, one that by all accounts is proud of its diversity, Carswell said. But those outside of immigrant communities should ask themselves — how often do they connect with people in those populations outside of service or professional settings? To genuinely help and embrace those communities, residents need to form real relationships, he said.

At the panel of Tyson employees, Tyson community liaison Pat Sanders posed questions to team members Flor Cruz, Tesfamariam Teklay-Deres, Suzanne Leonidas, Guillermo Reyes and Jonathon Galia, asking them about their thoughts of Tyson and Garden City and their positions and what helped them feel at home and become successful in town.

Panelists spoke of how relatively new interpreter positions at the company helped them and told attending service providers to reach out to different communities, in part by the Ethnic Empowerment Network founded by Galia.

And, Sanders urged, locals need to take the initiative when trying to connect with or serve different communities.

“Tyson felt the need was there,” she was about the creation of interpreter positions at the plant. “We just had to be intentional. I think that’s what businesses have to look at sometimes — is being intentional about who your customer is.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.