William Jefferson grew up with the perspective that everyone is essentially the same.
The Gilbert psychotherapist, who grew up in an ethnically diverse family on the diverse streets of Newark, N.J., says people aren’t as different as they appear to some. He uses an analogy to get his point across: The polar bear is seen as white, but is actually blackskinned with a translucent fur adapted to its cold environment.
How diversity and linguistics — or common language — can affect perceptions will be the focus of a free workshop hosted by Gilbert’s Human Relations Commission. Jefferson will be leading the discussion.
The workshop comes up as Gilbert is seeing a slow trend toward an increasingly diverse mix of residents.
From 2000 to 2005, black residents increased from 2.4 percent to 3.3 percent, Hispanic residents from 11.9 percent to 12.2 percent, and Asians from 3.6 percent to 4.8 percent of the town’s now estimated 190,000 population, according to the U.S. Census.
All residents, of all ages, are invited to the workshop. They don’t have to participate, but are encouraged to if they feel comfortable.
They don’t have to agree with Jefferson, he said, and he likes a good debate.
“This is not me confronting the individuals,” he said. “But it gives the individual the opportunity to confront themselves.”
Jefferson’s style is known for drawing people out of their “safe zones,” and engaging in interesting debate, said Tami Smull, chairwoman of the commission.
She said the discussion on language could open the eyes of people who may not understand how seemingly innocent words can be hurtful to other people.
“It’s an opportunity for whoever comes to learn more about themselves, more about American culture, regardless of what demographic group they may represent,” Smull said.
What: Cultural/Linguistic Competency Workshop sponsored by Gilbert’s Human Relations Commission
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday
Where: Southeast Regional Library, 775 N. Greenfield Road