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Shades of Change - Everyday Democracy's blog

An Interview with Katie Zawacki, Executive Director of Points of Diversity

Jamil Ragland
Author: 
Jamil Ragland
February 11, 2021

What do you do after you’ve worked to help people rebuild their lives after substance abuse, taught children to resolve conflicts with words instead of their fists, raised five of your own, lived in five different countries, and then finally retire?

If you’re Katie Zawacki, you take a lifetime of lessons learned and apply them to creating a more racially just society.

Katie is the Executive Director of Points of Diversity in Roanoke, VA, the 2020 Paul J. Aicher Award winner. Points of Diversity has helped to facilitate difficult conversations about race for government officials, high school students and anyone interested in learning more about their neighbors. Katie came to this work through her past experience as a substance abuse counselor.

“I was attending a national event in the 90’s when I attended my first study circle,” she said, describing one of Everyday Democracy’s early facilitation techniques. “It always stayed with me, and when the opportunity to open Points of Diversity appeared, I wanted it to be central to our process.”

Since 2013, Katie has led Points of Diversity in its mission of “promoting inclusion of all the diversity found throughout the Roanoke Valley.” With over 30 volunteers trained with “field tested resources provided by Everyday Democracy,” Points of Diversity has had a positive impact on its community. The city instituted an equity commission based on recommendations from a Points of Diversity dialogue. The organization has also trained middle school faculty on racial equity and held community meals to bring people together to learn more about each other. For Katie, these efforts are key.

“I really believe that dialogue, one on one, is essential to moving anywhere ahead. You can either combat conflict, or ignore it, or try to talk it out. But combating it and ignoring it have never been great solutions.” She said with a laugh.

Katie credits her varied experiences for her commitment to bringing people together. “Living in five different countries showed me that very human being is invested with dignity, everyone is special, everybody has a place, everybody has rights. We have to learn to understand one another, but we don’t have to agree. We still have to show respect to everyone, no matter how different they are.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that Points of Diversity does its work, the work continues. Katie has mastered the Zoom call in order to continue the community meals her organization was hosting, but with a virtual spin. And her eyes are set firmly on the future. The next big project she hopes to tackle is a local truth and reconciliation commission, to honestly grapple with the racism and consequences of past urban renewal policies.

It’s not the life of a typical retiree, but Katie Zawacki is not your typical person. And while Katie is the winner of the 2020 Aicher Award, she doesn’t invest her time into helping people understand and respect each other for accolades. In her own words, her motivations are much more admirable.

“Difference is always good.”

Read more about the work of Points of Diversity and the two runners-ups of the 2020 Aicher Award.

Issues: 

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.