Troy City Councilwoman Dejerilyn King Henderson spoke on the topic of promoting diversity at an event hosted by Trojan Outreach on Monday, Feb. 8.
Trojan Outreach is a peer education program on campus and is hosting several events throughout the month of February promoting the theme of “Embracing Diversity.”
Henderson is a Troy native and Troy University alumna. She started her career in politics in 1982 when she ran for a commission that was previously all-white and all-male.
Before that, she was an elementary school teacher and served in the U.S. Army Reserves as staff sergeant for 20 years.
In 2012, Henderson was elected to Troy City Council as the only female member. While serving, Henderson has seen the growing need of diversity in government.
“We as a country, we as a world need to digest diversity,” she said. “Diversity is more than just our race and our creed. If you can’t accept me as a female, I may have just as hard of a time accepting you as a male.”
Being the only woman on the city council, Henderson said she has seen how difficult it is to get business accomplished when everyone else has the same mindset, but that mindset is different from yours.
Henderson said that despite this, having more diversity in any situation is always better.
Henderson said diversity is something that is difficult to attain, but is a necessity.
“In order to digest diversity, one of the first things I suggest we do is to open your mind, and I mean completely open your mind,” she said. “Open your mind to the fact that there may be something that somebody else is interested in that I’m not quite interested in, but at least I’m going to try and find out about it.”
Henderson spoke about her experiences that prepared her for her position on the city council. When Henderson was a sophomore at Charles Henderson High School, she and her friends became unhappy with the school lunches.
The students decided to express their grievances to the school board. Henderson was the only student who showed up to the meeting; however, Henderson stayed and gave the presentation on their planned changes anyway.
Henderson was able to convince the school board to change some of the aspects of their lunch program.
Before graduating from high school, Henderson joined the Army Reserves. While in the reserves, she got the chance to travel.
She said that this gave her the opportunity to see places she otherwise would never have and that it helped her get the exposure to diversity she needed.
“Having those experiences opened my mind to diversity,” she said. “I got a chance to meet people, see people, love people.
“I got that exposure I never would have gotten had I just stayed here in Troy. I am a living testament to what happens when we accept diversity. There will be things that you cannot change, but when there are things that you can, you do something and be a part of that change.”
Henderson said she strongly believes in the importance of younger people getting involved in government. Henderson said she encouraged those in attendance to attend council meetings, to speak up and to not be afraid to say what needs to be said.
She said she sees the younger generation as a chance to make the government more diverse.
“You all are the future,” she said. “I can’t serve on the city council until I’m 85 or 90 years old.
“I don’t want to. I want the young people to start coming and filling in the gap. I want you all to become interested in not only the local government but also the state and national government.”
Trojan Outreach will host its next diversity promotion meeting on Monday, Feb. 15.
Students can use the hashtag #TroyUEmbracingDiversity on posts promoting diversity for a chance to win a prize from Trojan Outreach at the end of the month.
For more information on Trojan Outreach or any of their events, visit their page on Facebook.