Originally published: April 25, 2023
The Sharon Herald

HERMITAGE — When Mercer County native Celeste Warren spoke to the audience Friday morning, she was speaking to a variety of people — including different races and backgrounds, but also representatives from different businesses, nonprofit organizations and community agencies.

That variety represented in the audience was important, since the goal of the inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Breakfast and Career Fair was to reach as many parts of the community as possible, Warren said.

“I think the most important thing is that people learn to have those discussions and be aware of the different cultures out there,” said Warren, who serves as the vice president of Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence at Merck, a worldwide pharmaceutical company.

“People should understand that they’re going to make mistakes, but you just have to keep moving forward and don’t wait to diversify,” Warren said.

The event was organized by the Shenango Valley Urban League, which traditionally hosted an anniversary breakfast. After the initial breakfast and presentations at the Avalon, a career fair was held afterward in the Buhl Park Casino.

Warren is a Farrell native and 1981 graduate of West Middlesex schools. Her late father, Russell C. Phillips, once wass principal at Farrell High School — the first Black principal in Farrell Area School District.

Having made a few visits to the Mercer County area over the years, Warren said she has noticed improvements made when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly a greater sense of cooperation and collaboration between different people and organizations.

When she was younger, Warren said her father sometimes had to have discussions regarding such topics multiple times with different groups of people instead of one meeting with all the different parties — an attitude that has since been largely replaced throughout the community.

“It seems like there’s now a greater willingness for everyone to come to the table and have those discussions,” Warren said.

Aside from the keynote speech by Warren, the breakfast featured three panelists: Dr. Angelica Perez-Johnston, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Community College of Allegheny, Pittsburgh; Dr. Anthony Jones, chief diversity officer at Slippery Rock University; and Lica Nicole Smith, director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center at Allegheny College, Meadville.

The panelists shared their experiences and answered questions from the audience, among whom was Carlos T. Carter, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Carter asked the panelists about situations where employers claim they are willing to hire diverse candidates but there is no pipeline to provide such candidates.

Perez-Johnston responded that the facts did not support this argument against hiring diverse candidates, and that the fastest-growing demographic in the United States is Hispanic people, followed by Black people.

Jones said that, if there was no pipeline to provide such candidates, then officials should look at why there are no pipelines in place and to better educate themselves on how this situation came to be.

Smith added that if no pipeline exists, then someone should start that pipeline for future candidates and employers.

“At the end of the day, we have more opportunities to start something than to do nothing,” Smith said.

Aside from the keynote speaker and panel, Warren and Rev. Jeannette Hubbard were awarded with Diversity Champion Award plaques for their years of service and work in the diversity, equity and inclusion field, according to a press release.

Hubbard is the retired director of diversity and inclusion of Westminster College in New Wilmington, currently serves as the senior pastor of St. Andrew’s AME in Youngstown, Ohio, and is the founder and CEO of Empowered for Change, a community social justice organization.

Based on the high attendance and positive response toward this inaugural event, Shenango Valley Urban League President and CEO Dr. Erin Houston said local officials were interested in making the breakfast an annual event.

Houston added that she hoped those present for the breakfast would be able to take some of the lessons and ideas and apply them to their respective businesses or organizations.

“It doesn’t end here,” Houston said.