Very simply, we are a volunteer organization that seeks to build unity within our community through activities, projects, partnerships and collaborations which lift up and celebrate diversity, inclusion and appreciation, and respect for our differences.
We welcome your interest and invite you to contact us if you would like to join our efforts.
The organization was established in 2008 by then city mayor, Barbara “Sami” Barile as the Mayor’s Task Force on Diversity. In 2010 we became part of the Rose Center family of organizations and changed our name to Morristown Task Force on Diversity. We are currently working toward 501c status.
Although we are not operated by city government, we continue to maintain significant connection with that entity and see our work within the context of building awareness and relationships within our community as public service and commitment to justice. We believe this is best done by celebrating the gifts that the diversity of our population provides.
Opening ourselves to learn about others and be able to celebrate differences is especially important for our population and history.
To acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our community and to promote acceptance and understanding among its residents.
To make Morristown a city where all individuals are equally valued solely “by the content of their character,” and are welcomed and celebrated for the uniqueness they contribute to the community.
Promoting unity within the community
The ethnic basis of Morristown, the county seat of Hamblen County, is that 80% of our population traces its heritage to Europe, primarily Scotland, Ireland and England. 16% of our population is Spanish-speaking with origins in the Southern Hemisphere. 4% of the population counts its heritage as primarily African-American.
Interestingly, one hundred forty years ago, Hamblen County had a significant number of free, black landowners. And, our community remembers with both nostalgia and some pride, those years when Morristown College, a historic and important black college, was vibrant and active. The college was founded in 1881 by the national Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The school was renamed Knoxville College-Morristown in 1989 and closed in 1994.
A cooperative plan by the city and developers is in the works to convert Judson’s Hill, the old Morristown College campus, into a combined use area for different kinds of housing, shops and a community center. The plan is to find ways of preserving and incorporating the heritage of Morristown College into the plan.
All of this is to say that relationships between all people of color and white residents in Hamblen County have been complex. Black residents of Morristown knew and experienced the same prejudice and denial of civil rights that is part of our nation’s history. At the same time, planted in this region, was both a lifestyle and an institution that created opportunity and trained its students for success and position in the larger society. It was, quite literally, a light shining from a hill – Judson’s Hill.
The rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking population in Hamblen County has brought some of the same incorporation issues that can be found in other parts of the country. Likewise, our community is enriched and broadened in learning about the different cultural features of one another.
The economic bases of our community until the late 1940’s were twofold. They were farming (especially tobacco growing) and small, family-owned businesses. Light industrial manufacturing began to arrive after WWII.
The greatest growth happened in the 1970’s and 1980’s as international businesses began establishing manufacturing plants here. Now, seventeen different countries are represented in our industrial base. When one goes to the grocery store, one hears different languages and sees products from around the world. Our health system is populated by professionals who come from around the world.
With such a significant portion of our population having roots outside our community, it would be easy to assume that there are few issues of inclusion in our community. But as elsewhere, there are faces and voices that are not heard often in governance, leadership or decision making. As elsewhere, there are some who can celebrate the differences in people and others who cannot.
We believe that recognizing the culture and differences of our people creates a mechanism for greater understanding and appreciation. Finding ways to gather and learn about others lowers the level of fear and suspicion and adds both depth and breadth to our community.
Sometimes, confrontation about issues related to intolerance is essential. However, we believe that in the longer term, celebrating our gifts, our histories, our experiences and our cultures opens pathways to long-lasting cooperation and the kind of deep respect that benefit all.
So…this Task Force is composed of a group of people who see building relationships, cultural awareness and diversity as adding value and strength to our community. We are a stronger, fairer, more cooperative and healthier community when we can work and play and learn together.
The 2014 MLK Community Breakfast and Celebration was held at First Presbyterian Church on Monday, January 20, 2014.
The Keynote Speaker was the Rev. Wayne Purcell.
The Rev. Wayne Purcell is well-known to the Morristown and Asheville, North Carolina communities, where he has served congregations, hospitals and communities as pastor, teacher, counselor and community builder. Since 1987, he has been pastor of Varick Chapel AME Zion Church in Asheville.
He writes, “I have spent a lifetime of ministerial skills helping to improve society while reinforcing the work of the Lord.”
Rev. Purcell teaches, trains and supervises clergy, nurses, medical support staff, social workers and volunteers at facilities in Black Mountain and Asheville. He is a lecturer on the subject of diversity and empathy within ministry and is a guest columnist for the Asheville Citizen Times. Earlier this year, he was a keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King walk in Dandridge.
Rev. Purcell’s past includes serving as an Administrator within the Blue Ridge Conference of the Piedmont Episcopal District and overseeing two half-way houses for men and women in transition. He has been a resource to his community offering educational programming, workshops and consultation to promote small businesses in Western North Carolina. He is a leader in interfaith, civic, and educational events.
However, Rev. Purcell is not only found in directive capacities. He is a “hands on” counselor to individuals and their families, in both church and hospital settings. All of his skills are present and available to someone who needs a hand up. He conducts regular visitations to homes, hospitals and prisons to provide comfort and support, especially for seniors and elderly.
Rev. Purcell received his Master of Divinity from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC. His business degree in Administration and Marketing Management is from North Carolina Central University. He is married to Andrea who is herself, a leader in church and community. We welcome them both to this event.
To help you plan a project for the 2014 King Day of Service, we have prepared a Project Development Kit. Click on this link to download and print it out.
After your planning, please register your project with us on this website by choosing “Register Your Project” on the above menu, then filling in the online form.
Thanks for your participation in MLK Day.