Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation in 1963 with his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Some 30 years after that stirring moment, Sandra Rembrandt also had a dream. She wanted to keep King’s words alive for a new generation.
She wanted her adopted hometown of Scottsdale to discuss the prickly issues of race and diversity and help build awareness that differences sometimes unite us.
Rembrandt’s vision took hold.
Her brainchild, a nonprofit called Community Celebrating Diversity, is itself celebrating 25 years. And the Scottsdale discussions she helped launch continue to flourish.
“I’m glad that the ideas behind it continue to be discussed,” said Rembrandt, 79. “I’m glad there are still passionate volunteers and that they’ve been able to keep things going.”
Rembrandt left Scottsdale in 2007 and relocated to Nevada for family reasons. One of the individuals who kept her vision alive is Scottsdale Deputy Fire Chief Jim Ford, a long-time board member.
“I definitely feel Community Celebrating Diversity is making a difference,” said Ford. “The idea is not to preach to anyone, but to get people thinking and talking about diversity. We need that today.”
The public centerpiece of Community Celebrating Diversity, or CCD for short, is the Martin Luther King Jr. “Living the Dream” dinner which annually hosts a speaker prominent in the national diversity discussion.
This year’s dinner takes place Jan. 16 at the Scottsdale Embassy Suites and features Carmen Perez-Jordan, executive director of The Gathering for Justice. The organization is a nonprofit founded by artist and activist Harry Belafonte.
Perez-Jordan has traveled the world promoting civil and human rights and last year was named one of Fortune’s Top 50 world leaders and one of Time’s most influential persons. Tickets and information about the dinner are available at ScottsdaleMLK.org.
During the dinner, CCD also presents its Diversity Champion Awards. This year’s honorees are Gary Griggs, a Scottsdale School District guidance counselor, and Sharon Cini, the city of Scottsdale’s diversity and inclusion manager.
The dinner also serves as a major fundraiser for CCD and as a gathering for Scottsdale business, faith, political and diversity leaders. But it’s far from CCD’s only undertaking.
While she’s in town, Perez-Jordan will also meet with roughly 1,000 high school students from throughout the Valley as part of CCD’s Youth Voices event at Saguaro High School.
The school district’s Service Learning Program partners with CCD to produce the “Voices” event. The program’s roots stem from an effort by Saguaro students to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
They organized a nationwide fund-raising campaign that led to the creation of an MLK Jr. museum in 1994 beneath the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
“The students helped create a museum to focus on all of the wonderful gatherings that had occurred there in the name of Civil Rights, especially MLK,” said Saguaro Principal Ann Achtziger. “The Voices program brings an understanding to students that Dr. King’s message is still relevant, still important, and still applies, all these years later.”
Community Celebrating Diversity partners with other organizations throughout the year on an assortment of programs. They include a Diversity Day for Scottsdale Leadership classes and collaboration with Scottsdale Community College and the Scottsdale School District on youth diversity.
CCD also collaborates with a variety of businesses and nonprofits to award scholarships to local youth who excel or show promise in community service. Five scholarships are being awarded this year in honor of CCD’s 25th anniversary.
“What we’re doing is trying to keep the conversation going,” said Ford. “Diversity means different things to different people. It’s challenging, but when people talk about diversity and reflect on it, it usually leads to better understanding.”
And true to Sandra Rembrandt’s original vision, CCD is creating that community dialogue.
In November, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce awarded Community Celebrating Diversity a Sterling Award as its nonprofit of the year.
“The credit (for CCD’s success) belongs to the community,” said Rembrandt, who won’t be able to make this year’s dinner because of health issues. “It remains alive because the community has a need and a desire for this information. It’s about character and integrity and having an open mind. And I think Scottsdale does that better than anyone in the country.”