UNITY '94, THE first-ever joint convention of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American journalists, had, in effect, two opening ceremonies.
The first, held on the evening of July 28, was a familiar set piece of the newspaper industry: A panel of executives stiffly seated at a dais, warily taking questions about diversity, defending their minority hiring records -- but always earnestly adding something like, "But frankly, we haven't done enough."
In the private words of one of the panelists, it was a "shallow and disappointing" exercise that did not live up to its billing as a "National Town Hall on Diversity."
The second opening, held the next afternoon, was an explosive celebration: An only-in-America combination of Chinese New Year, Native American Pow Wow, Cinco de Mayo, June-teenth, Tet, La Posada, Black Family Reunion and the Fourth of July.
One after another, ethnic standard-bearers marched through an audience that had been handed hundreds of drumsticks.
There were Cherokee hoop dancers, Native Hawaiian conch players, Mexican mariachis, African drummers, Filipino dancers, Cuban Guajira, Chinese dragon dancers and Brazilian samba musicians. They marched until they filled the stage in a swaying, throbbing demonstration of multiculturalism in which it made absolute sense that a mariachi would be fiddling next to someone pounding a Ghanian talking drum.
But the two openings represented more than two different ways to run a journalism convention -- they also seemed to symbolize the diverging views the two groups have of what newsroom diversity means.
Throughout the conference, the conclusion seemed inescapable: Newspaper executives by and large see diversity as a way of making money, while minority journalists see it as a means to transform both the newspaper product itself and the people who work at newspapers.
This disparity was apparent from the strikingly different language journalists and executives employed at the two opening ceremonies.
Several executives echoed the sentiments of Los Angeles Times publisher Richard T. Shlosberg III when he said, "In the last five years, we have doubled our minority representation in the newsroom. And we feel there has been tremendous payback."
Similarly, Native American Journalists Association president Paul DeMain articulated the feelings of many minority journalists when he asked the executives at that opening session: "How long will we allow somebody else to shape the picture we see in the mirror every day?"
A favorite line from executives was some variation of, "We want diversity not just because it's the right thing -- but because it's the smart thing for business, too."
Minority journalists themselves rarely seemed to address the bottom line. At the second opening ceremony, DeMain and other minority association leaders spoke in more symbolic terms, using the drum as a metaphor.
"The drum is a symbol of unity," DeMain said. "Today we use the drum to create a cadence for the diversity of our people."
"Drums express the urgency of our agenda," said Diane Alverio, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
And when Dorothy Butler Gilliam spoke of diversity at that ceremony, the Washington Post columnist and National Association of Black Journalists president seemed to be talking of something quite different than percentages and profits.
"We must practice diversity ... not out of fear, but to use as a tool to energize and empower us as we enter the 21st century," Gilliam said.
That theme of achieving a somehow transcendent diversity that can not be defined by numbers was sounded again and again.
Indeed, there seemed an impatience with numbers that was rooted in more than just the failure of the industry to hire and promote minorities in rates reflecting the community at large -- although that failure could not be ignored at Unity. …