American Conference on Diversity

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The American Conference on Diversity is a nonprofit organization, led by Elizabeth Williams-Riley, that conducts initiatives and programs throughout New Jersey and beyond to foster inclusion, respect, and understanding. The organization's efforts have socially impacted the lives of thousands by valuing diversity. Each year, for instance, the American Conference on Diversity works with more than 6,000 youth and adults statewide and nationally. Through action planning, these youth and adults impact another 20,000 individuals.

Throughout the organization's 65-year history in New Jersey, the American Conference on Diversity has been part of the fabric of one of the nation's most diverse states. It addresses issues of social injustice to break down barriers -- not build walls -- in school districts, colleges and universities, corporations, and faith-based institutions. The organization's legacy of building bridges across cultural and faith divides has roots dating back to 1927 with the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) in New York City. NCCJ began in response to anti-Catholic sentiment being expressed during Al Smith’s run for the Democratic nomination. Its founders included prominent social activist Jane Addams and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who were devoted to bringing diverse people together to address interfaith divisions. During WWII, the NCCJ's religious trio -- a Minister, Rabbi, and Priest -- provided spiritual guidance to the armed forces, reaching more than eight million enlistees!

In 1948, New Jersey became home to the American Conference on Diversity. Headquartered in New Brunswick, the nonprofit continues to lead initiatives of social significance by enhancing professional development, building student and faculty leadership skills, and strengthening human relations through collaborations with educators and corporate and community leaders. The American Conference on Diversity programs and partnership initiatives promote understanding and respect and encourage participants to think about social inheritance when building inclusive environments.


The American Conference on Diversity's vision, mission, and philosophy are as follows:

To work with New Jersey’s leaders to create and enhance a society that embraces social justice for us all.
To value diversity, educate and empower leaders, promote inclusion and respect in schools, workplaces, and communities. By valuing diversity, people can teach and "model" to others to build capacity and sustainability through inclusive environments.
The programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity builds on an historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together.


The American Conference on Diversity operates regional community networks covering all of New Jersey to enhance capacity and support its mission. The networks include:

• Northern Jersey

• Central Jersey

• South Central Jersey

• Southern Jersey

The networks develop programs in collaboration with the American Conference on Diversity’s understanding of the issues and diverse climate of local communities. Their focus is to implement grassroots programs, involve community members, and foster local conversations that address diversity and inclusion. Efforts include:

  • Hosting educational community forums to build relationships across cultural lines. The networks bring local schools, businesses, faith-based and other organizations together to advocate for social justice.
  • Recognizing local humanitarians and community leaders that promote the organization's vision.
  • Supporting local schools by providing resources so high-school student delegates can attend the yearlong Lead for Diversity program. This opportunity gives local youth a platform to share their experiences and to make a social impact within their schools and communities.
  • Working with young people through annual diversity-themed Poster Art Contests to convey the importance of cultural bridge-building. These art contests also include heartfelt essays, with winning submissions displayed at American Conference on Diversity events and elsewhere throughout the state.

Inclusion & Diversity Programs

Statewide Initiatives

Statewide Humanitarian Awards – Through this annual event, the American Conference on Diversity recognizes outstanding individuals, businesses, and organizations whose work and philanthropy contribute to the promotion and support of diversity throughout New Jersey and the neighboring region. Honorees' efforts exemplify the organization’s goal to build relationships, programs, and activities relevant to creating an inclusive society. Funds raised through this annual dinner benefit the many programs of the American Conference on Diversity, including youth education and leadership-development programs and health disparities initiatives.

Local Awards – Regional communities recognize the efforts of local social-justice advocates. Through these events held throughout the year, the American Conference on Diversity honors outstanding individual, business, organization, and student contributions for promoting and supporting diversity within their communities. Local town and/or city councils and mayors, for instance, nominate community leaders who are recognized with Diversity Champion Awards. Funds raised through these initiatives help support education programs.

Diversity Stride Walk-A-Thon – An annual program and fundraising initiative that brings together local citizens, young and old, and corporate teams for a three-mile walk to celebrate the richness of New Jersey’s diversity. Funds raised from the walk directly benefit the American Conference on Diversity’s youth education and leadership-development programs.

Interfaith Initiatives – These occasional events and/or programs include local religious and community leaders to help foster thoughtful and honest conversations that explore and educate attendees about various faiths, beliefs, traditions, texts, and other practices.

Workplace Diversity Training/Profession Development

American Conference on Diversity provides workplace diversity training to local businesses, major corporations, schools, and community groups. Originally called the Center for Workplace Diversity, this initiative was funded and launched with the help of ShopRite. Today, the American Conference on Diversity trains about 100 employees each month through this workplace diversity initiative.

Services offered:

  • Individual one-on-one diversity analyses
  • Employee orientations
  • Diversity trainings
  • Staff in-service workshops and presentations
  • Focus groups and organizational assessments
  • Retreats, conferences, panels, and train-the-trainer programs

Signature trainings include:

Journey Into Diversity Series – A three-part series of customized programs to address: Race & Privilege, Gender, and Heterosexism, tackling difficult matters that are present in the workplace. In more complex organizations, work environments encourage collaboration among co-workers regardless of backgrounds. The series enhances employees’ working relationships (team building) and cross-cultural acceptance, which are instrumental in achieving business objectives.

Valuing Diversity & Practicing Inclusion – Participants engage in thought-provoking concepts that enhance understanding inclusion as a verb. Making inclusion actionable promotes and improves better decision making around policies/practices in organization environments. Attendees gain awareness and education beyond the perceptions, myths, and stereotypes forward to the truth. They also gain a firm foundation of why, how, and the importance of embracing diversity and practicing inclusion beyond race/ethnicity, gender, ability status, and age.

Building Better Communications Across Generations – The session on crucial conversations helps business, higher education, and community leaders effectively leverage and value each generation through communication. These strategic and intentional multi-generational roundtable dialogues enhance personal growth, improve recruitment practices, and contribute to positive outcomes for future discussions in all settings. Success indicators are affirmed via open-ended bi-directional conversation.

Leadership As a Way of Being – This segment is designed for senior leaders, with the ability for all participants (people managers and employees) to explore their individual diversity dimensions, assess/evaluate personal growth opportunities, and develop themselves as highly effective leaders. Attendees learn through the lens of being inclusive how individuals nourish and flourish across the workforce. Key takeaways inspire more effective recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of diverse employees to improve long-term business performance.

Leveraging Diverse Teams – During this program, specific questions are answered: Why are diverse environments with inclusive teams more innovation? What are the contributing factors to diverse working environments? What are the results when diverse teams are brought together for a shared goal? Leaders discover tactical practices to implement among diverse teams inside and outside of the work environment and gain a realization and acceptance of diversity.

Planting Seeds Rooted in Inclusion – This session raises awareness beyond the surface and delves into the root of diversity to sustain inclusion in all environments, cultures, and across traditional borders. Attendees develop the necessary skills to become “bridge builders” and “change agents.” They also walk away with new methods to measure inclusion, either qualitative or quantitative, which contribute to best practices for talent management and employee development.

Youth Programs and Services

American Conference on Diversity provides programs and services to middle-school and high-school youth in the following areas:

  • Youth leadership development
  • Teambuilding
  • Bullying prevention education
  • Education for social responsibility
  • Facilitation skills development
  • Social identity development

Services offered include: experiential workshops, assemblies, overnight retreats, human relations forums, and conferences

Signature programs:

Lead for Diversity (LFD) - A week-long summer peer leadership program, giving high-school sophomores, juniors, and seniors a focus on appreciating diversity and valuing differences. Student teams create Action Plans to make their schools more inclusive. Originally called Anytown when launched in 1995, LFD has been featured in numerous articles in papers throughout the United States and was even featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show!

Manytown – Regional one-day human relations forums at which youth attend workshops and participate in small group discussions relevant to their lives.

Youth & Community Summits - One-day forums in which high-school students and local business and government leaders come together to learn about each other and create positive social change within their communities.

Break the Cycle Be the Change - A fast-paced, interactive assembly presentation that utilizes role play, dramatic reading, and facilitated conversation to help students identify ways that they can "be the change" to reduce the amount of prejudice, bias, and discrimination present in their schools and communities.

Awareness to Action – A bias-reduction workshop for students from a single high school designed to increase awareness, improve communication and leadership skills, and enhance teamwork.

School Swap – Two demographically different schools are partnered so that students can experience a day in the life of peers from the partner school in order to build understanding and dispel stereotypes.

College Connection - Services offered to students, faculty, and staff at colleges and universities throughout New Jersey, as well as in other parts of the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

Services for students include: Student internships, leadership programs, freshman orientations, RA trainings, workshops for sororities, fraternities, and clubs

Services for faculty and staff include: New employee orientations, faculty in-service workshops and presentations, strategic planning, diversity council consultation, train-the-trainer workshops

Campus-wide services include: Large-group special presentations, focus groups, comprehensive needs assessments, strategic planning

Diversity Expressed Through Arts - The American Conference on Diversity also collaborates with local school districts to educate middle- and high-school students about social justice and cultural bridge-building. Regional networks then hold annual poster art/essay contests to recognize outstanding students who best communicate the organization’s mission. In addition, the American Conference on Diversity works with organizations such as the George Street Playhouse to provide anti-bullying and other educational programming.


The Summer Educators' Institute - This professional-development series is offered to teachers, administrators, counselors, graduate students, and other individuals interested in building more inclusive and affirming classrooms. Courses last several days and educators receive 28 Continuing Education Units for participation in the series. The program is provided to educators through a partnership with the Peter Sammartino School of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University and funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Early Childhood Education Workshops: The Anti-Bias Institute - With funding from PNC Foundation, this one-day learning event is for early childhood educators, childcare providers, social workers, and students majoring in early childhood education nearing completion of their coursework. Through the use of instruction, facilitated dialogue, small group discussion, and opportunities for self-assessment, the workshop focuses on anti-bias behaviors to enhance participants' understanding of anti-bullying and multicultural education.

Diversity Issues in Higher Education Conference - The annual conference brings together administrators, faculty, staff, and students from colleges and universities across the state, as well as corporate partners, to discuss and examine diversity issues impacting New Jersey campuses and beyond. Through moderated panel discussions, problem-solving workshops, thought-provoking performances and videos from leaders in the education field, and exhibitor showcases, participants gain practical diversity and inclusion strategies. This event has been endorsed by the NJ Secretary of Higher Education.

Health Disparities

Recommendations made in the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare, guided the American Conference on Diversity in its approach to working to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity. Through multiple partnerships and support from the business community, the American Conference on Diversity strives to close the healthcare disparities gap, economically and socially. To date, the American Conference on Diversity has worked with more than 80 percent of acute healthcare facilities throughout New Jersey to fulfill this mission. This sector-specific initiative includes the following programs:

Improving the Quality and Safety of Care for Diverse Patient Populations - Supported by funding from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, this annual full-day Health Equity Conference features nationally recognized speakers and presenters on current critical issues, such as health literacy, effective communications, and faith-based end of life practices.

Healthcare Cultural Competency - The annual day-long skills-building program provides healthcare professionals with critical tools and information needed to building culturally respectful and competent healthcare environments. This program is designed for individuals who have interaction with healthcare clients and can be provided as an on-site program as well.

See also…


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D’Amico, Diane (2014-01-09). "A.C. teen’s slaying brings urgency to Stockton diversity conference" (in English). Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved 2014-01-29. 

D’Amico, Jessica (2013-10-17). "CEO helps others ‘build bridges,’ embrace diversity" (in English). Woodbridge Sentinel. pp. 20 - 21. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 

Williams-Riley, Elizabeth (2013-10-14). "Helping Veterans Access Healthcare, Employment, and Higher Education" (in English). Profiles in Diversity Journal. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 

Pearlstein, Lenore (2013-07-28). "L’Oréal USA, American Conference on Diversity Host ‘Reflections on Diversity’ Event" (in English). INSIGHT Into Diversity. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 

Staff, Report (2013-07-15). "American Conference On Diversity Celebrates 65 Years" (in English). Retrieved 2013-10-23. 

Zoppp, Gail (2012-08-22). "Snapshots of New Jersey: New Brunswick -- Working to Close the Disparities Gap" (in English). NJ Spotlight. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 

Jones, Ellen P. (2008-06-01). "In 'Manytown,' students examine their prejudices". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Birriteri, Anthony (July 2008). "American Conference on Diversity: Helping Businesses, Clients and Customers Get Along". New Jersey Business. Retrieved August 19, 2008. 

"American Conference on Diversity". Retrieved 2008-07-30. 

"Diversity @ Monmouth". Retrieved 2008-07-30. 

Notes/External Links