Warner Wirta was selected for this award for his many years of work with St. Clouds growing American Indian Community. In 1986, he helped found the St. Cloud Area American Indian Center. Mr. Wirta was born to a Finish father and Ojibwe mother on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. He received a track scholarship to Kansas State University and was a finalist for the 1956 World Olympics. He was one of the first American Indians to earn a masters degree in Social Work. After his military service, he taught for a number of years in the public school system. Warner first began working with the Veterans Administration as a outreach caseworker on the Iron Range, eventually being transfered to the main St. Cloud VA Hospital where he retired in 1996 after he received many honors for his work in Social Work.
Along with his regular VA caseload, Wirta started the first American Indian treatment program, which included a native spiritual ceremony and sweat lodge. This program became a model for many VA hospitals nationwide, involving native and non-natives. After his retirement, he moved to Duluth, teaching at the University of Minnesota campus there. Shortly thereafter he suffered a major stroke, losing his speech and ability to walk. Miraculously he came back from this near-death experience and has regained most of his speech and mobility. In addition to our "Bridging the Gap" Award, Mr. Wirta was bestowed the "Key to the City" (first ever presented to a Native American) and received a proclamation from the St. Cloud's Mayors Office for his dedication, strength and contribution to the community.
Gita Kar received the Award for her outstanding efforts to educate people about non-violent resolutions to conflict. Ms.Kar has served as one of Diversity Foundations speakers and spends much time speaking and presenting workshops in the Asian and Hmong communities in the Twin Cities. She is a Minnesota Humanities Commission Scholar and teaches the principles of non-violence practiced by Mahatma Gandhi. She learned these skills from her father, Ranchhodlal Amrital, who for years served and worked closely with Gandhi in India where she was raised. "Leadership is not a right, but a responsibility," Kar said. "If you are understanding of people, if you share your power, you give power to those you lead."
"When talking publicly about racism, tempers flair, tensions are high and peoples comfort levels are often stressed". Ms. Kar says there are ways to harness this energy to make positive changes and avoid these tense encounters. She has shared her leadership training course with thousands of people across cultures and continues to carry on her father and Gandhi's tradition of fostering non-violence. She often uses Conflict-Resolution techniques to give her students solutions to creative stories as they write. Although Gita has lived almost 20 years in Minnesota, she returns to her homeland of India, periodically to maintain her "roots" and culture. She has degrees from Bombay University as well as the University of Minnesota.
Dr. John Taborn Sr.
Dr. John Taborn Sr., is a licensed psychologist, a professor of educational psychology and former chair of the Deptment of Afro-American and African Studies, at the University of Minnesota was selected for the BTG Award for his efforts to educate communities (in the Twin Cities and Minnesota), about oppression, racism and bigotry and how allowing these attitudes to perpetuate, affects all residents in a negative manner. "To rid our communities of racism we must educate our masses about persons who might be different than ourselves and be inclusive of all cultures." said Dr. Taborn who is also Vice Chairman of the Diversity Foundation Board. He is also president of J. Taborn Associates, Inc., a Twin Cities psychological services firm.
He is recognized as one of our states leading experts in race relations and minority mental health, consulting with major Corporations, Schools and Law Enforcement agencies. The National Football League (NFL), Minnesota Vikings and Timberwolves regularly utilize his Clinical expertize. A retired Captain of the U.S. Navy, Taborn is listed in "Who's Who in the Midwest, Who's Who among Black Americans," and the "National Registrar of Health Service Providers in Psychology". Dr. Taborn received a bachelor degree from Southern Illinois University, a Masters from the University of Illinois and a Doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota. As a Bush Leadership Fellow he performed post-doctorate studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Business.
St. Cloud Mayor Larry Meyer was selected for the Award for his attempts to make St. Cloud a more tolerant place for all cultures. For many years St. Cloud has struggled with a hostile Racial environment and for the first time in history, the City's mayor held several meetings to rally communities policy makers and leaders as well as meetings to hear from the City's minority residents and issues of racism, bigotry and discrimination. He also helped to Co-sponsor Diversity Foundation's Seminar entitled "Finding Opportunities in Diverse Communities."
Meyer's optimism centered around bringing wide-scale change in the areas of housing, education, government, law enforcement, health care, youth programs, worship and numerous other civic and public organizations. He has used his influence and power to rally many of the area community leaders in a focused and strategic effort toward racial harmony. Larry graduated from St. Cloud State University and has previously served several terms as City Councilman. As a successful Businessman and politician, Meyer has become a role model for others who wish to make their communities more Diverse and racially tolerant.