Skip to Content

News Brief

Celebrating 20 Years of Diversity Education

It’s been two decades since NEA Retired member Cleorah Scruggs-DeBose posed the idea of a National Multicultural Diversity Day at the NEA Representative Assembly. At the time, more than 9,000 delegates, representing 2.7 million NEA members, endorsed the idea, and from it sprang an annual celebration of the nation’s diversity, held each October in schools and communities nationwide.

At this year’s RA, held in Washington, D.C., in June, NEA Retired President Tom Curran recognized DeBose for her 20-year effort to promote diversity in schools and communities.

Scruggs-DeBose came of age in Michigan in the 1960s, during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights movement. Yet for all the gains made during those years, she felt that those responsible were getting short shrift in the classroom; students weren’t being taught the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Scruggs-DeBose said of that era: “I felt deprived of my own history when I didn’t receive much education on Civil Rights or the changing diversity of my community and country.”

So when Scruggs-DeBose became a teacher in the 1970s, she vowed that the towering figures of the Civil Rights movement would not be overlooked by students in her classroom, and that they would be taught that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

As an elementary school teacher in the Flint, Michigan, schools, Scruggs-DeBose not only taught students required grade-level skills, she also designed her own diversity teaching units that enhanced learning by using the global community as teaching tools.

To accomplish this, she invited diverse students, parents, and community members to take part in musical dramatizations, panel discussions, debates, and other events to showcase the community’s heritage and multi-ethnicity. 

Scruggs-DeBose’s involvement in diversity education led to invitations to speak at local, state, and national conferences for Flint area schools, the Michigan Education Association, and the National Education Association, among other civic and education organizations.  

The first National Multicultural Diversity Day was designated as a kick-off for ongoing interactive diversity programs. It has far exceeded that goal.

The National Multicultural Diversity Day grew and became the National Multicultural Institute (NMDI), which consists of concerned teachers, support professionals, community leaders, parents, and students both local and from all over the world.  NMDI’s programs include cultural workshops and showcases for youth talent. NMDI also provides free school supplies, scholarships, and gifts to needy individuals, families, and charitable organizations through the organization’s Diversity Sharing Is Caring Outreach Program.

Scruggs-DeBose credits Phyllis J. Clark, now NMDI secretary and chair of the organization’s Sharing Is Caring program, for her service and dedication to NMDI. A lifelong NEA member and RA delegate, Clark has worked tirelessly over 20 years to promote the ideals of education and strength in diversity.   

To mark the 20th Annual National Multicultural Diversity Day, NMDI will hold a celebration on October 8, at the Flint Institute of Music. The event, “Standing Strong, Two Decades of Multicultural Teaching and Learning,” will feature a talent show, fashion and cultural displays, and dinner.

Even though great progress has been made through diversity education, Scruggs-DeBose said there’s more to be done. She encourages NEA-Retired members to get involved in diversity activities.

One of NMDI’s focus areas is intergenerational diversity, such as NEA’s Outreach to Teach program (see page 10), which brings together NEA Student members and NEA-Retired members in a collaborataive effort to update schools in need.

To learn more about NMDI and promoting diversity in your community, please send an email to





Published in:

Published In