Skot Welch, ’90, Says Belonging Takes Work in MLK Day of Dialogue Keynote

January 17, 2018

A speaker standing behind a podium.

Skot Welch, ’90, spoke about “The Work of Belonging” from the stage of Washington Gardner Auditorium on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

By Jake Weber

A different take on community set a fitting tone for nearly 200 participants in Albion College’s third annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Dialogue and Service, held January 15. Several athletic teams and student clubs gave up their last late morning of winter break for an inspiring keynote by Skot Welch, ’90, an internationally recognized consultant and facilitator for organizational diversity initiatives.

Welch shared his current project to help communities and organizations move beyond “welcoming” and more toward “belonging.” He explained that a friend moving to a new community, professional colleagues and a documentary on prisons collectively inspired him to consider the intrinsic, even biological, human need for belonging.

At the same time, the fear of not belonging is familiar to even the most connected and successful individuals. “For a person to feel like an ‘other’ is not necessarily based upon ethnicity, or gender, or generation,” Welch said. “It’s a human thing.”

He has recently put this idea into action with four “belonging dinners” organized in his hometown of Grand Rapids. He invited 60 residents from across the city to attend a dinner of 10 people. A film crew filmed the dinners and a documentary is in the works.

“We found ‘welcoming’ is passive—it’s a word,” Welch said. “‘Belonging’—to a church, or school, or community—it takes the work of someone saying, ‘I was new here once myself. Let me come alongside you and help you to belong.'”

A group of students posing for the camera.

Members of the College’s Build Albion Fellows program were among those participating in service projects following Welch’s keynote.

For students who are transitioning in or out of college, Welch reminded them that belonging and connection require risk. “Just because you’ve got 4,000 friends on Facebook, don’t mistake that for connection. Relationships can be sloppy, because they’re real-time. You can’t autocorrect.”

Welch concluded by encouraging students to volunteer to build community. “To not volunteer, to not serve somebody else in some way, is a small life,” he said. “How are you doing to make people belong?”

Following Welch’s keynote, students and community members gathered for their own small discussions and service projects supporting Albion Interfaith Ministries, Kids ‘N’ Stuff Museum and Harrington Elementary School.

“We had an amazing crowd—folks from the community and students from across campus. The service went off without a hitch,” said Clarence Stirgus, ’12, Albion College’s assistant director for global diversity. “All in all, it was a great day and hopefully next year it’ll be even better.”