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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt has been honored for his efforts to improve racial literacy.

Fit Oshkosh Inc. recently awarded Leavitt with its inaugural “Racial Literacy Hero Award” for his “visible leadership and commitment to increasing the racial literacy of the residents of Winnebago County; within the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh; and in all places of influence.”

Tracey Robertson, executive director of Fit Oshkosh Inc., presented the honor in August.

“This is our first time ever awarding anyone,” Robertson said. “We were thinking about recognizing someone who not only understood the impact of having an inclusive community, but also someone in the trenches doing that work–really having the difficult and challenging conversations with the people he has access to.”

Leavitt said he is honored and humbled to be selected as the first recipient.

“I am especially pleased to help advance the goals and objectives of Fit Oshkosh,” Leavitt said.

A significant contribution was Leavitt’s offer of the University as a host site in January for the Fit Oshkosh-initiated community reading event. The selected book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, explains what it is like to be a black man in this county. Coates, who was raised in the streets of Baltimore, writes the book in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son.

Locally, community read forums were held during day and evening sessions, once a month over six months at UW Oshkosh and at the Oshkosh Seniors Center. Robertson said there were more than 340 people who took part over the six months at both sites. And she learned of three book clubs that started to read the book as a result of the Fit Oshkosh project.

“This was not a fluffy read,” she said. “It was a challenging and controversial book, and we were able to have a tremendous impact in our community.”

Robertson said people might say they care about racial issues—especially when “whiteness” has been the norm—but they need to go beyond conversations and do more to have successful multicultural organizations.

She said Leavitt is “actually doing the work” and is committed to continuing his collaboration with Fit Oshkosh.

“We do have a commitment from him to work on his visions for the University and on our vision,” Robertson added. “It’s not a ‘one and done.’ He found a very visible thing–hosting the community book read–and is keeping the door open for other opportunities.”

In an upcoming event, UW Oshkosh is a sponsor of Fit Oshkosh’s Kids and Cops Second Annual Basketball Game. It will take place Oct. 2 on campus at Albee Hall and is intended to spark positive interaction between police and the community’s youth and show support for law enforcement.

“Color-Brave” conversations

Fit Oshkosh’s race-focused conversations —known as “Color-Brave” events—are helping to improve racial literacy in Winnebago County communities and beyond, including on the UW Oshkosh campus.

Fit Oshkosh Inc. is a nonprofit organization, which was created in July 2014. Its mission is to increase racial literacy through education, training, advocacy and research.

UW Oshkosh, Oshkosh Police, City of Oshkosh, Lakeside Packaging Plus and Miller Electric Mfg. Co. are just some of the organizations that have taken part in the Fit Oshkosh program.

Fit Oshkosh’s Color-Brave Lending Library, a free community resource of racial literacy materials, opened last month at the office at 36 Broad St., Suite 310. More than 100 resources are available and intended to improve dialog regarding race and difference. The library is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays. Calls may be made to (920) 479-5380 to schedule a visit. The office typically is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.