Making the Shift From Inclusion to Belonging

by Lauryn Smith

At Keshet, we have always valued inclusion as one of the most important aspects of our organization. For us, inclusion goes far beyond our programs and is a mentality that shapes everything we do and everything we stand for. We believe that every individual has the right to be welcomed into any environment and to be a part of any experience they so choose, and the work we’ve done for the last forty years have made this mission come to life.

In the summer of 2021, Keshet went through a rebranding period, including an examination of our core values and mission statement. In doing so, we realized that the language surrounding inclusion did not fully encapsulate who we are as a Keshet community. Inclusion is certainly a step into the door and essential to what we do, but it does not completely encompass Keshet’s mission to create a community that celebrates and embraces all different kinds of abilities, or in other words, a community of belonging. It was in this awakening that we knew that we had more work to do and were then ready to take the next steps to propel our organization forward.

Everyone can think back to a time in their life when they felt like they didn’t belong. It’s a feeling that sticks with you for a long time afterward because it’s unsettling and unwelcoming, and this is just about the last thing we would want for any of our participants here at Keshet. A desire for human connection and a safe space to be ourselves is innate and something that we all simply deserve. As the core beliefs section of our website states, “when inclusion is embraced, it is a process that leads to the ultimate goal of belonging.” If we are not doing more to ensure that every single voice is not only welcome, but heard, then we are simply not doing enough. Inclusion, though important, is no longer the end goal of our programming, rather it is the launching pad to ensuring that all Keshet experiences are a place where each member feels that they belong without hesitation. And if we can instill this feeling within our organization, then we can say, with certainty, that we’ve done our job.

It is one thing to be included, but it is another to feel like you fully belong. And at Keshet, we are continually striving to create a community where every single person feels like they are an integral part of it. As an organization, we are extremely proud of the work we have done to formulate an inclusive environment, but we know that we can certainly do more to ensure our programs feel like home. Belonging is not just an invitation for a seat at the table; it is making that seat a warm and enjoyable place to sit. Belonging is not just creating a place that accepts differences; it is a place that wholeheartedly embraces and celebrates those differences. Belonging is not just receiving help from the community; it is giving back to it. Belonging is not just welcoming someone in; it is making sure they are here to stay.

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