April is Celebrate Diversity Month, which recognizes and honors the diversity surrounding us all. By celebrating our differences through curiosity and active listening, we can deepen our understanding of each other.
This traveling exhibit highlights individuals whose lives represent the intersectionality in all of us. We each carry diversities – seen and unseen – that shape the world around us and how we show up in the world. We invite you to celebrate, pause and reflect on the beauty and innovation that diversity brings.
1910 - 1990
Activist, poet, community organizer, dancer, private investigator and "mother" of the Dearborn-Detroit Arab community, Aliya Ogdie Hassen was born in 1910 to Lebanese immigrants. After an arranged marriage at age 15 ended in divorce, she moved to Detroit and then to New York, working to further interracial, international and interethnic relations, and to eradicate false ideas about Muslims, Arabs and Muslim women. She formed a lasting friendship with Malcolm X. Hassen returned to Detroit in 1972 and helped to found ACCESS, the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the U.S. As its director, she expanded the agency to include medical, legal, educational and other services, serving on its board until her death in 1990.
1944 - Present
Dr. Antonia Novello battled a health condition throughout her childhood and, without access to health care, was unable to have necessary surgery until she was 18 years old. Her experience motivated her to become a doctor. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in 1970 and completed her residency at the University of Michigan in 1974, where she became the first woman to earn “Intern of the Year.” Dr. Novello made history in 1990, becoming the first female and first Hispanic U.S. surgeon general. She led several public health campaigns to improve access to medical care for women, children and historically marginalized communities.
1929 - Present
Detroiter Berry Gordy Jr. dropped out of high school to pursue a boxing career, which was cut short when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. While serving, he played the organ at religious services as a chaplain’s assistant. He continued to write music after his military service and founded Motown Records in 1960. His work created the “Motown Sound” and was instrumental in opening the door for a multitude of successful artists and producers of color. Gordy was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2016.
1885 - 1968
Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and was the daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper. After working as a journalist, she changed her focus to writing fiction. Her published work included 12 novels, 12 short-story collections, two autobiographies and nine plays. Ferber won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel “So Big” in 1925. The iconic musical “Show Boat,” adapted from her novel, won a Tony award, and it explored themes of racial prejudice and tragic love. The movie “Cimarron,” based on her novel, won the Best Picture Oscar in 1931. Ferber’s work was shaped by childhood experiences of antisemitism. She celebrated America while exposing its shortcomings.
1917 - 1996
Ella Fitzgerald was known as the “First Lady of Song” and was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than 50 years. Her innovative scat singing, improvisation and vocalization influenced the genre and thrilled fans. Her voice and singing style were flexible and wide-ranging, allowing her to sing many other styles of music. Fitzgerald could imitate every instrument in an orchestra. To pursue her career, she had to overcome the racial discrimination common in the music industry at that time, opening doors for other performers who would follow. She earned 13 Grammy awards and sold more than 40 million albums.
1930 - 2022
James Willis ‘Jim’ Toy was a pioneering LGBTQ rights activist, social justice advocate, therapist and educator. He was born in 1930 to a Chinese American father and Scotch-Irish American mother. He grew up in Ohio, where he faced anti-Asian discrimination, especially during World War II. He earned a master’s in clinical social work from the University of Michigan, where he helped establish the Human Sexuality Office in 1971. He was later affiliated with the campus Office of Institutional Equity. Toy was co-founder of the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, which changed its name to the Jim Toy Community Center in his honor in 2010.
1857 - 1921
Dr. José Celso Barbosa left his home in Puerto Rico in 1875 for New York City. A brush with pneumonia piqued his interest in medicine, and he applied to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Being of African and Hispanic descent, he received a response that read: “At a faculty meeting, it was decided not to receive students of color.” Undeterred, he applied at the University of Michigan, where he graduated with honors and became the first Puerto Rican to receive a medical degree in the U.S. Barbosa initiated an early form of employer-based health insurance and later became known as the “father” of the statehood movement in Puerto Rico.
1889 - 1959
Dr. Margaret Jessie Chung graduated from the University of Southern California Medical School as the first American-born Chinese woman doctor. The only woman in her class, she went by the name “Mike” and wore masculine clothing. She became a surgeon and later helped establish the first western hospital in San Francisco’s Chinatown. While serving as a front-line surgeon during World War II, she accepted a secret assignment to recruit fighter pilots for the war. The assignment led to her helping establish a branch of the U.S. Navy in which women could enlist. Ironically, she was rejected from joining it, likely due to her race and suspicions of her being gay.
1942 - 2018
Stephen Hawking was an English physicist who “roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe,” according to an obituary. His groundbreaking discovery involved the behavior of black holes. It was the first great landmark in studies to find a single theory of nature, connecting gravity and quantum mechanics. His book “A Brief History of Time” sold more than 10 million copies and made it possible for non-scientists to understand complex theories regarding the universe. His career took place in spite of a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at age 21, which left him paralyzed and without the ability to speak.