Wanda Sloan works to promote understanding

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wanda Sloan remembers the visit like it happened yesterday.

Former Rock County Sheriff Joe Black personally recruited her to work as an administrative assistant at the jail in the early 1980s. Sloan was the only person of color in the administrative area long before anyone talked about diversity or inclusion.

“It was futuristic thinking,” she says.

But one night, Sloan was unprepared for what happened.

She overheard deputies talking in detail about subduing an African-American man.

“They said blacks have thicker skulls,” Sloan says in recollection. “They said it is harder to bring them down because of it. They painted an entire race of people with a broad brush like I wasn’t even there. It was mind-boggling and painful.”

Sloan was so upset afterward she called her father. He explained that people reflect what they are taught.

She has one regret.

“I wish I had made it a teachable moment,” Sloan says. “But it didn’t even occur to me then.”

Today, the 60-year-old grandmother works every day to promote understanding between people of different races and backgrounds.

She is a diversity and staff development specialist in human resources at Blackhawk Technical College. Sloan is responsible for the school’s diversity program and has made many improvements to it.

“Wanda is considered the Wisconsin Technical College System expert on diversity and is the catalyst behind statewide efforts for diversity in the system,” says Eric A. Larson, president of Blackhawk Technical College. “The strength of her commitment is evident in her tireless pursuit of positive change for people of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.”

Sloan is co-founder with Janesville School District Superintendent Tom Evert and Larson of the CEO Roundtable for Diversity in the Workplace. The effort hopes to get business and industry leaders in Rock County to improve the way they recruit and retain people of various backgrounds.

Larson calls Sloan a woman who gets things done.

It is no surprise when you tally her achievements.

Sloan is a member of the Fairbanks Flats Revitalization Committee, which is working to preserve and restore the apartments on Beloit’s Shore Drive. The Flats are the only known community housing built exclusively for black workers in Wisconsin.

Sloan grew up in the flats. She and others organized to stop the demolition of the concrete-block apartments on the city’s west side and were thrilled when renovation began in October.

Ken Ware of the committee calls Sloan’s role in saving the Flats monumental.

“When she gets a cause, she does not back up,” he says.

Sloan also co-chairs the Black Star Project in Beloit. The group’s mission is to provide educational services that help African-American and Latino students succeed academically.

In addition, Sloan is a long-time member of the Beloit Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“There’s such a denial about racism, sexism and class-ism,” she says. “It is our responsibility to learn about each other so that barriers and stereotypes disappear.”

Wanda Sloan
Age: 60.
Community: Beloit.
Occupation: Diversity specialist at Blackhawk Technical College, Janesville.
Family: Two daughters, Letha and Danita; four grandchildren. Two sons, Grantt and Keith, are deceased.
Favorite hobby: Reading.
Favorite CD: Enjoys all kinds of music, especially gospel, Celtic and jazz.
Favorite movie: “Roots.”
Favorite book: The Bible.
Role model: Hundreds. “I have always tried to glean the best from anyone who demonstrates strength, faith and the ability to overcome obstacles.”
Three words that best describe you: Thoughtful. Inspiring. Strong. “I got these from others who know me.”

Last updated: 1:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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