On Saturday, Cortez residents gathered in Parque de Vida for the first annual Day of Diversity, organized by a local group dedicated to fighting mental illness.
Marinda Harrison and several friends started the group Montezuma Community Voice in response to the deaths of two middle school students who took their own lives in the fall. They’ve hosted several community meetings on depression and suicide since then, but Harrison said she wanted to organize something more positive this summer. She reached out to several local vendors and performers to organize Diversity Day, an all-day event at the park that she hopes will become a yearly tradition.
At one of Montezuma Community Voice’s meetings this year, Harrison said the group asked attendees what events they would like to see in town. A celebration of diversity was one of the most popular. Harrison said she believes positive celebrations are sometimes more helpful for people struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts than simply talking about, “Why suicide is bad.”
“We’re trying to do positive events for the community about love and acceptance,” she said.
She described Saturday’s event as a “test drive,” since it was the first time her group organized something for the whole community. In the future, she hopes to turn it into a fundraiser for local mental health programs.
Volunteers organized family-friendly activities throughout the day, including face painting, storytelling and games. The Cortez Public Library, the Piñon Project, Special Olympics and the Southwest Intertribal Voice set up information booths around the Parque de Vida amphitheater, while other booths sold items like jewelry, wood carvings or photography. Musicians, including Harrison, sang or played the guitar on the stage in between performances by dancers, comedians and storytellers.
One comedian, Eric Trevizo, came from Shiprock to perform a stand-up comedy routine about his experiences as a Mexican immigrant living on a reservation. He said he tries to attend as many events as possible that “bring people together” or educate kids about different cultures.
“This is a great little place,” he said. “I was very honored to be invited.”
Other performers included the Troupe Verde Belly Dancers, storytellers Ben Benally and Don Kirk, and Native American dancers Norman and Ramona Roach.
Harrison estimated more than 200 people attended the Day of Diversity overall. Some of those people included members of the Cortez Parks and Recreation board, one of the event’s sponsors. Harrison said she thought Saturday’s event was an excellent way to begin the tradition.
“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” she said. “It’s gone even better than I expected.”