APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Hundreds of business owners and community leaders from across the state gathered at the Toward One Conference in Appleton to learn ways to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce fought hard to bring the event to Appleton.

Chamber President and CEO Becky Bartoszek says, “To continue the growth that we’ve had for so many years, we need more people. A key to that is a sense of belonging and making sure that people that are new to our community, regardless of what their background is or what they look like, feel comfortable in the Fox Cities.”

Keynote speakers from a variety of backgrounds also spoke at the conference to educate people on the importance of diversity in the workforce. One of the speakers was Reverend Traci Blackmon, the associate general minister of justice for the United Church of Christ.

“The smartest person in the room is the room itself. When you can bring in the contributions of all the people and value them equally when people are free to show up not just in their visible presentation but in their cultural experiences and their knowledge of their experiences in this region, it makes a difference,” Blackmon says.

As a person of color, Blackmon says it is refreshing to see how far the city has come in being inclusive and welcoming.

She says, “I drove in at 11 o’clock last night, I thought, ‘I’m coming to a town which, at one time, I would not have been allowed to be here when the sun goes down. The fact that this conference is now being held in Appleton, the fact that the person who picked me up from the airport was a person of color, is a reminder that change happens.”

The conference will continue on Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.