Annual county event to explore unconscious, implicit bias

Contact: Jeanne Baron
Headshot, Darnell Z. Blackburn.

Darnell Z. Blackburn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Kalamazoo County will take an in-depth look at bias when it holds its annual diversity program Wednesday, April 10, in Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University.

For the county's 21st annual Respecting Differences program, Darnell Z. Blackburn will present "Understanding Unconscious and Implicit Bias." Blackburn, a former police officer, is CEO of Protecting Resources through Awareness Training LLC, a training and consulting service in Clinton Township.

He will present his interactive talk at 9:30 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m. Both presentations are free and open to the public, and they will include an on-stage American Sign Language translator. Free parking will be available in the Miller Auditorium ramp, including at meters, and in the adjacent lots numbered 33, 34 and 35.

Program for 2019

The talk will cover perception and attitude as well as implicit bias and unconscious bias.

Blackburn will use scenarios, self-assessment exercises and personal evaluations to demonstrate how snap judgments are usually made upon initially encountering an individual and how decisions are made based on personal bias. In addition, he will illustrate how a person's attitude influences their biases and how biases influence attitudes.

In terms of unconscious bias, Blackburn will define the term, explain how it occurs and encourage event attendees to acknowledge this type of bias. He also will define implicit bias as well as explain how this type of bias affects people's individual lives and how to identify personal biases that influence their actions.

Attendees will leave this year's Respecting Differences talk better able to recognize their personal biases and communicate more effectively with family members, co-workers and clients. They also will be able to create a culturally competent mindset, foster better cross-cultural relationships, and adopt a positive mindset based on a better understanding of biases.

Darnell Z. Blackburn

Graphic design, Respecting Differences poster.Blackburn has been actively involved in law enforcement for more than 27 years. He started his professional law enforcement career as a Michigan State University police officer serving a diverse student body population. He later served as a patrol officer for the Auburn Hills Police Department and gained hands-on experience working as a community police officer, undercover narcotics detective and investigator.

For the past 16 years, Blackburn has worked for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. The commission is nationally recognized as a leader in the development of training and ethical standards for law enforcement officers. Blackburn also serves as an adjunct professor at Macomb Community College and is the founder/creator of the "Be the Change" initiative, an effort to help encourage more diversity within the law enforcement community.

His training and consulting service is centered on empowering people by enhancing their communication skills to adequately handle a vast array of situations. Blackburn says research shows that a well-trained staff is imperative to building a quality customer service-driven business, and learning how to effectively communicate and respond in critical incidents are key to ensuring that such incidents have positive outcomes.

Respecting Differences

The annual Respecting Differences program began in 1999 as a collaboration between the City of Kalamazoo and WMU to heighten awareness of diversity issues in the workplace.

In addition to Kalamazoo and WMU, this year's program is being sponsored by the City of Portage, Kalamazoo County, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Those attending the Respecting Differences event should note that backpacks and certain beverages are not allowed in Miller Auditorium. Learn about Miller policies by reading the auditorium's FAQs.

Direct questions about this year's talk to Julie Helmer of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at or (269) 364-6950.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.