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NORMAL — As the American table has created space for more diversity, that doesn't mean there is no longer room for earlier diners.

"Some people on the side of diversity may look down on individuals who are not ready to make those inroads as ignorant or stupid," Lorie Burch told The Pantagraph before delivering the keynote address at Tuesday night's YWCA McLean County Women of Distinction awards banquet.

A record-high 700 people attended the 28th annual event at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

Everyone on all sides of the American political and social spectrum should try to see things from other points of view, Burch said.

The president of the American Business Women's Association (ABWA) board in 2013-14, Burch is a Dallas lawyer who was recognized by ABWA as being among the Top Ten Business Women in 2010.

Her history includes living in Indonesia when she was in eighth and ninth grades.

"Seeing so much diversity, I learned it really is a small world," Burch said. She recognizes that not everyone has had that experience.

"I don't know that I've ever felt such a divide in this country," said Burch, 40. "Politically we're more polarized and … we have elected leaders driven by special interests and not by the people they represent."

Into a national dialogue that is frequently "devoid of civility," Burch recommends "opening our hearts and minds to people who are different from us."

"We need to get more involved in our community," said Burch, co-chair of the Dallas Fort Worth Human Rights Campaign Steering Committee. "I'd like to see our leaders create more dialogue among individuals and do more listening."

"Our futures are inextricably connected," she said. "We need to give dignity and respect to people … to bridge that divide."

During the banquet, eight women were honored as Women of Distinction from among 48 nominees. They were:

Business: Meta Mickens-Baker, an enterprise recruiter with State Farm, who helped to develop and implement State Farm's diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Creative arts and entertainment: Ann Bastian White, an actress and member of the Heartland Theatre board, who presented the idea of an acting troupe for seniors.

Education: Stacey Hardin, an assistant professor of special education at Illinois State University, who serves on ISU's diversity task force and is a role model for students.

Professions: Cathy "Cat" Woods, director of finance and business operations for the Community Cancer Center and a community volunteer, who has worked to empower women.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math): Ashley Pettit, vice president of systems at State Farm.

Social services: Faye Freeman-Smith, CEO of the Counseling Resource Center and director of student counseling services at Heartland Community College, who is dedicated to increasing awareness about mental illness.

Harriett F. Rust Volunteer Service: Shelleigh Birlingmair, a community volunteer who had a successful banking career before becoming executive director of the Children's Discovery Museum.

Caribel Washington Young Professional: Alicia Whitworth, a community volunteer and director of development at Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal.

WINGS awards: Women chosen to receive financial support to further their education were Jillian Nicole Cooper-Richardson, Kerstin Ford, April Garcia, Brishaun Hamilton and Tina Zimmerman.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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