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AccessHealth leader works to start local chapter of “Sidewalk Talk”

AccessHealth leader works to start local chapter of “Sidewalk Talk”

By Jessica Pickens on April 5, 2019

A group of 40 Upstate professionals and leaders were selected to learn from each other and strengthen communities through the Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI) at Furman's Riley Institute.

Summer Tebalt, director of AccessHealth Spartanburg, was selected to take part in DLI.

“We work together and learn from each other,” Tebalt said. “We are able to ask questions about issues and cultures, and you have to listen with an open mind to understand where each person is coming from.”

DLI divides the participants into small capstone project groups to respond to real issues in the community and accomplish one goal. Tebalt's group is creating a city chapter of “Sidewalk Talk,” a project that began in San Francisco, where therapists set up chairs and signs on the sidewalk and offer to listen to people who pass by.

Tebalt said the goals for the new chapter of “Sidewalk Talk” are to:

  • Make an impact in the community
  • Connect with new and diverse people
  • Develop new leadership skills
  • Be supported by a global community of leaders around the world
  • Take pride in being a part of the Sidewalk Talk name and the respect, recognition and integrity it is known for

“Working with DLI is awesome, because it teaches you to be understanding rather than judge when it comes to how someone feels or views different situations and topics,” Tebalt said. “This course will help not only in the workplace, but also in personal life.”

Tebalt and the other DLI class members will participate in the project through May. They will study an interactive curriculum consisting of case studies, scenario analyses and other experiential learning tools.

“Discovering ways in which differences can strengthen our organizations is of utmost importance as we seek to grow and support a thriving economy and rich culture,” said Dr. Donald Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute.

The DLI classes are facilitated by Juan Johnson, an independent consultant and former Coca-Cola vice president.

“DLI is unique among South Carolina's leadership programs,” Johnson said. “In addition to the opportunity to develop new relationships and take part in positive action in their communities, participants gain deep knowledge of how to effectively manage and lead diverse workers, clients and constituents.”

DLI class members are identified through a rigorous process, including nominations from existing Riley Fellows, applications and interviews. Individuals are selected to join the class based on their capacity to impact their organizations and communities. 

DLI graduates become Riley Fellows, members of a powerful, cross-sector, statewide leadership network that includes CEOs of corporations, mayors, city and county council members, legislators, school superintendents, pastors and rabbis, nonprofit heads, chamber of commerce directors and community leaders. In addition to the Upstate, DLI classes are selected annually in the Midlands and Lowcountry.

For more information about the Diversity Leaders Initiative and a list of participants, visit