The United Way of Summit County kicked off its 101st annual campaign Thursday with an inspirational speech and launch of a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion.

President and CEO James F. Mullen said that while diversity is not a new topic at the United Way, it's time for a commitment "that informs what we are as an organization."

"It's about a community coming together and understanding these goals don't matter at all if diversity, equity and inclusion are not above them," Mullen said, referring to the agency's four bold goals to achieve by 2025. "All opportunities are not the same for every person. We have a mission and job to understand that we have to do everything we possibly can as an organization to ensure opportunities are equal."

The 122-word commitment opens by stating, "We cannot build a better future for Summit County unless we build it together."

"We are all in this together, but I promise you these will be just words if leadership does not step up and turn that statement into action," Mullen told a crowd of more than 400 community leaders at the Knight Breakfast in the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn.

Mullen's announcement followed a presentation on directing your life's work with "Purposeful Hustle" by Deanna Singh, a new author of books for children of color and a business book by the same name.

Singh, who hails from Milwaukee, shared how she turned her frustrations with an effort to help minority boys in her community into an idea for creating children's books, which nationally have more animal characters than minority children.

Using lessons she learned from clients struggling to execute on the purpose in their lives, she developed a game plan focused on having courage, curiosity, resiliency and initiative. Those four topics became the focal point of her business advice and helped turn her children's book into a growing success.

At a school assembly where Singh shared her "I am a girl of color" and "I am a boy of color" books with students, Singh said one student raised her hand and announced, "Before today, I never thought about my color as a good thing." Staff said the girl had never really spoken in her classroom before, giving Singh a "mic-drop" moment she'll never forget.

"When you are living in your purpose, when you are committed to your purpose, there is no limit to what you can do," Singh said.

Mullen also recapped the local United Way's success toward reaching its four 2025 goals to increase third-grade reading scores and improve four-year graduation rates and college/career readiness while also financially empowering 11,000 people and reducing emergency room visits for overdoses to less than 1,000 per year. On the last two, he noted new financial literacy programs and services are in place, while overdoses have fallen from 2,700 to a projected 1,400 this year.

"We're very proud of our results we've had in our first 18 months, but as a reminder, this is the journey to 2025. It's the long haul."

While pursuing these goals, Mullen noted the United Way realizes it must continue to support basic human needs in the community. The past two campaigns have allowed the agency to spend a record $3.4 million the past two years on food, shelter, clothing, information services and many other programs. This year's campaign chairman is Bradley A. Wright.