As part of its continuing efforts to embed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in its operations, the City of Grand Rapids Office of Equity and Engagement is launching a range of new programs targeting city employees at all levels as well as city residents.
“There is a lot of internal support for these programs. The city manager and city commission are really pushing for equity. A lot of this work has been going on for decades,” says Stacy Stout, city of Grand Rapids director of equity and engagement. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of this. While not everything is perfect — racism is ugly — I see positive movement so I am excited and hopeful that we will see progress.”
An organization that provides a Black voice and perspective in diversity, equity and inclusion training, Harriet Speaks LLC will create and facilitate a series of virtual community discussions that will be open to all Grand Rapids residents. The sessions will raise awareness about structural racism and implicit bias and build capacity among the city’s people of color and those who seek to be allies — with the hope of effecting a cultural shift. The streamed Facebook Live panel discussions will cover a different topic each month. Though not required, reading materials and videos will give residents who want to dive deeper even more to explore.
“We are trying to make it as engaging as possible and as accessible as possible,” Stout says. “We will record the sessions so anyone can join us and listen in afterward.”
Thirty-five city residents completing the sessions will be recruited to join a citizen cohort where they can expand on their equity journey.
“Some may join because they want to advance in their journey in being an ally. Others may want to somehow continue their partnership with the city,” Stout says. “I do hope [cohort] graduates will consider joining one of our 35 plus boards and commissions Other options would be to support and engage with the new master plan, which really guides development and how we grow as a community. They would lift up equity and resident voices.”
While all staff are required to take part in the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Institute for Equity and Inclusion – Equity Foundations training, mid-level managers participating in the Equity Champions cohort will reinforce that training and bring awareness to a deeper level. Facilitated by the National Equity Project (NEP), the goal of this cohort is to embed equity into every department’s budgets, operations, practices, and culture.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be only the work of the office of equity and engagement. We are the support, but everyone has to do DEI work,” Stout says. “As people move up in the organization, they will move into those roles where they will be leading for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
In addition, 20 of the city’s top managers will join a small group of selected city residents in the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond – Undoing Racism Workshop. The workshop will teach leaders how to act as gatekeepers who are accountable to communities as they undo internalized racial oppression.
“With a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion work, you are planting seeds. You may or may not see the fruit right away. It’s changing conversations, changing mindsets. I don’t know if we'll get there in our lifetimes. Dismantling racism and white supremacy is long-term, generational work,” Stout says. “We’ll know we got there when all people have real equitable opportunities.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids