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Opinion: Region makes strides for diversity, inclusion

2018 Review

Posted online

As 2018 ended, our city and region continued its efforts to value the inclusion of diversity.

Various groups and individuals engaged our residents in understanding and promoting efforts to connect across cross cultural differences. For example, Mayor Ken McClure and Springfield City Council, Missouri State University, Ozarks Technical Community College, the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, NAACP Springfield and others recognized the need to acknowledge the contributions of black Springfieldians through the designation of the Springfield-Greene County African-American Heritage Trail. 

Drury University, MSU, the NAACP and other community members commemorated the 100th birthday celebration of the Rev. Oliver Brown, former pastor of Benton AME Church. Brown and his daughter Linda, who attended Central High School, were the named plaintiffs in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 that integrated our nation’s public schools.

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks awarded diversity and inclusion grants to Drury and Grupo LatinoAmericano; FosterAdopt Connect Inc. and Fresh Start; The GLO Center and PROMO; Friends of Timmons Temple Inc., Springfield-Greene County Park Board and the NAACP; MSU and the Facing Racism Institute; and the African-American Heritage Trail.

Also in the last year, McClure recognized and acknowledged the value of diversity and inclusion in the state of the city address. Collectively, our public entities collaborated with community partners, including Minorities in Business and the NAACP, to increase participation for diverse local emerging businesses, minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and the federally recognized disadvantaged business enterprises.

Numerous efforts promoted cultural consciousness and awareness across the divides that create barriers educationally, socioeconomically, governmentally and politically. MSU’s Division for Diversity and Inclusion worked with organizations as varied as the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, CoxHealth and the Waynesville School District to increase diversity awareness, knowledge and skills development through training, professional development and community fairs.

Despite the remaining challenges of poverty, domestic abuse, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, national divisiveness and polarization, these diversity and inclusion activities are indicative of local leadership and efforts to promote inclusive excellence. We’re striving to recognize and embrace the fact that all residents are to be valued and respected for whom they are and what they contribute to our vibrant city and region.

In 2019, we will not rest on our laurels. We continue our diversity and inclusion efforts to increase, enhance and value the inclusion of diversity with our partners and collaborators.  Springfield’s leadership in various sectors has demonstrated its commitment to engaging all in building an inclusively excellent community. MSU’s commitment to inclusion is memorialized in its long-range plan and the annual action plans that report the related successes. We will continue our cultural consciousness and inclusive excellence professional development of students, faculty, staff and in the general community. A student leadership diversity and inclusion training model is being developed for our student organizations, including the MSU Student Government Association.

We look forward to the Collaborative Diversity Conference, this year scheduled April 24-27 under the theme “Bridging the Cultural Divides” and featuring author Irshad Manji, the founder of the Moral Courage Project. The conference highlights best practices in diversity and inclusion in business, community relations, higher education and public service. 

The Facing Racism Institute will have opportunities for participation, including a one-day session at the April conference. The Public Entities Diversity Workgroup will document the increased participation of minority-owned and women-owned businesses and DBEs, and diverse hiring opportunities, while we also will work with private-sector businesses and corporations to launch a similar effort. 

We invite your engagement and participation in making the Springfield community region an even more welcoming environment where the inclusion of diversity is a value for all who live, learn and earn here. Join us in 2019 and beyond.

Wes Pratt is chief diversity officer and an assistant to the president at Missouri State University. He can be reached at wpratt@missouristate.edu.

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