My place is not inclusive enough and we need to do better.
Women are not owners of 50% of our businesses, 50% of board and council demographics, or occupying half the leadership roles. Access to financing is different for blacks, Hispanics, and women; opportunities aren’t equitable. Teens flew the confederate flag from their trucks and schools allowed it, even though their free speech made other students feel a lack of safety at school.
The good news is that we’re trying. This week we’ve witnessed peaceful protests of thousands in Saginaw and Bay City for Black Lives Matter. This month I can see the Pride Flag waving in small business storefronts and in front of a Fortune 50 corporation down the street. Our female leaders and business owner volume is incredible. Inclusion is often a topic of discussion and a goal for every local organization.
It wasn’t this way growing up here.
Growing up here I experienced all the whisperings and bias against LGBTQ members of my family. Peers of mine in middle and high school overhearing their parents and emphasizing that differences weren’t ‘normal.’ Being asked out of the blue if being gay is nature or nurture…. Having friends remind me they were Catholic for no apparent reason other than to somehow remind me that the people I love more than anything are considered broken somehow to them. It pains me to reflect on it.
It was one of the reasons I moved away. It was one of my greatest concerns when moving back. I miss the culture of Miami… the diversity. Come as you are and you won’t be categorized, you’ll be embraced. There’s a niche for everyone and openness for all along with a respect for cultural, religious, language, and lifestyle differences. It’s local inclusion and it’s practiced daily. Yes, mainstream culture has come a long way but watching Bravo and loving Andy Cohen isn’t going to affect positive change in your place if you don’t practice inclusion.
You may be thinking, why does it matter? What’s wrong with the status quo? Our place shouldn’t grow. Maybe it matters because your town is losing people like me who won’t move back and make a difference. The brain drain that Michigan has faced as the best and brightest continued to leave for years is back. Companies will leave to locate where they can hire, our local economies will be dormant and cities go broke. Inclusion matters. How do we innovate and overcome obstacles if we lack talent and continue fragmentation?
Michigan is projected to have the climate of Missouri by 2050 and of Texas by 2100 according to Dr. Cindy Frewen, an Urban Futurist. Climate change is occurring and we’re going to face changes no matter what, we can only limit the level of climate impact by changing our emissions. As Michigan will face an increase in hot summers and flooding, it’s better off than other states throughout the nation. Climate change is projected to cause climate refugees. The only population increase Michigan is projected to experience in the coming decades is going to be an influx of refugees – specifically climate refugees from other parts of the US and world facing devastating climate disasters.
Like today’s refugees, citizens will be leaving their place in search of safety and a new place they can take root in. Does that mean Michigan will get some of Miami’s Cubans and all that cultural flavor I love and married into – maybe. I’d certainly prefer that compared to more white people. Why would anyone other than white people want to come here? Is our midwestern hospitality open and welcoming to them? Do we speak and understand more than English? Can they receive the same opportunities from banks and educational institutions?
What is the future of your place?
Practicing inclusion requires taking stock of policies, practices, and creating opportunities for a more equitable place. Rather than being overwhelmed by such a large problem to get your arms around, here are ways to practice inclusion today:
Listen to the experiences of others without judgment. Learn about their beliefs, life experiences, and goals. As you educate yourself, you advocate for others.
- Policy – Michigan’s Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on Race, Sex, Age, etc. for housing, employment, and public accommodations since 1976. It’s finally being updated to include a ban on discrimination against LGBTQ individuals that weren’t originally covered. Listen and learn about these policies even if they don’t affect your lifestyle – be an ally for others.
- Sanctuary City – Be open to receiving others. Municipal jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with national immigration enforcement reduce fears of deportation and possible family break-ups. These places are more likely for their immigrant populations to report crimes, utilize health and social services as well as enroll their children in school. Anti-profiling ordinances are another way cities can keep police from asking about immigration status to individuals not suspected of any crime.
- Business Leadership & Ownership – Research proves customers are best served by organizations that reflect the diversity of their market base. Does the makeup of your local businesses reflect your demographics? With the new census results coming, make it a goal to have your local ownership reflect the makeup of your place. My place likely doesn’t have the 8.5% Hispanic/Latino business ownership mirroring the population. It should be a goal to get there. Moreover, as you likely already know, support your local businesses – especially minority-owned.
- Don’t forget Boards & Councils – Is the organizational leadership in your area diverse and reflective of your demographics? Are 50% of them women? Sometimes the barriers to this aren’t the organization’s thinking or goals in achieving this but it’s getting people to participate and volunteer. Could your organization get more involved with local leadership programs to tell professionals you want and need their voices at the table? Diverse groups of problem solvers outperform in both finding solutions and in productivity.
- Equitable Opportunities – A common barrier to inclusion is pathways for equitable opportunities. Women and minority-owned startups often need community-based financial support programs, grants, or offerings for the seed capital to start. They are less likely to have access to seed financing from financial institutions, friends, and family. Equitable opportunities in your educational programming ensures every student has an equal shot at success.
The strongest neighborhoods are the most diverse in having options for all ages, income levels, and cultures within housing types and commerce options. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of our places, get to work in helping your neighborhood evolve in its diversity. I’m proud of the evolution within my place. We have a ways to go but we’re collaborative in discussing how we can grow stronger together.