Awesome!

Jennifer Barlas
Business Development Specialist
Foth & Van Dyke and Associates, Inc.
Green Bay, Wisconsin

I'm no surfer-dudette from the 60's or a Gen Xer from today, although I am immediate Past Chair of the National Diversity Committee. The word "awesome" was the first thing that sprang to mind after visiting with a dedicated bunch of APWA members who have a passion for inclusiveness and manage to blend creativity and energy through their efforts and activities in a diversity-related manner. Who am I talking about, you may ask? Well, none other than the Kansas City (KC) Metro Chapter Diversity Committee.

I'm also talking about a Chapter that lent support to a Diversity Committee with far-reaching ideas and passionately accomplished over 80 percent of their 132 Chapter Goals for Implementation of APWA's Strategic Plan in 2001. Wait, there's lots more!

Most Chapter Diversity Committees are somewhere in the stages of getting started to struggling with their own identity and direction at a time when most of us are continuing to readjust our understanding of the new world order since the terrorist activities a few months ago. Seems like we still have a long way to go in order to move beyond the paralyzing effects that have gripped our nation and all countries. We have all been exposed to the continuous media coverage about peoples, cultures, values and religions that are different and new to us. The emphasis on inclusiveness is more important and topical than ever in our world today.

We find different peoples, cultures, values and religions in our own organization including chapters, branches and public- and private-sector agencies. As we are all becoming more aware of those differences, the KC Metro Chapter Diversity Committee focused their efforts in 2001 on increasing the level of diversity-related themes and activities to their members. "We recognize that the workforce has evolved from a white-male dominated business environment in my parents' generation to a higher level of awareness of different people and their needs, regardless of the color of their skin," said Larry Frevert, 2001 KC Metro Chapter President. "Employers today recognize that the current workforce is focused on supporting their families and doing a good job, regardless of race, creed, gender, etc."

Juanita Jackson was asked by Larry Frevert to chair the Diversity Committee in 2001. She brought together a diverse group organized to focus on the value of "inclusiveness" and to permeate diversity awareness through the various Chapter communication tools. The Chapter Executive Committee was very supportive of Juanita's selection as Chairperson. This was based in large part by her well-known demonstrated commitment to raising the level of equality and respect among her co-workers, while at the same time maintaining quality output and high staff morale at the City of Kansas City, Missouri. Juanita had been with the City over 21 years, achieving milestones along the way as the first female equipment operator, Labor Leader and General Supervisor in the Public Works Department, most recently serving for the last 10 years as the first woman Area Superintendent of Solid Waste Operations, Environmental Management Department before retiring just last fall. She credits the numerous public works and management training programs she experienced while at the City with giving her the background necessary to create diversity-related initiatives that she brought to her committee. Committee member, Michele Ohmes, thinks differently: "Our committee has witnessed firsthand Juanita's inner diverse spirit in action. She is completely open to everybody she interacts with and is supportive of our ideas, opinions, approaches and independent actions." (Michele was a 2001 APWA National Diversity Award Recipient.)

Juanita and her committee jumped out of the blocks early and worked with an outside facilitator to develop a mission and vision statement, called a "Vi-mission" (combined mission and vision) statement. Chuck Madden, 2002 KC Metro Chapter President and Diversity Committee member, recalls the value of using a facilitator to focus the group. "I was amazed at the results of our efforts," he said. "The process forced the committee to examine our own individual ideas about diversity and then blend those together." The seven members of the committee struggled at first with definitions, but soon that gave way to an open environment where the committee agreed that diversity should be looked upon as a gift, a blending together of talent, ideas and approaches. Getting to this level was no easy feat, but with the continued backing and encouragement by the Chapter Executive Committee and a $2,000 budget allotment, the group was able to do way more than simply give lip service to supporting the diversity theme as promoted by our national organization. Here is what they created...

"Diversity is a natural gift, which we appreciate and respect as necessary to bond our foundation of similarities. As diverse people, alike in public works service, we will lead by our example and proactively endow the value of a diverse workplace." KC Metro Chapter Diversity Committee, 2001

The KC Metro Diversity Committee also came up with the idea of creating a symbol of diversity. Juanita made use of a committee member's co-worker at a private-sector consulting firm to use creative and technical expertise to design a lapel pin that has since been adopted by APWA's National Diversity Committee and featured frequently in the APWA Reporter. I gotta admit, I was very happy for KC Metro when the pin was introduced and not the least bit concerned about asking permission to adopt the graphic for use by the National Diversity Committee. APWA is all about sharing ideas and information throughout our membership, including other associations, so my committee didn't have to re-create a new logo or image to represent Diversity—we just asked to share. I highly encourage the use of the lapel pin to promote diversity themes and encourage discussion at APWA meetings and elsewhere. The lapel pin is now available for purchase through the KC Metro Chapter website at www.kcapwa.net for $5.

Juanita Jackson also arranged to have the well-known and beloved John "Buck" O'Neil, former player/manager of the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs baseball team and the first African/American coach in Major League Baseball, be the keynote speaker at the KC Metro Chapter meeting hosted by the Diversity Committee. The meeting was well attended by chapter members and was a complete success. What a great idea! Finding good speakers can be a challenge, especially on the topic of diversity as it relates to public works. The example of Mr. O'Neil demonstrates that diversity can relate to many areas, including and beyond public works.

The 2002 KC Metro Chapter Diversity Committee, chaired by Kathy Schikevitz, will focus on accomplishing more of the goals that came from the facilitator-lead planning session. "2002 will be a building year for our committee," Kathy said. "I'm taking over for Juanita Jackson and those are big shoes to fill. Diversity will be a part of every chapter meeting. In fact, we plan to write a column in the bimonthly newsletter that will focus on issues from a diversity perspective." I wish Kathy and her committee continued success this year in meeting and exceeding the goals for 2002, which may be an easy assignment judging from the high level of passion and energy I witnessed in our discussions. To those of you who may be struggling to kick off diversity initiatives in your own chapter or organization, the proper mix of committed people who are enthusiastic and interested in diversity-related themes will fuel efforts that will multiply results. I encourage you to get involved or take a leadership role in your local diversity initiative efforts and use the KC Metro Chapter and Diversity Committee as positive examples of what can be accomplished when we all work together.

"Everyone is born with a gift. I view diversity as a part of a recipe that needs all of the ingredients to complete the final product." Juanita Jackson, 2001

Keep up the good work!

Jennifer Barlas can be reached at 920-496-6886 or at jbarlas@foth.com.