Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become major topics in every facet of American life, including workplaces, public organizations, and local government. Edmond is no different, and 2021 has been a year of reflection and refocus for many local leaders looking to have honest conversations about diversity in our own community.
Preserving and paving history
In April, the Edmond Historical Society & Museum launched a virtual exhibit titled, “Edmond’s African American History: Land Run to Integration.” The digital curation includes artifacts and stories about Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and the eventual integration of the community.
“The topic of African Americans in Edmond is often questioned, mostly because of its absence,” said Amy Stephens, executive director at the Edmond Historical Society. “Edmond used to be promoted as an all-white town in the local papers and restaurants.”
From the early 1920s all the way to the 1970s, no African American families lived or owned property in Edmond. It wasn’t until later in the 1970s that African Americans began moving into city limits, in part due to the integration of Central State College, now known as the University of Central Oklahoma.
But, Edmond is paving the way for a new chapter and writing a new story for the history books. In the most recent municipal elections, residents voted in the community’s first black mayor.
Mayor Darrell Davis has been involved in local government for over 25 years, including serving on boards, commissions, and even the city council.
“It’s an honor to write a piece of history in the community I’ve loved for many years,” said Davis. “I raised my kids here, and I want to ensure other families feel welcome here, too, no matter their race, religion, or political stance.”
Education leads to action
The focus on inclusion and diversity efforts has expanded beyond the mayor’s office, with both the city council and local officials aiming to spark change. Multiple City of Edmond employees sit on the Edmond Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, including City Manager Larry Stevens.
Stevens is one of the driving forces behind the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the city level.
“Diversity makes us better in so many ways, and we have room to grow in creating an inclusive city,” said Stevens. “We want Edmond to be a tolerant, understanding, and welcoming community, and that starts with education.”
The City of Edmond partnered with the Edmond Chamber as the presenting sponsor of the Diversity & Inclusion Series, a monthly diversity-related education session free to the public, specifically focusing on providing resources for small business owners. Topics have ranged from systemic racism and religious inclusivity to disability advocacy and pride in the workplace.
“We’ve been honored and humbled by the opportunities and conversations this series has brought forth on both personal and professional levels,” said Edmond Chamber President and CEO Sherry Jordan. “Our committee is looking forward to the next year with big goals for the series for both local businesses and the community.”
The Chamber plans to offer additional interactive training sessions and form partnerships with local organizations to increase education opportunities for local workplaces.
The City of Edmond is currently in the process of creating a diversity and inclusion position and plans to develop a community scorecard to measure progress related to these initiatives. The Edmond City Council also hopes to focus on action and recently included a goal in the 2021 Strategic Plan to “continue the partnership with the Edmond Chamber of Commerce on diversity and inclusion initiatives.”
“This is not a one-and-done deal,” said Stevens. “We are making investments in our community to produce long-term changes and inclusive opportunities for residents of all backgrounds and beliefs. We hope these actions inspire other Edmond organizations and businesses to shift their focus and see where they can grow.”
With more resources and education related to these issues, local leaders hope to spark conversations among residents in their homes, workplaces, and everyday life.
“This can’t fall on one person or one organization,” said Davis. “This has to be a community-wide focus to make a real difference and to make Edmond a great place to grow for anyone and everyone.”
To hear more about the business case for diversity, click here to watch the Chamber’s recent education event with Kuma Roberts. To learn more about the Diversity & Inclusion Series, contact Ashley Neese at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About Ashley Neese
Ashley Neese is the Communications and Marketing Manager at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce where she promotes Chamber events and helps members gain exposure. She also leads the Edmond Young Professionals organization and the Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Ashley grew up in Edmond and graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2017 with a degree in Mass Communication. In her free time, she enjoys brewing coffee and finding the best local eats.