Community Focus 2021


Through the Lens of Equity

By Francine Pratt, Prosper Springfield

Intentional and action-oriented are the two strategies that come to mind when I think about how the Community Focus Report was developed this year. The report's steering committee used a concept from the Inclusive Excellence Model (created through the Association of American Colleges and Universities), which included an opportunity for me to review most of the white papers drafted for the project through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Race and ethnicity are one viewpoint. However, there are several others, such as individuals with disabilities, veterans, previously incarcerated, LGBTQ+, Pell-grant eligible and other intersections. Lived experiences were very important for this report as well as acknowledgment of the importance to recognize and share how diversity, equity and inclusion affects our quality of life in Springfield.

In almost every area of the report, diversity, equity and inclusion are key themes just as in previous reports. So, what makes this report different? The difference is the willingness to have conversations about who is impacted, how we write about the impacts and how we recognize that words matter. Through collaborative conversations, the report and its white papers included an intentional focus to understand causes, effects and impacts of how historical practices affected access to resources and services for Blue Ribbons and Red Flags.

Viewing issues through an equity lens and thinking about it consistently can be a new concept for community leaders in the private, public and social sectors. There are strategies, however, that can align with businesses and organizations to consistently view issues through this lens: the Inclusive Excellence Model with the Targeted Universalism concept.

Inclusive Excellence focuses on business and operational needs that are reviewed based on four main areas of focus:

Targeted Universalism uses a concept of inclusiveness of everyone with a shared universal goal. Quantitative and qualitative data are used to understand how individuals in a community currently perform in relation to the goal. Strategies are developed for short- and long-term focused solutions to support different groups within the community to reach the shared goal. For example, our community has two goals—reduce the poverty rate by five percentage points and increase education beyond high school to 60% by 2025.

The focus has been poverty reduction first. Chart 1 above has the impact to the poverty rate reduction, which is the universal goal. Chart 2 has the poverty rate reduction by race and ethnicity. With disaggregated data, the community can better see the disparities for each population group. A Targeted Universalism approach was used to develop focused solutions to support the results for the different groups. As one can see, the use of disaggregated data provides a more accurate picture to address, develop and/or understand what is needed to consistently become more inclusive.

Steady and consistent progress, using data, is made through systems alignment that benefits everyone who calls Springfield home. Once there is an understanding with valid data, a business or an organization can then review practices, policies and procedures to ask the question: Who is kept out of participation based on how a business or organization operates?

Some may say everything should be equal. However, when we only focus on equality, some members of our community may still not reach the intended outcome for all. Equality is giving each person the same thing whether they need it or not to reach the intended outcome. Equity focuses on providing what is needed based on the needs of each individual to meet the intended outcome.

Springfield benefits with better job creation, business investment and a growing workforce when the community can create a pipeline from birth to career to meet people where they are in life. When we respect each other's differences, and value anyone and everyone, we can turn more Red Flags into Blue Ribbons.

Moving Forward, Together

By Taj Suleyman, City of Springfield

Expanding the table of conversation driven by fidelity, consistency and genuine efforts via a culturally inclusive and sustaining approach has been a personal mission in my professional and academic career. As a formal refugee who was resettled with my family in Salt Lake City, Utah, I looked forward with exhilaration to pursuing the "American Dream," like many immigrants before me who chose to believe in the globally marketed notion that there is a chance for everyone to excel in this land.

Soon, I began realizing there are limitations to accessing opportunities in my new unfamiliar home, due to social and systemic barriers.

My upbringing in Lebanon, where my exposure to diverse religions, ethnicities and experiences instilled a belief that there is always a room for everyone at any table. This inspired me to continue learning with deep appreciation and openness about any perspective presented before me.

My gratitude of being a contributing voice to the Springfi eld community is at the forefront of my professional position as the director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the City of Springfield. I see that the fabric here is made of collaboration, integrity, humility, hospitality and philanthropy. These attributes have modeled the ongoing conversation to improve the equitable quality of life for all residents.

While this collective eff ort has been progressing to address urgent challenges impacting our community, I acknowledge the prospects of growth by asking, who's missing from the table? And how many tables are presented to address which areas will thrive on community growth and development?

As the director of DEI for the City of Springfield, I'm tasked with developing a strategic plan in collaboration with our national and community partners. This collaboration will advance our eff orts to support what we already are working on in the community, concomitantly intensifying on equitable community engagement, in order to develop a stronger community leadership capacity by leveraging what already is working and adding more inclusive defi nitions to leadership.

For instance, the Community Focus Report has been so essential in bringing awareness, inviting more inclusive and equitable outcomes across community organizations to overcome disproportionality when addressing intersectionality assure that our current and future generations represented by diverse demographics are empowered, engaged and valued. An eff ective additional tool would be ethnography and interpretive methods of research to complement and enhance the report's existing data-collection efforts.

I appreciate the room for creativity and innovation to revitalize our systems, our structures and ourselves to be better and do better for our community members as whole—especially those who have historically been underserved and underrepresented.

It is important to engage "identity" as an asset to implement a positive change in the community.

By utilizing an integrated process, we can:

A scholar and a dear friend once told me that in this work: "Being ready is passive, and being prepared is being proactive." We're fortunate to live in this current moment with the opportunity to be change agents.

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