City holds final three diversity listening sessions

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By Will Fairless
Associate Editor

The City of Opelika held its latter three Diversity and Inclusion Listening Sessions at the Opelika Municipal Courtroom on Oct. 27 (Ward 1), Oct. 29 (Ward 3) and Nov. 5 (Ward 5). The first two were on Oct. 13 and 15.

“We wrapped up the final listening session [on Nov. 5],” said Leigh Krehling, community relations officer for the city of Opelika. “We look forward to receiving the report and suggestions from Dr. Arturo Menefee in the coming weeks. Once we receive those, we will make a determination about how to move forward and what we can do to continue building positive relationships among all citizens in Opelika.”

Dr. Arturo Menefee moderated all five listening sessions with help from Dr. Sabine Simmons. The two will be compiling a report on what they heard from the community during the more than six hours of total meeting time.

“We’re gonna be compiling this information and presenting it to the mayor to make some positive changes.” Simmons said.

Menefee said that through his research, he has found four reasons that diversity is beneficial in any community or project: there are more skills and talents, new ways of thinking, different experiences and unique cultural backgrounds.

“As a leadership consultant, diversity is extremely important,” Simmons said. “When we talk about leading, diversity has a synergistic effect. It brings together different experiences, different backgrounds, all of these different things to create something better; that’s why diversity and inclusion is important.”

A survey that included the following prompts and questions was distributed to the attendees:

– On a scale from 1-10, how would you rate race relations in Opelika?

–  On a scale from 1-10, how would you rate your interactions with the city of Opelika officials?

– How does Opelika celebrate and promote diversity?

– Should public departments and boards for Opelika represent the demographics of the city’s population? (Answer “yes,” “no” or “unsure”)

– Regarding race relations or diversity, what are the main problems or concerns?

– Identify at least two actions that Opelika can take to improve diversity or race relations.

– Do you think Opelika is committed to diversity?

On the back are demographic questions to identify the people not as individuals, but as members of groups, as Simmons explained.

Menefee asked the community members in attendance for their ideas about improving race relations, diversity and inclusion in Opelika.

“I think one way to move forward is with reparations, at the city level,” one attendee said. “Absolutely at the state level, absolutely at the national level, but here too: consider reparations for black families.”

Another added, “I think what the city of Opelika needs to do is come up with a roster of all organizations with a contact person for each of those organizations so that when something comes up, they’re talking to the right person.”

Menefee and Krehling talked about an upcoming hiring event at the Sportsplex on Nov. 6. The event will offer training on some job-landing skills, such as writing resumes and being a successful interviewee, and is one way that the city hopes to achieve a more diverse workforce.

Menefee and Simmons will present a report to the mayor and other city officials in the upcoming weeks, summarizing what they learned from the community over the course of these five sessions. In addition to the report, they will provide recommendations for actions based on the feedback the community has given.

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