Diversity = A Beautiful Mosaic

Transforming Local Government presenter, The City of Montogomery, OH, shares their journey on educating their community to embrace their neighbors and make Montgomery a welcoming community in the face of intolerance.

ARTICLE | Feb 27, 2020
by City of Montgomery, OH

TLG presenter, the City of Montgomery, shares how they targeted injustices in their community in a Q+A style article. 

Q. What do you want to talk about? 

On November 7, 2017, there were four candidates in Montgomery vying for three City Council spots in the General Election.  The City received a phone call indicating there was an issue at one of the polling locations involving a person handing out literature to voters, encouraging them not to vote for a qualified candidate exclusively based on the candidate’s religious belief.  It was this incident that provided an opportunity for us to examine our community and ask ourselves, “Are we doing enough to create and promote a welcoming environment in our community”?

Q. Define the “before” state.  What was the problem you were trying to solve?

The City of Montgomery, Ohio, with a population of approximately 10,500, is a model community of highly rated schools, thriving businesses, beautiful parks, attractive residences, good government and well-educated, civic-minded citizens.  For over two centuries, Montgomery has been an open and welcoming place for all those who’ve chosen to live, work and visit this charming and very livable community.  Historically, residents have gotten along well. In recent years and mirroring the national trend, the population of Montgomery has begun to shift.  Its heretofore homogeneous residents have begun to diversify racially, ethnically and religiously. Today, approximately ten percent of Montgomery residents are multicultural (Sycamore Community Schools presently has a student population representing 54 nationalities and 41 languages, making the school system one of the most culturally diverse in Ohio!)

For the most part, this demographic shift has been a welcomed development.  Montgomery’s civic leaders have embraced this shift as a good thing, having witnessed how the addition of diverse residents has enriched and vitalized the community. They have been encouraged by this influx of different cultures as signifying that cultural minorities are wanting to make Montgomery their home:  a testament to the community’s overall hospitality.

But cultural diversity and social change can be uncomfortable for some, wherever they reside, especially for those who are unacquainted with persons who are different from them; those whose social experiences have been narrow, insular or simply lacking in opportunity.  Persons in this situation can be less inclined to be welcoming, less accepting, and on occasion, even “un-neighborly.” It is well established that the most effective responses to intergroup suspicions and prejudices are cultural education, intercultural contact, and the creation of a climate of tolerance and respect as the community’s civic norm. 

Q. Define the strategy you followed and action(s) you took to overcome this problem.

The voting event and the changing national trends reminded City Council that no community is above bigotry, intolerance, and hate if left unchecked. As a result, Montgomery City Council set out to create a committee to address the issue and develop ways to educate the community to embrace our neighbors and make Montgomery a welcoming community. The initial goals of the committee were: 

  1. Promote community awareness, education and appreciation of Montgomery’s diverse cultures;
  2. promote positive inter-cultural relations among Montgomery residents and create a welcoming environment for all those who live, visit, work and recreate in Montgomery.

It was important to have citizen volunteers lead the committee. The City sought the help of a resident, Robert “Chip” Harrod, to help form and lead the committee. Chip is a well-known Cincinnati civic leader who is president and CEO of BRIDGES for a Just Community, an organization that for many years was regarded as our region’s leading human relations agency. Presently, Chip is the convener of the Bridges of Faith Trialogue, a nonprofit that delivers educational programs informed by an on-going conversation among Cincinnati civic leaders of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

The Montgomery Diversity and Inclusion Committee formed in January 2018 and is comprised of residents representing various faiths, nationalities, age groups, and life experiences. The committee is joined by the City Manager, some City Council Members and a couple of staff members for administrative support.

The committee defines diversity as all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another.  While diversity is often used in reference to race, ethnicity, and gender, we embrace a broader definition that also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. The definition also includes the diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives and values. They also recognize that individuals affiliate with multiple identities.

Q. What happened?

The first year revolved around a “train the trainer” type of mentality to allow our committee to be better educated before expanding our efforts to the community at large.  Some of our highlights of 2018 included and “#IamMontogmery” campaign, including a video and yard signs.  We had several presentations to our committee including:

  • Understanding Islam and Muslims
  • Hispanics in Ohio and Cincinnati MSA
  • Rebuilding Lives: How people with criminal records reintegrate into the community
  • Valuing Diversity
  • Diversity and Inclusion:  The Strategy
  • Turning Adversity into Opportunity 

In addition, the committee completed a cultural review of the City’s social media sites, participated in the annual Montgomery Independence Day Parade and Festival and hosted our very first Diversity Dinner.  To close out 2018, the committee added a holiday page in the City’s annual calendar that listed various religious and cultural holidays, created a two-year strategic plan, and applied for and received a $4,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to support our efforts.

In 2019 the committee built upon the momentum created in 2018 and conducted three “Know Your Neighbor” events that were open to the public. All three of these events were well received by our community. The topics included:

  • Islam and America’s Muslim Community
  • Overcoming Disabilities
  • Hispanics in the USA and the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area

Committee members and City staff also participated in discussions about “Implicit Bias” and “Cultural Competency,” both of which were very educational.

The committee once again participated in the Montgomery Independence Day Parade and Festival and was awarded “Best Float” in the parade.  Our second annual Diversity Dinner was held with 33% increased attendance, and we began profiling our committee members in the monthly Montgomery Bulletin, which is mailed directly to all Montgomery residents and businesses.

Q. What were some successes in your journey? 

Attendance to the second annual Diversity Dinner was up 33%. 

Attendance during the Sister Cities Commission Dinner Around the World potluck dinner and cooking demonstration increased by 59% with more than 70 participants. A record!

We have observed many residents at various City-sponsored events who previously didn’t feel comfortable in attending.

Residents continue to ask for the availability of #IamMontgomery signs to place in their yard

City Council approved funds in our annual budget and future budgets to support our diversity efforts.

Overall, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee efforts were well received within our community, but we know there are still some skeptics that we continue to try and reach.

 

More information about the Montgomery Diversity and Inclusion Committee can be found at http://www.montgomeryohio.org/diversity-and-inclusion/.

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