Deidra Emerson is the Deputy City Manager for the City of Waco. In this article, she answers a series of questions about the City's race equity work and how future projects will unfold.
What impact did the REI Phase I training and Groundwater have on you and your vision for the City’s work?
These trainings have pushed me to mentally recall what I’ve been taught, and examine my beliefs and what I thought I knew about race relations in this country. It has challenged me to look deeper at local issues, our system structure and the people impacted. My vision for the City’s work is in alignment with our core value of “Promoting Equity and Inclusion in all that we do.” The data and the history behind the data is motivation to ensure that this core value is embedded in everything we do to improve the quality of life for the residents of Waco.
Why is focusing on race equity within the City of Waco important to you personally?
It’s important to me personally because the race equity work that we do today strengthens the foundation for the future. As I reflect on the amount of injustice that has occurred in the United States in 2020 alone, in addition to the public health crisis we continue to battle every day, race equity is at the root of these issues. If I can support our organization in race equity and it changes the outcome of one family, one child, or one neighborhood, then I have fulfilled my role as a servant leader.
How/why is it important to the departments you oversee?
It’s important to the departments that I oversee because of the direct impact those departments have on the quality of life for our residents. All city departments have an impact on a resident quality of life. A number of the departments that I oversee have the ability to impact the public health and sustainability of neighborhoods or the financial security of our residents. When these departments approach their work with a race equity lens, there is a much greater chance that the services will be provided in a manner that not only provides access, but access in a way that is meaningful to the resident.
Did you present this work to your staff and board/work colleagues? If so, what was that process like?
After completing REI Phase I and Groundwater, I learned about the Government Alliance on Race Equity. A contingent of our staff had the opportunity to attend an annual conference of GARE. That experience led me to encourage our management team and council, to consider developing a strategic plan around equity. A critical step for us was to have a collective conversation around race equity. The GARE team and Waco Foundation staff provided support and encouragement in the preparation process. I led our city council in a discussion about race equity.
Many conversations occurred thereafter leading to the council including equity as priority and a core value of our organization.
What type of feedback have you received from those individuals?
The feedback has been positive. Most of our leadership has been through REI Phase I and/or Groundwater. The benefit of that is they have had time to process the information they have received and are supportive of the work that it takes for race equity to become part of our organizational culture.
How you have you processed/determined what work needs to be done?
The work that needs to be done is being processed a couple of ways. Waco has two documents that are a great baseline for where our work could start. The Visioning Project and the UpJohn Study are great starting points for where our work can begin until we complete a formal equity assessment.
Why are you looking to establish an equity office? What type of authority will the office have?
We are creating an equity office because of how important this work is to the success of our residents. The office will report directly to the City Manager’s Office and will serve as the voice of our organization on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
What activities or responsibilities will that office take on?
The office will have the responsibility to develop and establish the mission, goals, strategies, and performance measures for the office. A key responsibility will be to create a city-wide equity action plan based on a data driven analysis that encompasses equity tools, provides a blueprint of systems, and structures each department. It is our desire for this office to guide our way in operationalizing equity within our organization.
What types of skills do you want that person to have?
We are looking for someone who has direct and effective experience in organizational transformation. Who has the ability to communicate well and can collaborate and is inclusive in their approach, with a good understanding of current literature and recent developments in concepts, trends, and current issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.