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That You Do for Me, Without Me, You Do to Me

Posted on June 10, 2015

We continue exploring the lack of racial diversity in the local government. Katie Babits, City of Eugene, OR, shares her perspective and lessons learned from a recent TED Talk. You can contribute to the series by signing up here to blog.

That You Do for Me, Without Me, You Do to Me

By: Katie Babits – LinkedIn and Twitter
Recently, I was listening to the TED Radio Hour where Guy Roz was interviewing Jeffrey Brown, a preacher from Boston, about youth outreach which lead to the Boston Miracle. He was reflecting about a young man who died near his parish. Brown realized that if the young man had managed to make it to the parish, he would not have been saved — it was the middle of the night, the lights were off, and the doors were locked. The scenario was symbolic as it was literal.
newsweek-2-227x300Preacher Brown realized that to have an impact on his community, he needed to interact with the entire community on their turf and time. Preacher Brown took action by partnering with other local church leaders. The leaders began to walk the rougher streets of Boston from 10:00 p.m to 2:00 a.m, which is when the majority of crimes were occurring. After initial skepticism, the youth and young adults started to the believe the church leaders were sincere in their efforts. This lead to increase interaction between the preacher and people they encountered.
Brown and his group posed a simple question to those they encountered, “How do we reach you, and what are you looking for?” Survival was the theme that emerged. The people out on the street were simply trying to survive. Fast forward, after many years of this outreach when youth decreased by 79% in Boston.
Listen Up!
A 79% decrease is incredible, and leads to a number of takeaways for local governments faced with the #13Percent issue which is a lack of race and gender diversity among leaders). First, you cannot save the world by preaching to it. Local governments need to diversity its outreach, ask questions, and actively listen (which do what may be the hardest). Sending a monthly newsletter, hosting events at city hall, and working with the same groups is not effective at reaching new populations. Once you create ways to reach a broad audience, you must follow up by acting on the information you hear and learn in conversation.
Give a Damn
darth-vader-haters-gonna-hate-animated-gifCarmen Mays, ELGL leader and City of Spartanburg, SC staffer, wrote that even in 2015, there is a percentage of the population that is not interested in diversity efforts. The detractors are least likely to be engaged. The detractors don’t care whether city councils and city employees are representative of the demographics of the community. We need to educate the people who do care.
When I explain public administration and the many career options, my message is that the public sector is the only field where the people are your customers.  Local government professionals need to follow Jeffrey Brown’s advice by visiting all areas of the community to listen and explain the opportunities available in the public sector.
LaVita Tuff , ELGL leader and Sunlight Foundation staffer, wrote about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and how she was being portrayed because she was an African-American and female.  Her credibility was questioned by some despite Mayor Rawling-Blake being representative of the community — in Baltimore, 53% are female and 63% are African Americans.
From my perspective, as a white female, I do not see the Mayor’s gender or race hampering her ability to effectively govern a populous. I am disappointed that some people remain closed minded and ignorant. I am frustrated that in today’s society we have to fight for equality in race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Positive Energy
anigif_enhanced-19522-1392824810-2I aim to be part of the solution by discounting the negative and fighting for positive change. Let’s continue fighting, what may be a slow, frustrating process of increasing racial and gender diversity in local government, by going into our communities, listening to the voices, and bringing awareness to the opportunities available to make a difference in the public sector. Let’s fight to develop a local government workforce that is representative of the community, full of people who love their community, and quite simply, give a damn.

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