As Kent City Council found themselves wanting to take actions and make public statements in support of the people that visit Kent, work in Kent, learn in Kent, and call Kent home, a new initiative began to take shape — the OneKent Initiative.
One community. One hometown. One Kent.
Kent is one of northeast Ohio’s most popular destinations. The unique shops, entertainment venues, and eateries play a big part in that draw — but the real star of the show is the diverse mix of people that share our hometown.
Downtown Kent is world class people watching as it showcases the global village locally known as Kent.
Which is why the national debate over immigration laws and intolerance has been so troubling. Where Kent has worked hard to pull people together, the national debate seems intent upon pulling people apart.
It’s been clear from City Council’s remarks that they are most concerned about what they can do to improve the lives of people in Kent on a daily basis, rather than worrying about choosing sides in the polarizing national rhetoric.
Kent City Council has taken a very practical, common sense approach to sorting through these inflammatory national issues with a conscious decision to keep the focus on people rather than politics.
City Council has chosen to put people first by announcing the One Kent initiative which has the potential to be far more impactful for the Kent community than anything we’ve done in generations.
Original Kent City Council Multi-Cultural Motion
Passed Unanimously on 9/21/16
I would like to make a motion that the administration be given the task of exploring the feasibility of creating a Multi-Cultural Commission:
- To help Kent identify and meet all the criteria necessary to be a true Compassionate Community.
- To build community capacity for deeper understanding of the increasingly eclectic and diverse population of our community.
- To utilize researched based tools, such as The Appreciative Inquiry methodology in a proactive and positive way to engage all stakeholders in determining what gives life to our community.
- To build on those findings to make Kent an attractive place to reside in, to work in, operate businesses in, and exercise civic engagement.
- To make recommendations to City Council, similar to the Sustainability committee, suggestive courses of action to meet the goals.
- Make recommendations that will encourage the recruitment of quality candidates for all employment opportunities, both public and private, that are representative of the eclectic and diverse population of our community.
Minutes from the 1st Multi-Cultural Planning Meeting
January 13, 2017 Attendees: Roger Sidotti, Heidi Shaffer, Robin Turner, Dave Ruller
Purpose Comments In Council’s “multi-cultural” motion, Council asked Robin, Roger and Heidi to meet with staff to formulate a strategy for how to roll out the new multi-cultural initiative, and then report back to Council with some recommendations.
The Possibilities The meeting began with an open discussion that touched on the wide range of possibilities that were hoped to be inspired by a multi-cultural initiative. It was clear from the remarks that the small group shared Council’s desire to do something impactful in the community — and each member had ideas for what that could include, e.g., Compassionate City designation, Syrian refugee assistance, Welcoming City, community events, age friendly community, job training, neighborhood outreach, Martin Luther King events, etc.
With general support for all of the ideas –and a recognition that these were just a partial list of the kinds of opportunities that could be spawned from this new initiative — the members turned their attention to how to go about packaging all of the great ideas into a coherent initiative that could gain traction in the community and be embraced and “owned” by the entire community.
Getting Organized The small group agreed that while the City can help get this effort started, it would not be successful if it was viewed as a “city government” project led from the top down. The shared hope was that with thoughtful community based leadership, and community engagement at all levels, the initiative would find ways to personalize issues, “un-marginalize” people, and make people feel whole — and a part of something that was bigger than the sum of its parts – with that something being the Kent community.
In order to be considered a “new” initiative, there was discussion about the need to re-frame the issues, give new voices a chance to participate, and to change the narrative that seems to be stuck on irreconcilable differences.
That being said, the group cautioned that the effort shouldn’t seek to “homogenize” differences for the sake of emphasizing “similarities” because it is those differences that make people interesting – and Kent so dynamic – and as a community we should be willing to celebrate those differences and thereby celebrate Kent’s best attribute, its people. Kent is living proof that “one size” does not fit all.
Getting the Language Right The conventional goals of “inclusion” or “diversity” were noted as laudable foundational elements for this effort but because of their over-use and “political” affiliations, the group thought it was important to find new language, in order to lead from a new position, in the hopes of breaking new ground rather than being held hostage to the cycle of rhetoric which causes people to be entrenched rather than empowered by these efforts.
There was some interesting dialogue about helping to break out of the “us vs. them” trap by realizing that “them is us.” That also led to mention of coming up with a more meaningful – and hopefully “catchy” – name to replace the placeholder of multi-cultural.
“Multi-cultural” sounded too detached, or too academic, to inspire a grass roots movement so “One Kent” was mentioned as an alternative. It turns out that back in 2007, when I started the Kent 360 Blog, the tag line that I used on the header was “many voices, one Kent” and then in 2009 a group of KSU marketing students suggested using the “One Kent” phrase to capture a broad initiative to strengthen town/gown relations.
The One-Kent phrase has been bouncing around for about a decade, and One Kent seems a little friendlier and perhaps more meaningful to people, so our small group picked up on it but ultimately I think we’d plan to bring up the “naming rights” back with full Council. I’m not convinced that there may not be an even better name out there that the community or the new Commission could come up with.
Capacity Building The group focused on taking steps that would build the community capacity for appreciation of people of all “makes and models.” In that way, as a capacity building effort, the results would be sustainable beyond the particular life cycle of the initiative, and contribute to a long term cultural shift.
The group members expressed a strong desire to jump start community efforts by “doing something” that would demonstrate Kent’s commitment to all people, and hopefully build momentum for a community led initiative. That bias for action, also led to the comment that there’s a lot of stuff already in “action” and part of this effort should find ways to showcase that.
Commission Model Council talked about using the “Sustainability Commission” as a possible model to replicate to lead the new multi-cultural effort, and I think the small group agreed that is a logical starting point.
The next steps for the small group would include coming up with a recommendation for Council on how to create a new citizen commission that would advise, advocate, and engage the community on the many topics that touch on enriching the multi-cultural experience in Kent for visitors and residents of Kent.
That recommendation would need to address how many members are needed, what would the composition of the membership look like, how do we recruit that membership, and once Council invites them to the table do we have enough of a consensus to define their mission and then step back to let them go accomplish it?
Do we need to devote City resources to get the ball rolling? Should we coordinate the launch with like-minded organizations that are also working on this type of mission in our community, e.g., Churches, KSU, other? Do we make a splash with the Compassionate City designation as a first step and then roll out the Commission? Or do we ask the Commission to do the work required to achieve the Compassionate City designation as their first order of business?
I think these are the types of decisions that Council will need to make and my hope is that the small group can give Council some initial thoughts on how to answer those questions.
- What is the status of the proposed Multicultural Commission to date?
City Council is still working with the staff to develop the project and come up with a roll-out plan for the “One Kent” initiative which is likely to include a group of community leaders whom we’ve been referring to as the Multi-Cultural Commission. This new initiative is still in development; there’s lots of ideas and enthusiasm, but also lots of work yet to be done to focus the effort. I know that the idea of local community conversations is a key component and I would anticipate that whatever name or configuration the Commission ends up with, City Council will look to them to lead that community work.
- Who originated the proposal?
The goal to enrich Kent’s social and cultural fabric is rooted in the goals of the Kent’s Bicentennial Plan. After hundreds of hours of community meetings, the City published all those community ideas in the Bicentennial Plan — which happened to win a national award for “Excellence in Community Engaged Planning” in 2005. That Plan had aspirational goals in 4 focus areas: Economy, Environment, Neighborhoods and Society/Culture. In the last 5 years major investments have been made to enhance the “physical” connections in Kent, strengthening the ties between campus, neighborhoods, the river, and the downtown business district. The Kent Bicentennial Plan provided the blueprint for those projects and in 2017 Kent City Council is returning to the Bicentennial Plan to focus on strengthening Kent’s “social and cultural” connections.
- What do you see as the issue prompting this commission?
One Kent is not intended to be a “single” issue effort. Under the new “One Kent” initiative, Council will be working to rally the community around Kent’s most valued asset — the eclectic mix of people that call Kent home. The goal is to inspire community conversations, launch new projects, and secure Kent’s status as a welcoming and compassionate City. One Kent aspires to be meaningful community building work. It’s a great opportunity for the community to participate in an ambitious effort to celebrate the people, places, and faces that make Kent a hometown we’re proud to share.
- How will members of the commission be selected or appointed?
City Council hasn’t made that determination yet but I would hope to have some direction from Council on their plans for the Commission within the next couple of months.
- Have citizens expressed their opinions of the commission?
The City hasn’t really “launched” One Kent yet so there hasn’t been a lot of local discussion, although everything we’ve heard so far has been supportive of the idea.
- Would the commission require funding, and if so, where would that funding come from?
Sorry to be evasive but at this point the role and scope of work for the Commission, and even the One Kent initiative, has not been finalized so we have nothing to base a cost estimate on yet. I would imagine there will be some resources needed to facilitate meetings, host events, etc., but the extent and cost is still undetermined at this point.
- Is there a projected budget? Not yet.
- Is Kent State assisting/partnering, and if so, which staff member(s) has been contacted?
City Council has extended a general invitation to Kent State to be a part of the One Kent effort and Kent State has graciously accepted. We’ve had planning conversations with a range of their senior staff and based on their enthusiasm for the effort, I would expect a high degree of participation from them as the initiative is rolled-out.
- How do you expect the commission to benefit the city of Kent and/or the University?
We’ve had great success partnering with Kent State to physically transform our downtown and we’re hopeful we can replicate that success in matters pertaining to social and cultural affairs. Kent is a relatively small City with a lot of interesting and eclectic people in it — many of whom are affiliated with the University. Anything we can do to celebrate and amplify Kent’s global village atmosphere would be welcomed by both the community and the University.
- Do you see any obstacles or challenges?
This is not intended to be a “City” or a “University” initiative; it’s a “community initiative” and while the City and University can help get it started, the hardest part will be finding community stewards with the time and talent to pick it up and run with it. Certainly the City and University will always be part of the conversation but we’re hopeful that the community will embrace this as their own but that’s always a challenge given everyone’s busy lives.
- Is there another city that you are aware of which has already implemented a similar program?
There’s plenty of examples of Compassionate Cities and Welcoming Cities that have embraced similar efforts in their communities, and we’ll certainly look to see what worked best for them for us to adopt here in Kent.
- Will there be opportunities for citizens to volunteer/assist with programs or activities?
Again, this is intended to be a citizen based initiative with community conversations as a centerpiece, so yes, plenty citizen input and activities.
- How will the program be introduced and promoted to the town?
We’re still working with City Council to come up with a “launch” event and date. Council has already adopted individual motions to work on becoming a Compassionate City and Welcoming City, and to assist Syrian Refugees but we’d like to have some sort of event to officially kick-off the One Kent Initiative which will serve as the umbrella over all of those individual motions.
- Is there anything else you would like me to consider about the proposal?
From its early pioneer days through to May 4, 1970, Kent has been a small community with a big impact. Whether it’s changing the course of a war or working to change the world, Kent has a reputation as a place that makes a difference. One Kent wants to make sure the world is still listening and learning from Kent for years to come.