by Sandi Burtseva
The National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO), along with other NLC constituency groups, hosted the annual Celebrate Diversity Breakfast on March 12, during the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter addressed attendees at the breakfast on leading cities in challenging times and five cities were presented with City Cultural Diversity Awards.
Five cities were honored for implementing programs that enhance and promote cultural diversity in communities. The City Cultural Diversity Awards, sponsored by NBC-LEO, recognize city programs that encourage citizen involvement and enhance and show an appreciation of cultural diversity. This year, the cities of Brooklyn Park, Minn., Dubuque, Iowa, Arlington, Va., Irvine, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., were honored.
The Community Engagement Initiative of Brooklyn Park, Minn., is a strategic plan that set out goals and a mission statement to encourage pride and opportunities for all across the community. The initiative has encouraged citizen involvement in local government-sponsored activities and enhanced the appreciation of cultural diversity as a way of life in the community.
In Dubuque, Iowa, the Intercultural Competence Initiative ensures that city staff and programs are effectively meeting the needs of a growing multicultural community. The initiative seeks to acknowledge residents of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and engage them within the community, and to ensure that city policy decisions include the perspective of the range of cultures represented in the community. Since the program's inception in 2006, it has expanded cultural programming, developed cultural community groups and ensured that people of various backgrounds have a voice in solving community problems.
Working to build community with residents of all backgrounds through the Multicultural Outreach Program, Arlington, Va., strives to ensure that all residents are aware of and have access to community services and education programs. The program includes a comprehensive Spanish language website, citizenship classes and workshops, job readiness training, home buying seminars and Spanish interpretation at board and other key public meetings.
The Irvine Global Village Festival in Irvine, Calif., is an annual, free event that provides residents an opportunity to celebrate the city's vibrant and diverse community. Held at the city's Colonel Bill Barber Marines Corps Memorial Park, the event features more than 100 performances across five stages, as well as restaurants, exhibits, demonstrations, children's activities and merchants representing more than 50 cultures from around the world.
The Phoenix City Manager's Community Engagement and Outreach Task Force in Phoenix, Ariz., addresses police officer training, communication, community policing and public outreach to help the Phoenix Police Department interact more effectively with all residents. Since 2010, the task force has helped the police department promote cultural diversity, strengthen relationships and heighten the level of service it provides to the city's diverse communities.
The City Cultural Diversity Awards program was established by NBC-LEO in 1995 to promote cultural diversity in community governance through citizen and community participation. Winning cities are selected from a pool of applicants and are grouped according to population.
During his speech, Mayor Nutter discussed the work of local leadership, emphasizing the unique balance between challenges and rewards. Feedback on the delivery of local services is quick and continuous, he said. If trash is not picked up or snow is not cleared, leaders are held immediately accountable. To the mayor, this means that accomplishments must be celebrated while keeping an eye on the next challenge. While Mayor Nutter's education reform has brought Philadelphia's high school graduation rate up to 61 percent, 400,000 residents still live below the poverty line. And while the city now boasts 77 community centers and 54 libraries, 41 percent of Philadelphians still lack reliable Internet access.
Mayor Nutter also discussed the challenges he and his staff faced when he took office just ahead of the national recession. Having balanced the city budget, they suddenly found the revenues they had relied on precipitously dropping. Forced to limit spending and make cuts, Mayor Nutter joked that he found a way to anger everyone by cutting across the board, believing that the recession's blow should be distributed as evenly as possible.
However, Nutter emphasized that he did not lay off any police officers, firefighters or others providing essential services to citizens of Philadelphia, recognizing that those services were no less vital in difficult economic times. The mayor said that the nation's leaders could take a page from local government when making these hard choices, noting that it often seemed as though members of Congress have little sense of what the programs they're cutting actually do, and how critical those services might be to cities.
Nutter closed by acknowledging the important role of racial, ethnic and neighborhood diversity in building up Philadelphia as a strong, united city. "Diversity," he said, "is our strength. Let us use it for good purpose."
In addition to NBC-LEO, the Celebrate Diversity Breakfast was also hosted by NLC's other constituency groups: Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Local Officials; Hispanic Elected Local Officials; and Women in Municipal Government.