Robyn Afrik is Ottawa County’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Courtesy
Ottawa County should be a place where everyone feels they belong, and the county’s relatively new Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is working toward that.
“Belonging is an ongoing culture that is created to have all people feel welcome across differences,” the office’s annual report, out this month, states.
People who feel like they belong are people who give more, engage more, and work, volunteer, and play more. A more inclusive Ottawa County is a safer, healthier, and more economically vibrant Ottawa County, the report says.
In the past year, the county’s Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion partnered with dozens of community partners to address disparities in the community that were amplified due to COVID-19. They also facilitated conversations among leaders, employees, and the community following the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
The report follows the county’s fiscal year, Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 and details the outcomes of several projects over that time. It details a diversity book challenge among 40 members of the Cultural Intelligence Committee, a day of professional development at the 58th District Court focused on procedural fairness and ensuring equal access for all, a Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area grant helped the county create the Government Alliance on Race and Equity toolkit, among others.
The 2019 and 2020 diversity forums saw huge increases in registrations and attendance, and the overall responses were “immensely favorable,” showing gains in knowledge, according to the report.
In 2020, the county’s Cultural Intelligence Committee also issued a statement on the death of George Floyd, condemning the actions of the Minneapolis police officers.
A Gateways for Growth research award will help Ottawa County study how the immigrant population impacts the local economy. The research will help inform inclusion efforts. By November of this year, the Ottawa County DEI office and Gateways for Growth will have a public event to present their findings.
Gateways for Growth is a competitive research grant opportunity from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization working toward immigration reform.
The effort to create a DEI strategic plan is ongoing. The county formed a workgroup in March 2020 with 15 county employees across different departments and levels of leadership. The workgroup — led by DEI Director Robyn Afrik and County Administrator Al Vanderberg — helped create the DEI strategy.
The county is also helping municipalities within its borders to remove implicit bias from their own daily practices and to form racial equity plans.