Battle Creek

Holley makes history as City of Battle Creek's first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

Kimberly Holley is more used to documenting history than making it. On Jan. 23 that will change when she officially begins a new role as the city’s first Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer.
“It’s an important next step to build on a foundation of work the city has already been doing in this regard,” Holley says. “This role is championing those efforts in the city and the community. I will be building on relationships the city has already made, but certainly will be wanting to center in on people that have been the most marginalized or haven’t had equitable access. Those are the community members I’m looking to enter into this work. When you start from that point, you can be inclusive of everyone.”
Kimberly Holley will start her position as the City of Battle Creek’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer on January 23.The newly-created DEI position was the result of an Equity Audit conducted at the city’s request that grew out of conversations that included city leadership and the African American Collaborative, Holley says.
MGT Consulting conducted the city’s Equity Audit and recommended the creation of a DEI position, says Rebecca Fleury, Battle Creek City Manager.
Rebecca Fluery, Battle Creek City Manager, is excited to welcome Kimberly Holley as the city's new DEI Officer.This involved “evaluating our Human Resources Department, including hiring practices and policies, as well as our Police Department, including community relations,” Fleury says. “MGT took community feedback, particularly on police issues, and created a report, with recommendations on how to improve our DEI work.”
Holley was not among the two candidates for the job who met with residents during a community gathering in August. Neither of them lived in the city. During that event, Fleury says residents felt it was important that the DEI Officer live in Battle Creek (by state law the city can’t require this), and that the candidate be a person of color with a high degree of DEI experience.
After the community event, Fleury says, “We did not have a clear candidate choice. We paused the hiring process for this position in late August, so city leaders could reflect on the position and its responsibilities before moving forward. I realized the ideal candidate may already be in our community, working in the DEI space. Kimberly was on my mind from the beginning, and I strongly felt I needed to reach out and have a conversation with her, to see if she was interested. Fortunately, she was.” 
Holley comes with years of experience in DEI work having served as director of the Sojourner Truth Center for Liberation and Justice and co-coordinator of the Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (BCTRHT). She says she will remain in a volunteer capacity with BCTRHT and will be a board member of the Sojourner Truth Center.

The work she has done with these organizations during the past 10 years included community outreach and organizing and equity around race and gender. She says her lived experiences and wanting to serve the community led to her involvement in this work.
“I am a product of the Battle Creek Public Schools, which exposed me to a diverse student population,” Holley says. “It’s always been a part of who I am. And I naturally gravitated towards community outreach and making sure community voices are at the forefront.”
She says all of this prepared her well for her new role with the city.
Fleury says, “It’s important that the city reflects the community that we serve and from a demographic, ethnic, and minority perspective, making sure that decisions are made through an equity lens and that we identify any barriers that would prevent us from doing that. It’s also discussing what this means for current employees and those we bring on. It’s making sure that employees feel heard and are recognized and that our policies and procedures are not created or implemented in a discriminatory manner.”
Of Holley, Fleury says, “She has a tremendous background to guide and lead us through this work.”
Kimberly Holley, who will become Battle Creek’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, and Battle Creek’s Mayor Mark Behnke pose for a photo.Among the initial tasks on Holley’s list of priorities is taking a deeper dive into the Equity Audit, using that to put together a plan, making recommendations, and executing strategies within the city’s plan as it relates to DEI. She will also get input from employees throughout city government. She says she will initially be focused internally as she learns about practices and policies, seeks input from employees throughout city government, and engages them in this work and future strategies.
She says she also will dedicate time to learning more about how the city’s government functions.
“I want to get in and understand the bigger picture and how we make sure that whatever we develop is an inclusive process,” Holley says. “I’ll be looking at how this role partners with various departments of city government such as police and fire and work together to create and execute goals.”
While establishing relationships with city staff, Holley will be placing just as much of an emphasis on community residents.
“I think that from my perspective, I’m going into this role as a partnership with the community,” Holley says. “I want to make sure we continue to engage the community in an intentional way that’s transparent and demonstrates that their input is valued and necessary.”
Through her previous roles with BCTRHT and the Sojourner Truth Center, Holley says she’s seen successes in the community. One of the ways success has happened is through people having difficult conversations and understanding different perspectives.
“You may not come out of these conversations agreeing, but you will feel like you’ve been heard and seen. It’s not just collective, it’s individual work as well,” she says. “People have to be in a place where they’re receptive to those conversations. That is complex and layered work. You have to check your own biases because you’re seeing things through a certain lens. The most you can do is try to create a space or an environment where people come to feel seen and heard. It's important to be very intentional about how you’re interacting and the environment you’re creating to allow people to bring their whole selves into that space.”
The timing is right, the work is necessary
“I think things happen as they’re supposed to most of the time. This is the right time for the city of Battle Creek,” Holley says of the addition of a DEI position. “The city has had these efforts and this role is building on that foundation of work. Sometimes things happen when they’re supposed to and this is the right time for the city to implement this role. It’s on time and needed and putting the city on a path it’s already on.”
Although the limelight has been shining on DEI in the past decade, the DEI profession has been around for much longer than that, says an article on the Global Research and Consulting Group Insights website.
Kimberly Holley will start her position as the City of Battle Creek’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer on January 23. “Workplace diversity training first emerged in the mid-1960s following the introduction of equal employment laws and affirmative action. Prior to this, many companies had known histories of racial discrimination,” the article says. “These new laws prompted companies to start diversity training programs that would help employees adjust to working in more integrated offices. Unfortunately, DEI training programs of the past have struggled to yield substantial improvement.”
During her interview with Fleury, Holley says she asked questions about what resources the city has to execute recommendations and training that will result from her work.

“Once you develop a plan you need to determine what roles and training need to be in place and what resources you need to move the needle forward on this work,” she says. “Otherwise you run the risk of having lofty ideas and goals and not really having any concentrated effort or person to push forward to make sure the goals are realized. It’s important to make sure there’s a continual effort that the city’s policies and practices are seen through a DEI lens, otherwise you could revert back to old practices.”
“I like to believe that the community will hold the city accountable in this role to seeing it through,” Holley says. “This is new for the city, so it’s going to be learning as we go along. As we put plans in place and actualize strategies, my role will evolve.”
Although this intentionality is new, Holley says the work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been happening for many years in Battle Creek. She says the city has a history of abolitionists, progressive new views, and innovation.
“Hopefully, some of that is in our DNA. There have always been segments of the community pushing this work,” she says. “In more recent years organizations have dedicated themselves to this work and companies and organizations are having those tough conversations and looking inward and being more inclusive. They’re asking questions about how they’re centering the most vulnerable and marginalized and what practices have been put in place that are keeping people marginalized and how is that not allowing us to live our values and mission.”
The Equity Audit and the creation of a DEI Officer position are proof, Holley says, of the city’s commitment to ensuring that each of its residents has the same opportunities.
“This presents opportunities for the city to function from a place of cultural humility where we are learning from members of our whole community,” she says. “We’re enriched when we share values. It’s definitely an opportunity to model what this looks like for other communities by showing our values and engaging in the rich diversity in our community. It’s going to take unlearning and learning and working through biases and stereotypes. It’s not going to be all roses and daisies, but it’s so rewarding and the outcomes can be so impactful and enriching.”

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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.