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Groups get $1.3M to boost diversity

Initiative advances in NW Arkansas by Mike Jones | December 25, 2020 at 3:08 a.m.
David Johnson, executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, speaks Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, to board member Martha Sutherland in the library expansion's recording studio. The expanded building has a target date to open Jan. 19. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Stacy Ryburn)

BENTONVILLE -- True Northwest Arkansas will give almost $1.3 million to help 14 Northwest Arkansas organizations bolster their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, according to a news release.

The initiative, announced earlier this month, is supported by the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

True stands for Train, Report, Uplift, Engage, according to its website. It is a program of the Arkansas Community Foundation.

The 14 organizations completed True's nine-month training program in 2019, participating in peer-learning opportunities and coaching sessions, according to the release.

The foundations now will provide a combined $1,267,500 to help grantees implement individualized diversity, equity and inclusion plans. The support is part of True's goal to ensure everyone in Northwest Arkansas thrives and feels included.

"Northwest Arkansas is becoming more and more diverse, and local organizations are working to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion is embedded within their own organization as well as in their community programming and offerings," said Erin Hogue, Walmart.org director of strategic initiatives and Northwest Arkansas giving. Walmart.org represents the philanthropic efforts of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.

True Northwest Arkansas is focused on training local people to advocate diversity and inclusion, reporting on the region's state of inclusion to better understand gaps and barriers, uplifting the work of underrepresented populations and engaging communities in the process.

Research, technical assistance and program design are provided by Converge, a New Orleans-based social justice consulting firm, according to the release.

The Fayetteville Public Library received $100,000 from the grant to initiate a two-part program over the next couple of years, said Willow Fitzgibbon, director of library services.

The first part will involve hiring a consultant who will advise administrators and staff on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Fitzgibbon said. The consultant also will conduct an audit on employee and hiring policies and how policies affect people, she said.

The consultant will do a community assessment to understand what groups of people the library isn't serving, Fitzgibbon said. The consultant also may identify barriers to public access unrecognized by administrators, she said.

The intention is to implement the first part of the plan early next year and start the second part by late 2021, Fitzgibbon said. The timing works out for the library with its expansion tentatively planned to open in about a month, she said.

"We're going to have all of these new services and all of these new programs," Fitzgibbon said. "I'm really glad we've got this opportunity to build the practices to ensure the library is welcoming and available to everyone in the community."

Voters in the city approved a property tax increase in 2016 to pay for the cost of construction and operation to nearly double the library's size.

The Northwest Arkansas Council will use its $100,000 grant to develop a road map and policy recommendations to increase staff and board diversity, support training and assess strategy and programming, according to the release.

"While the events of 2020 have shined a spotlight on the racial inequities that exist in this country, it's inspiring to witness the regional collaboration toward creating a more just, equitable and inclusive region," said Nelson Peacock, president and chief executive officer of the Northwest Arkansas Council.

The $200,000 in grant money to the Fayetteville Public Schools will be used to support the district's equity plan and five-year engagement with the University of Arkansas Ideals Institute, which was also a grant recipient.

The district's partnership with True has aided in the development of its five-year equity plan, Fayetteville Superintendent John L Colbert.

"With this grant, the district can now provide professional development on culturally responsive education, bias and decreasing disproportionate discipline; help diversify staff through recruitment and retention; and make investments in important community partnerships," Colbert said.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville plans to enhance its overall diversity effort through assessment, dialogue, continuing education and organizational strategy, the release stated.

"This grant will allow us to reexamine our strategies and develop a comprehensive plan focused on education, collections, programs, accommodations, hiring practices, and outreach that will create more equitable communities and champion diversity," said Beth Bobbitt, museum public relations director.

Patty Sullivan, executive director of Ozark Literacy Council, noted many of the council's former English language learner students have become volunteers for the organization as well as others in the region.

"This grant will give us the funding we need to further expand our program and create even more connections among diverse cultures, social networks and communities," Sullivan said.

The Walmart Foundation's support stems from its efforts to strengthen partnerships among local leaders and organizations to foster an even more inclusive and empathetic community. The Walton Family Foundation funding, at the recommendation of Steuart Walton and Tom Walton, builds on existing efforts to enhance quality of life in the region for both newcomers and longtime residents, according to the release.

David Johnson (right), executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, speaks Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, to board members Sallie Overbey (left) and Martha Sutherland in front of a stair case and overhanging art piece leading to the library's expansion. The expanded building has a target date to open Jan. 19. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Stacy Ryburn)
David Johnson (right), executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, speaks Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, to board members Sallie Overbey (left) and Martha Sutherland in front of a stair case and overhanging art piece leading to the library's expansion. The expanded building has a target date to open Jan. 19. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Stacy Ryburn)
David Johnson (right), executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, gestures Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, toward a work station at the library's teaching kitchen while giving a tour to board members. The expanded building has a target date to open Jan. 19. 9 (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Stacy Ryburn)
David Johnson (right), executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, gestures Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, toward a work station at the library's teaching kitchen while giving a tour to board members. The expanded building has a target date to open Jan. 19. 9 (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Stacy Ryburn)
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