Advocates fight to save Appleton’s diversity chief

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Kathy Flores

Appleton diversity coordinator Kathy Flores. – Photo: Courtesy

The Appleton official charged with outreach to the city’s multi-cultural communities, including the LGBT community, could fall victim to the budgetary axe as aldermen scramble to erase a $2.5-million city deficit.

In a survey asking city council members which programs they believed could be cut, they ranked the diversity coordinator position at the top in its category. Supporters hope to change aldermanic minds by educating them about the essential role that the position, currently held by out lesbian Kathy Flores, plays in the quality of life and economic development of the city.

“I’m hopeful that the position will remain,” said Ald. Jeffrey Jirschele (15th). “I think if we can paint the picture the right way, they’ll see it.”

Advocates for saving the position have created a Facebook page under the name Retain Appleton’s Diversity Program. The page contains talking points about the program and urges constituents to contact their alderman with the information prior to the Oct. 4 city council meeting.

Advocates contend that the program, which began in 1997 under a different name as part of the Appleton Police Department, is more important now than ever. All of Appleton’s population growth over the next 20 years is projected to come from the city’s African-American, Asian (particularly Hmong), Latino and Native-American communities.

Part of Flores’ job is to build bridges among these communities and create an atmosphere of cross-cultural appreciation. She works with the multicultural committees that advise the mayor’s office, troubleshooting problems and raising diversity awareness, including LGBT awareness.

This year, Flores helped to promote Appleton’s first Juneteenth celebration, which bought nearly 2,000 people of all races to the city’s Houdini Plaza. The event, which marks the end of slavery in the United States, attracted major corporate sponsors. Bola Delano-Oriaran, who serves on the mayor’s African-American Advisory Committee, said the diversity coordinator is a valuable resource for helping to organize such events and programs. The committees and the diversity coordinator also have been successful in working together to take “a pro-active approach in addressing diversity issues,” she said.

“One of the reasons Appleton is a good place to live is that you rarely hear about incidents that deal with biases, stereotypes or discrimination,” she said.

Shannon Kenevan, program team leader for Harmony Café, said that “just having the position in place sends the message that this is a welcoming and diverse community.” He gives Flores high marks for her performance in the position.

“She’s done phenomenally,” Kenevan said. “She brings a real passion to the work. She has really tried to reach out to all the different communities and brought a lot of visibility to the position.”

The diversity coordinator also plays a key role in economic development by helping local companies recruit and retain a diverse workforce. If Kimberly Clark, for instance, is trying to recruit or transfer African-American, Latino or gay workers to Appleton, the company can turn to Flores for support. By connecting the workers with local community groups and amenities of interest to them, Flores helps seal the deal by demonstrating that Appleton is a great place for them to live and work.

At the same time, by helping to foster the growth of a skilled and diverse labor force, the diversity coordinator helps attract new companies to the Fox Valley, Jirschele said. This is especially important as Appleton transitions away from an industrially based economy.

“Talent comes in a variety of different packages, whether gay, black, Hispanic, white or Asian,” Jirschele said. “We need to be open and we need to be welcoming. That goes along with urban growth. We have to realize that in (growing cities) we have a number of different cultures. We have to make sure we grow as a community by bringing all those communities together, and we need a focal person to bring them together.”

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