Voices of Unity: How Shaker Heights is looking toward the future

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SHAKER HEIGHTS, OHIO (WJW) – A job more common in corporate America than at the city level was recently created in Shaker Heights as a proactive measure to evaluate where the city stands on achieving its goals of greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Colleen Jackson, hired as the city’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer met with Fox 8 after spending about six weeks in the role. Jackson said one of her many goals is to create change within the city government and the community.

“Shaking the foundation to say this is where we came from, this is where we are, where is it that we want to be and how do we get there?… I think when you’re a city like Shaker Heights it just happens without thinking about it. We are diverse. We aim to be inclusive, but right now I think my position is posed to be intentional. I get to do an investigation of all the ways the city operates and how can we just do it better, how can we level up?” Jackson said.

Jackson believes the work is continuous and said she is not there to solve any one particular problem.

She commended city leadership on spotlighting the issue and finding a way to create change.

“One of the things I’m working on is forming the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that’s got council members and community members and a lot of the ideas on policies and programs will be birthed there,” she said.

Viewing the world through a diverse lens is a skill Jackson strengthened throughout her career, including time as an actor by trade. Jackson was most recently the Director of Community Partnerships and Programming for Cleveland Play House.

“When you tell other people’s stories you care about other people in a different way and I believe theatre teaches empathy,” said Jackson.

Jackson said one of many goals in this new role includes assessing how city government and hiring practices can be more inclusive to better connect the people of Shaker Heights.

“When you think about the history of our community and the year in which integration happened in certain places…you cannot say that we have no problems because we are not far enough removed from really bad problems so there’s always things that lie under the surface,” she said.

For now, Jackson said she is focused on listening and learning from community members and city employees about how to make the city better for everyone who lives and works in it.

“People are excited about the work,” said Jackson. “They’re excited about getting involved and I feel like they have high expectations of me, and I tell them right off the bat this is a joint effort to get to our goals and do the things we want to do and I’m just excited to jump in and do the work with them.”

The first year in this new role Jackson said she plans to focus on city government operations. She hopes to begin a listening tour to hear from residents about how to create a more inclusive community.

“We want to be on the cusp on what’s new and what’s next, not what’s now and what has been,” said Jackson.

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