Kalamazoo diversity chief reflects on a year of upheaval

The city's director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion says 2020 offered many obstacles and opportunities to make systems more equitable.

To say 2020 was a year like no other would be an understatement. The pandemic and protests against racial injustice were just a few of the things that made the year historic by any reckoning.

Dorla Bonner got to witness all of that while also experiencing it as a Black woman and having ways to impact it as the City of Kalamazoo’s first director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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Hired in February of 2020, Bonner’s task was to assess and offer recommendations for how to make city governance more just and accessible.

Those tasks became more difficult during the pandemic, but Kalamazoo city commissioners earlier this month took a step toward making improvements – contributing $145,000 to assess the city’s systems.

“The only way [our city government] can be transformed is to make sure you hit the spot. And without an assessment we don’t know where ‘the spot’ is,” said Bonner in an interview with Public Media Network’s Community in Focus.

“It would be like doing one implicit bias workshop and expecting transformation without knowing what really needs to be transformed,” she said.

Bonner said the protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May led her to double down on her efforts.

“It made me cry to think about how many times in my lifetime we have been at that point. And it made me wonder what we need to do to keep the momentum for change,” she said. “That’s why I work so hard at my job.”

You can read the full story and watch the interview here.

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