How can Arlington redevelop equitably? Troy Williams seeks answers as 1st chief equity officer
Troy Williams is Arlington's inaugural chief equity officer. City leaders created the position as part of recommendations from the Unity Council, Arlington's city-appointed task force that created 60 recommendations to address disparities in policies surrounding topics including health, employment and policing. KERA spoke with Williams about his first few months in the position and his priorities, experience and first impressions of Arlington.
How do you explain your job to folks who have never heard of a chief equity officer?
- “I really try to focus on defining equity for folks when I talk about my position and help them understand that it’s really grounded in meeting people where they are, removing barriers and obstacles that may have been created by policy or systemic practices over time so that they can understand that we’re all pursuing kind of the same goal, but we recognize that we all are situated differently as communities. I focus on explaining to them that my job is to remove those barriers and policies and practices. That will ensure that we all have equitable outcomes as a community in reaching our universal goals."
- "In the first several months to a year I think the MWBE (Minority/Women-owned Businesses and Enterprises) program is a major priority."
- "Additionally I’m providing some guidance in terms of our grant programs particularly around housing issues and things like that. I think there’s a real opportunity for us to ensure that as we continue to develop and grow as a city that we are not simply displacing people and we’re creating affordable opportunities for every resident in Arlington, right? So the idea is not to grow and displace communities but to grow in concert with communities in collaboration."
- "I think to the extent that we’ll be focused on how we utilize grant resources to effectuate that will be very important. In fact, we’re looking now at hiring some positions to look at the impact that we have with our grant dollars. I think all of that accountability from a data perspective will help us make better decisions."
- "And then we also need to give thought much like our MWBE community we need to build the capacity of our nonprofit organizations in many instances to serve those unmet needs that government may not necessarily have the capacity to deal with. We want to make sure that we have a strong and vibrant nonprofit and philanthropic community that plays a part in this whole redevelopment of communities in an inclusive manner."
- "Related to that is probably transforming culture here in the government right? Giving people that framework in terms of how to think about this important work and then understanding how it applies to the everyday work that they do and their respective departments and their respective goals?"
- "I started at the U.S. Attorney's Office with the Department of Justice, did a 20-year career with the Department of Justice both in Maryland and Main Justice in D.C. Eventually took on the chief equity officer position in Baltimore County, which was really just an extension of a lot of the community focused work and police reform work that I've done in the Department of Justice. I was able to kind of bring that lens of community engagement and community empowerment to that DEI position in Baltimore County and kind of stand up their inaugural program over a period of three years."
First impressions of Arlington
- “I found it to be a very charming city with a tremendous amount of potential, really on the cusp of redevelopment and redefining itself. I thought it was an exciting opportunity to ensure we do that work with an eye towards engaging every segment of the community. I was really excited about that opportunity. I think the work of the Unity Council laid a great framework for pursuing that work particularly through a race and equity lens, but I’m also excited about bringing a much broader lens to this work and being inclusive of every facet of the community.”
State of MWBE prorgram
- "I think that we have some good foundation in terms of MWBE businesses (Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises), but I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to kind of grow their capacity, supporting them through things like bonding, access to capital and just general kind of technical assistance. I think particularly with respect to African American businesses, I think we have to really continue to really be intentional about our efforts to move the needle. I think African American businesses are significantly underrepresented, particularly in terms of contracting from the city. But we’re working feverishly to address that through policy changes, training, outreach to that community, letting folks know here in Arlington, we are open to business with all business owners, particularly minorities and women. We’ll be feverishly working over the next several years to make an impact there."
- "Not only do we want to grow the businesses — we also want to focus on local hiring and ensuring that we’re creating opportunities for people who may not own a business, but they want to still benefit from the opportunity that are created by the expansion of these MWBE opportunities. I think we also have to think about those folks too in terms of training and employee development and creating those job opportunities that are going to lead to long-lasting careers."
The importance of an equity officer
- "I truly believe this role is important at all levels of government. I think it’s important in corporate America as well. I think we can assume that we all kind of instinctively know what diversity is know what equity is and inclusion and accessibility, of course. But I think there is an intentionality that is the real craft of the practice that you need to kind of have a champion for within your organization, right? And it shouldn’t be a single person, either. "
- "As grateful as I am to be the chief equity officer, I understand that I need to create DEI champions across the organization. This is a joint effort. I am not going to move this massive organization in isolation so I need partners in the community and we need partners at the departmental level within the goverbnebt and we just need people that want to see one Arlington. That’s the bigger vision, right? So I’m always going to tie it back to the bigger vision and mission for the city of Arlington, right? We call ourselves the dream city, so everyone should be entitled to have the chance to share equitably in that dream."
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